Colby Woodland Garden is renowned for its rhododendrons… so I visited in August! Oops. As with most NT gardens, though, Colby appears to have something to offer at most times of the year and August appears to be an optimum time for the strikingly blue hydrangeas that dot the edges of the river valley and the pretty fuchsias in the walled garden.
The friend who accompanied me to Colby had some insider knowledge about the place so we actually parked down near the beach in Amroth and approached the garden through the woodland and alongside the river valley, which is a pretty route. It was fairly uphill a lot of the way, but I would warn you that Colby is not the place for you if you don’t like ups and downs. Even the walled garden is on a fairly obvious slope (see top).
There is no guidebook available for Colby so those interested in the history of the place need to head to a side room alongside the Bothy Tearooms, where there are several information boards (including one boasting about those long-denuded rhododendrons!). The boards tell some of the history of Colby Lodge (not open to the public) and its grounds, with the National Trust gaining control of the land in stages, with wider parts of the estate being bequeathed in 1979 before the owners of the house handed over the remaining sixteen acres of woodland and meadow between 1980 and 1984. These last owners, Pamela and Peter Chance, are both commemorated in the gardens, with the Temple of pillars in the West Wood being set there in memory of Pamela who died in 1981 and the Obelisk on the hill later erected in memory of Peter.
It was Peter Chance who commissioned one of Colby’s more interesting gems. The gazebo in the walled garden was built in the 1970s and finished in 1979 when American painter Lincoln Taber added the trompe l’oeil and murals that cover its walls. These are very special, with a complete ‘window’ painted on one wall mirroring the view from the actual window opposite, while a ‘shelf’ that runs around the eight sides of the gazebo holds such painted items as a wine bottle, a silver mug and a vase of flowers. There is even a painted wooden window hook and some smart cookie has rested the actual wooden window hook alongside it. There are even painted cracks in the wall, through which some of the garden’s plants appear to have pushed their way.
This was certainly one of the highlights of my visit and the other highlight also came in the walled garden where the resident ducks had been let loose for the day. They made a beeline for us – perhaps hoping for an edible treat – but lost interest after a minute or so and went to peck around in the grass instead.
Wildlife hunters may be disappointed to find that the dovecote in the walled garden is empty, but a man on the inside reliably informed my friend that the doves were not in situ for long before being seen off (or consumed) by local birds of prey. Let’s hope the ducks last a lot longer. If you like, you can currently suggest names for these feathered friends in the shop.
Outside the walled gardens, Colby covers a large swathe of woodland either side of a small river and there are a number of walks you can take (as long as you don’t mind those ups and downs). There are also a number of activities for children and we saw families wandering off with fishing nets so the children could dip in the pools, while others took yellow ducks so they could play ‘pooh ducks’ off the wooden footbridge.
I should also mention the Bothy tearoom. This is a concession that is not run by the National Trust, but it appeared to have a very good and varied menu and our ‘man on the inside’, a relative of my companion, had recommended the carrot cake. Unfortunately, that wasn’t available so we shared a slice of Victoria Sponge instead and that was delicious so we didn’t feel too deprived! The tearoom also served redbush (rooibos) tea, which is not often available at National Trust cafés so that ticked another box for me.
As well as the tearoom and the information boards, the Bothy is also home to a small secondhand book collection upstairs as well as a craft centre with some locally made arts, crafts and cards. So, once you have navigated all those ups and downs in the gardens, there are just a few more stairs to climb to top off your visit.
Highlights: The summer house murals; the ducks!
Refreshments: Redbush tea and half a slice of Victoria sponge cake