Access to Bowood House’s Private Walled Garden is only available by pre-booking a spot on one of its special guided tours held each summer. Find out why it’s worth visiting and how to book your place.
If you want to visit one of the UK’s most impressive private walled gardens then I highly recommend a trip to the Bowood Estate. Hidden away in the Wiltshire countryside, just a short car journey off the M4 motorway and the iconic Great West Way, Bowood House and Gardens has been home to the Lansdowne family since 1754, with the Marquis of Lansdowne and his wife still living in a wing of the stately home today.
What to do at Bowood House and Gardens
Bowood House and Gardens is worthy of many return visits, as there’s so much to offer visitors. Earlier this year we previewed its special 2019 exhibition on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, plus I also took the opportunity to visit the estate’s Woodland Garden. This is only open six weeks every spring in order for visitors to view its amazing display of rhododendrons, which people travel from far and wide to see.
On both occasions we had a wonderful time, so it’s no surprise that we jumped at the chance to take a peak at another ‘behind the scenes’ aspect of Bowood – its private walled garden.
Bowood House’s Private Walled Garden
This is the private garden of Lord and Lady Lansdowne, but every summer they open it up for visitors to explore on special guided tours. Emma and I were kindly invited to come along to one of these tours, so one sunny August afternoon we joined a small group of eight on a tour of the four-acre walled garden, led by Bowood garden guide, Mandy.
The award-winning garden is made up of four very different one-acre squares, blooming with all manner of plant life, surrounded by a wall 17ft in height.
When it comes to flowers, depending on when exactly you visit you might see anything from tulips and roses through to honeysuckle, peonies and lavender. But there are also fruit trees and wisteria galore, plus a kitchen garden growing everything from tomatoes and strawberries through to asparagus, artichokes and sweetcorn. If you eat anything from the cafes or restaurants on the estate then it’s likely to include fresh food from this garden. There’s even a row of beehives along one of the walls producing fresh honey for guests.
Something for everyone
I’ll hold my hand up and admit I’m far from green fingered, so I think the gardeners amongst our group (i.e. the other seven guests) probably gained a lot more knowledge from the tour than me, but even so I think I enjoyed it just as much. I love being out in nature and surrounded by beautiful plants so it was just wonderful being able to wander around such an amazingly designed landscape.
The colours and smells were intoxicating as we wandered along the pathways and you never knew what you’d find each time you turned a corner or stepped under an arched arbor trailing leaves. At one point I walked along a walkway to discover a private pool, then went past this to come to a freshly cut croquet lawn and a cute row of apple trees. Around another corner was a pretty pond covered in water lilies, then under another arch I came across the chicken coop.
So much to learn!
The gardeners on the tour loved that all the plants were labeled so you could find out what everything was, but most of the time you didn’t need to look them up. Mandy was hugely knowledgeable and would regularly stop to point out any special or rare plants and was full of stories about their origins and the history of the walled garden. For example, she told us about the walled garden’s use in the war – the whole space was used to plant potatoes. It was this part of the tour that I enjoyed the most, as she shared tales of past Marquis’ travels to India and Canada, foreign wives who brought with them rare grapes and Napoleon’s death mask (yep, true!) and more modern tales of Poldark being filmed on the estate as well as period drama battles taking place on the lake.
Cream Tea at Bowood House
As if that wasn’t enough, visitors taking the guided tour of Bowood’s Private Walled Garden are also invited to enjoy a meal or afternoon treat at the Stables Restaurant in Bowood House.
Those taking a morning tour end their visit with lunch, while afternoon visitors like myself get to enjoy a cream tea. This was a lovely end to our visit, as the group got to sit together and enjoy freshly baked scones and bottomless tea.
Each guest is given two scones to enjoy (one plain and one fruit) along with generous pots of clotted cream and jam – our choice on the day was strawberry or blackcurrant and apple. The scones were large, dusted with icing sugar and still warm from the oven, which is my idea of perfection.
Everyone in our group sat back and chatted (mainly about their gardens!) for the next hour or so, while the servers regularly came over to top up our tea. Slowly one by one our group split apart, as couples went off to enjoy the rest of their time on the estate by exploring the grounds – designed by Capability Brown and the house itself. It was a wonderful way to spend a summer’s afternoon and one I’d highly recommend!
How to visit Bowood House’s Private Walled Garden
Tours around Bowood’s private walled garden can be booked online. Here you can see the dates of each tour, which this season are held on the 14th and 23rd of August, the 11th and 20th of September, and the 9th of October.
Morning tours cost £35 per person including tea and coffee on arrival and a two-course lunch after the tour. Afternoon tours cost £28.50 per person and include a cream tea post-tour.
Private group tours can also be booked for weekdays at a discounted rate of £15.25 per person. For £20.50 you can add a cream tea, or for £27.50 a 2-course lunch.
All tours include access to the house and grounds.
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Our visit was complimentary for the purposes of this review. However, as always, all views are my own.