Bowood’s 30-acre Woodland Garden is now open and so at the start of the season, and ahead of the first of the May bank holidays, Bowood catches up with Jane Meadows - a familiar face to regular visitors as they arrive at the Admissions Kiosk. Jane offers a sense of what to expect over the course of the next six weeks as Bowood’s incredible display of rhododendrons, magnolias, azaleas and bluebells burst back to life again.
Jane, how long have you been welcoming the public to the Woodland Garden?
It’s been seven years now.However, I’ve actually worked at Bowood for the past 35 years! I was the Assistant Visitor Manager at the House and Gardens for most of that time and then worked in the role of Visitor Manager for three years. I still help out there as-and-when things are particularly busy and an extra pair of hands is required.
How have you been preparing for the new season?
After a little over 10 months of the Woodand Garden lying dormant, it’s not just a question of the plants returning to life!
During the past couple of months, I’ve been busy delivering leaflets to strategic points in the area, promoting the Woodland Garden and all its glories to the public well ahead of the season’s start. We were then busy last week re-equipping the garden’s own Admissions Kiosk and checking systems are in proper working order. As the Woodland Garden is two miles away on the Bowood Estate from Bowood House & Gardens, it has its own designated entrance - just off the A342 between Derry Hill and Sandy Lane villages. The kiosk requires all the wherewithal to welcome some 7,500 visitors from late April-early June.I also have to put my ‘rhododendron head’ back on and be ready to answer all sorts of questions that I am likely to be asked about the plants - which ones are in flower at a particular time and so forth. Our short season has three distinct stages to it: the early flowering, the full bluebell flush and then the appearance of the azaleas. Lord Lansdowne - who is the rhododenron guru - and I will usually have a chat ahead of each coming week to discuss which plants are due to flower and which will be among the highlights during the days ahead.
What is your advice for the first time visitor?
Allow yourself plenty of time! Ideally an hour at least. Popping in for 20 minutes or so won’t be sufficient to enjoy the full experience and you will only be disappointed if you then need to be elsewhere and have to rush off. Once away from the rest of the world and amongst such an incredible display of rhododendrons, magnolias and azaleas - and with the bluebells blazing at the moment - you will want to linger and go at a slower pace.
Make sure you have the right footwear. You will be in a woodland after all with lots of slopes and sturdy shoes are advised. Also, dress for the weather too as there will be little shelter if it drizzles or rains.
Follow the featured 'Walk of the Week‘ which will guide you towards and around the highlights.
Finally, return again during the season as it’s an ever-changing display and there will be new delights to spot on each visit. If you don’t, these six weeks will flash by and you will have to wait the best part of a year before the blooms reappear. And to quote Lord Lansdowne, ‘We only have so many springs!'
Do visitors need to be highly-informed about rhododendrons?
Absolutely not! Anyone who loves stunning colours, heady scents, wide open space, peace, tranquility and escape is more than qualified to be a Woodland Garden visitor. You will be in heaven!
What one aspect would you tell a visitor not to miss?
The Jubilee Garden is top of my list. Since the 1970s, Lord Lansdowne has continued the planting undertaken by successive generations of his family at the Woodland Garden. In 2013, he unveiled the new, additional four-acre ‘Jubilee Garden’ having spent seven years developing it. Relative to the rest of the garden, this spot is still very much in its infancy but you will gain a sense of how it is likely to flourish.
What is the most usual question you are asked at the Admission Kiosk?
‘Are there any lavatories?’ and ‘Can we get a coffee?’ The answer to both is a definite ‘yes’!
This will be the second year that the Nosh Box - a converted vintage horse box - has parked up at the Woodland Garden. Proper coffee is on sale with latte, Americano and cappuccino among the selections as well as homemade cakes. There are also picnic tables arranged next to the Nosh Box.
What is the favourite side of your role at the Admission Kiosk?
Visiting a spot such as Bowood’s Woodland Garden encourages slowing down to an easy-going pace. People then chat more. Some of the season ticket holders are visitors I have known for quite a number of years. Indeed, there are some I would have first spotted when they were children at the Adventure Playground down at the House & Gardens.