'It's what my garden would look like in my dreams!'

Qualified professional gardener and designer, would-be smallholder and writer, Sally Nex campaigns to reduce plastic use in the garden. She loves to visit Forde Abbey.

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Forde Abbey is a beautiful former monastery and I go there really regularly. It’s privately owned and much as I adore the National Trust properties, private gardens have a character and a quirkiness that you don’t find anywhere else.

© Naomi Schillinger

© Naomi Schillinger

I love the fact that they’re really proud of their kitchen garden, which is unusual because productive areas are usually hidden round the back. As a committed vegetable grower it’s the thing that I always head for first and at Forde Abbey it’s right next to the ticket office!

The walled kitchen garden is in the old style and it’s very beautiful. It’s laid out in traditional beds, but they’re bursting with amazing fruit and veg in huge quantities. It’s really photogenic, too. I’m always taking pictures.

It’s also incredibly ornamental and I love it at harvest time, when the space is filled with bright orange pumpkins, drying in the sun. There’s also a big bed around the corner from the peach house. It’s filled with big, bright, beautiful plants like salvias and dahlias, cannas, bananas and ginger lilies. It’s just fabulous.

I’ve bought lots of plants from the lovely garden centre there, including the pineapple guava, Acca sellowiana. It’s evergreen and hardy and, although it doesn’t produce fruit in the climate here in the UK, it has big, showy, edible flowers that taste of pineapple.

I do sometimes tear myself away and look at the rest of the garden. The Cistercian abbey dates from the 12th century and it provides a wonderfully mediaeval backdrop to the planting. There are good seasonal displays – big sheets of crocuses and massive sweet pea displays. And in autumn the herbaceous borders are full of marvellous dahlias.

I’m nothing if not a practical gardener and I always get little tips about different ways to grow veg. I go and absorb their techniques and take them home. It has improved my own veg garden, there’s no doubt about it. It’s what my garden would look like in my dreams!

Words: Naomi Slade

Forde Abbey and Gardens, Chard, Somerset, TA20 4LU

www.fordeabbey.co.uk