Explore Furzey Gardens in Minstead
PUBLISHED: 15:10 19 June 2013 | UPDATED: 15:12 19 June 2013
Visiting the New Forest to explore Furzey Gardens we discover it's not only a haven for plants and wildlife, but also for some rather talented students
A puzzle of pathways twists and turns through hot pink rhododendrons, purple heather and bright white azaleas. Exploring Furzey Gardens in Minstead makes for a magical experience, whether it’s through flirting with the fairies behind hidden doors or pondering the views from one of the tree houses. A carpet of colour stretches out in front of you and in the distance, if it’s a clear day, you can glimpse the Isle of Wight.
The Furzey Gardens Charitable Trust has had the ongoing role of restoring and caring for the gardens for the last 40 years, but it has become more than a project open to the public; it also provides residential care and horticultural training to young people with learning difficulties. According to the Trust’s chairman Reverend Tim Selwood, this most significant development occurred around 25 years ago: “Back then we were doing more in the way of social work, mostly with people with mental health issues. We gradually began to focus on learning disability until this eventually took over. You can’t easily mix the two.”
This lead to the setting up of the Minstead Training Project at Minstead Lodge: “The picture now is very much Furzey Gardens and Minstead Training Trusts. We all work together to make sure what’s done here is performed to the right programme,” says Tim.
“It’s a sanctuary as well as a challenging place – our ethos is ‘growing people’s lives’ so they can be more independent, fulfilled and happy; there’s an obvious link between that and what we’re all about on the horticultural side of things.”
Madeleine Durie is project director at the Training Project. Previously a civil servant in the city she moved with her husband to Brockenhurst last May to take up the post working alongside Tim and the rest of the Furzey volunteers.
“I’d been camping in the forest before and my grandmother lived here when I was little, it’s a lovely destination.” Madeleine wanted to be able to work closer to the coalface and overseeing the welfare and training of some 140 students in the Project has certainly done that. Her passion for the young adults is clear: “We use Furzey as a safe environment to develop work-based skills. This also means the public can not only see the gardens but can see what we do and what our goals are in supporting adults.
“The setting here is fantastic as a backdrop for what we do. You couldn’t try to emulate this place, it would be impossible. It’s not contrived, it’s grown organically. What is here puts down deep roots into something that’s a bit unworldly you know.” Tim adds to the sentiment: “We need those deeper values in society, especially when so many services are under threat. We’ve come together and been through everything, it’s those things that are the spoil from which people grow.”
Last year Furzey Gardens hit the Hampshire headlines when they won gold at the Chelsea Flower Show and they transported all the elements of their garden back to recreate it at Furzey.
“We had a special opening at the end of April,” reveals Tim. “It’s a bit bigger than the one at Chelsea. In a sense it was madness to enter the competition because we’ve never done any kind of show before. We took 26 mature trees, 35 shrubs, 2,500 plants, the building; it was a huge task for a small set up like us. We wanted to show what can be achieved by those with learning disabilities with the right support.”
After such a momentous year, Tim and the rest of the team at the Trust are taking a much needed rest in 2013. After the recreation of the Chelsea garden they’re hoping for less soggy ground to work with while settling in to a more normal year back at Furzey.
Pay a visit
Furzey Gardens, Minstead, Lyndhurst, SO43 7GL
Tel: 02380 812464
Opening times: March to October, daily from 10am to 5pm
Minimum donation: adults £7, children £4, family £19.50
Furzey – a history
Furzey House and Gardens were built in 1922 by Bertram ‘Bay’ Dalrymple, son of Scottish aristocrats. It’s said that more than £7,000 was spent on grubbing out the rough gorse and importing tons of good topsoil before putting in rare rhododendrons and azaleas collected by ‘plant hunters’ of the period like Frank Kingdon-Ward and George Forrest.
Bay Balrymple died during the war and the estate was inherited by his brother, Captain Reginald, who later died with no children, the estate passing to his 14 year old godson. During the 50s and 60s it became increasingly difficult to maintain Furzey to the horticultural standard envisaged when the gardens were planted in the 1920s. The paths gradually became overgrown and brambles took hold. In 1972 it was finally decided to close the gardens and to sell the land off in lots with planning consent for new housing.
Luckily Tim Selwood and other trust members convinced the council to preserve the gardens and cottage and the restoration began.
Top 5 things to do
1 The Bug Barn
Conservation of insect life is a high priority at Furzey and in the Bug Barn visitors can see a plethora of stunning enlarged insect photographs taken in the Furzey garden by New Forest entomologist Paul Brock. See them close up and discover where to look out for them as you go round.
2 Fairy doors
Mind where you tread! There are reputed to be more than 30 secret fairy doors dotted around Furzey, mostly in the base of large trees and designed by master thatcher Simon Sinkinson. Few people have managed to spot them all.
3 The cottage
The Forest Cottage is believed to have been built in 1560 with timbers reputed to have come from the Tudor boatyards in Lymington. The cottage has been modernised a few times over the years and children especially love to visit the tiny bedroom where 13 children once slept, featured in ‘The Furzey Oak’ storybook.
4 Master thatching
There are almost 1,000 square metres of thatch on the buildings at Furzey, which includes wheat reed on the cottage and gallery, freshwater reed on Furzey House and heather on the round shelter near the lake. You can see the techniques involved on the display roofs at eye level.
5 The Craft Gallery
The students of Minstead Training Centre often donate their wonderful work to the gallery, plus there are lots of toys and gifts to buy. Don’t forget to take a look at the Chelsea garden exhibition
too, before taking tea in the sunshine on the terrace.