The Festival of Tulips at Dunsborough Park, Ripley
PUBLISHED: 13:01 17 March 2011 | UPDATED: 05:27 19 April 2015
With spring here at last, this month we pay a visit to one of Surrey’s most beautiful gardens at this time of year, Dunsborough Park in Ripley, where ten thousand tulips are showcased in stunning massed displays
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2010
Words and photography by Leigh Clapp
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When it comes to seeing spring flowers, there can be few places more spectacular than Dunsborough Park in Ripley, where you can enjoy the rich hues of some ten thousand tulips.
Dazzling combinations of contrasting or complementary tones are set against a foil of green hedges in a formal parterre. Some are planted in regimented rows; others are in a more random arrangement. And accompanying the amazing array of tulips are further spring plantings, too, such as spires of muscari and astringent lime-green euphorbias.
The owners of this stunning estate, Baron Dolf and Baroness Caroline Sweerts de Landas Wyborgh, welcome visitors at various times of year, including for the Festival of Tulips in April and also through the National Gardens Scheme on selected days in spring, summer and early autumn.
“My own favourite areas are the Italian and water gardens, both for their views and sounds,” says the Baroness. “I am very involved in the garden and design, though not so much the planting, and meet with the gardeners every morning.”
Dating back to the 14th century, and the dissolution of the monasteries, the land at Dunsborough Park was originally granted to a local nobleman by Newark Abbey.
Over the years, the small farmhouse grew into the place it is today with Queen Anne and Georgian accretions – though it wasn’t until the 18th century that the gardens were first professionally laid out and encircled by red brick walls.
Since then, they have been gradually extended and improved by the various owners. However, when the Baron and his wife bought the property in 1995, there was need for some renovation before the gardens were reopened to the public in 1997.
“They were pretty much derelict when we arrived,” says the Baroness. “We started out on our own and then worked with garden designer Penelope Hobhouse and then Rupert Golby.”
A growing concern
Today, six acres of formal gardens extend around the house in a series of garden rooms and vistas, which also act as ‘showroom’ spaces for their superb collection of antique garden ornaments for sale.
In addition, the grounds include a walled garden, rose garden and Dutch garden, as well as shrub and herbaceous borders. Also of special note are the Edwardian glasshouses, a palm house, long-grassed walks edged with hedges and a large water garden to be enjoyed.
The palm house is a classic style glasshouse and is divided into separate rooms to provide a range of climates, which suit the environmental needs of the numerous species of Mediterranean and sub-tropical plants that it houses.
A sense of the theatrical is intentional throughout the garden, with statuary on plinths acting as focal points and surprises to discover.
In the past, it has been described as ‘a series of set pieces with a cast of stone characters from ancient legends and English pastoral comedies flitting in and out of view’.
“I feel that the garden has matured very well and we are still making improvements every year,” adds the Baroness. “We have recently redesigned the island and our future plans now include creating a sunken garden and also a maze.”
- For more information about the gardens at Dunsborough Park in Ripley, you can visit their website at www.dunsboroughpark.com
Tulip growing tips
- Plant bulbs in November/December
- Choose moist, free-draining soil
- Place bulbs 10cm deep in the ground or in containers
- Consider colour combinations for a striking effect
- Dead-head flowers as soon as they fade
- Feed until the foliage dies down
- Lift the bulbs and store