The Gardens History

The Gardens of Woburn Abbey have developed over centuries, influenced by events affecting the family, the estate and the country as a whole. From the foundation as an Cistercian Abbey through to the low maintenance designs needed during times of war, historic events have altered the landscape in ways which you can still see today. 

A few years ago Woburn Abbey Gardens were noticeably Victorian in style, however that has all changed since 2004. The Gardens Team, with direction from The Duchess of Bedford and Martin Towsey, Estates Gardens Manager, have undertaken to restore and recreate Woburn Abbey Gardens based on Humphry Repton's original designs.

Review our timeline to see the key milestones in the history of the gardens.

Timeline

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A charter for the Abbey from the 12th century.

1145

Hugh de Bolebac founds Woburn Abbey with monks from Fountains Abbey. Medicinal herbs are grown, there is a bowling green for the monks and a fish pool.

Pictured: A charter for the Abbey from the 12th century.

The Abbot was hung from a tree in the park. It is thought to be this tree still standing today.

1538

Abbot Robert Hobbes executed for treason by Henry VIII and Woburn Abbey dissolved.

Pictured: The Abbot was hung from a tree in the park. It is thought to be this tree still standing today.

John, First Earl of Bedford, after Hans Holbein

1547

Sir John Russell given Woburn Abbey by Edward VI and in 1550, following instructions in his father Henry VIII’s will, he created John the first Earl of Bedford.

Pictured: John, First Earl of Bedford, after Hans Holbein

The Grotto

1630s

Francis, 4th Earl moved into Woburn Abbey and builds two-storey north wing, with the maritime themed grotto - still part of the house today. There is also a simple garden.

Pictured: The Grotto

John Bartram, plant collector

1743 – 1771

4th Duke collects trees and shrubs from America. Evergreens were planted in 1743 and this first UK pinetum had every species of pine known to Britain at that time by the 1830s.

Pictured: John Bartram, plant collector

The Chinese Dairy today

1787

The Chinese Dairy was designed by Henry Holland for Francis, 5th Duke and erected in 1787. Read more about The Chinese Dairy in the 'Explore The Gardens' section.

Pictured: The Chinese Dairy today

Portrait of Humphry Repton

1795

‘Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening’ was published by Humphry Repton.

Pictured: Portrait of Humphry Repton

A watercolour showing Repton designing at Woburn.

1805

6th Duke commissioned the famous landscape gardener Humphry Repton to landscape the park and gardens. He also employed Sir Jeffrey Wyatville to design the flower houses.

Pictured: A watercolour showing Repton designing at Woburn.

The Camellia House today

1822

Jeffry Wyatt, later Sir Jeffry Wyatville, added a segmental conservatory to the Sculpture Gallery. This conservatory became the Camellia House.

Pictured: The Camellia House today

Grass Garden plan from 1817.

1826

A report of Darwin’s first ecological experiment at Woburn is published in the Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis.

Pictured: Grass Garden plan from 1817.

Three lions.

1828

Hastings, the future 9th Duke of Bedford, is one of the founders of London Zoological Gardens.

Pictured: Three lions.

In the centre is a Chinese temple based on a design by Sir Charles Chambers.

1831

The maze was originally formed in 1831. It is mainly of hornbeam and constructed based on one in Portugal, seen by Lord George William Russell when Ambassador at Lisbon.

Pictured: In the centre is a Chinese temple based on a design by Sir Charles Chambers.

The 6th Duke of Bedford.

1837 - 1844

Kew Gardens are saved for the nation by a group including the 6th Duke. In 1844 a hail storm broke the glass in the conservatory and the orchid collection is given to Kew.

Pictured: The 6th Duke of Bedford.

Soldiers and nurses on The Chinese Dairy veranda.

1914

The large labour force of gardeners are lost due to WWI. It is the start of a decline of these great gardens. The Chinese Dairy veranda became an open air ward for soldiers.

Pictured: Soldiers and nurses on The Chinese Dairy veranda.

1930

Percy Cane attempts to re-landscape Woburn Abbey Gardens and creates some new vistas and tree avenues so less labour is needed to maintain the gardens.

The current Kitchen Garden.

1939-1945

People are encouraged to ‘Dig for Victory’ during WWII and the lawns are dug up to grow crops.

Pictured: The current Kitchen Garden.

The reconstructed heather collection today.

1949

The greenhouse on stilts is demolished. This had housed the Ericetum - a collection of heathers.

Pictured: The reconstructed heather collection today.

Newspaper clipping.

1955

Woburn Abbey is opened to the public and the gardens are used as the site of a fairground. The largest open area is used for crazy golf and is still called The Putting Green.

Pictured: Newspaper clipping.

The 15th Duke and Duchess.

2003

Andrew, the 15th and present Duke, inherits the Estate.

Pictured: The 15th Duke and Duchess.

The Cone House is one of the features that has been reconstructed.

2004-2014

Restoration and recreation of the Abbey Gardens to Repton’s designs from 200 years ago begins under the guidance of Her Grace, The Duchess of Bedford.

Pictured: The Cone House is one of the features that has been reconstructed.

The annual Garden Show is held in June each year.

2010

The Abbey Gardens became an RHS Partner Garden and holds the first Woburn Abbey Garden Show.

Pictured: The annual Garden Show is held in June each year.

The award and members of the gardens team at the Pavilion.

2012

The Gardens win the Hudson’s Heritage Award for New Commission for the pavilion and rockery reconstruction.

Pictured: The award and members of the gardens team at the Pavilion.

The Cone House and Aviary in the Georgian period.

2013

Woburn Abbey Gardens wins 'Best Restoration of a Georgian Garden or Landscape' at the Georgian Group Architectural Awards.

Pictured: The Cone House and Aviary in the Georgian period.

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Events & Exhibitions

Image for Spring Gardening Skills

Spring Gardening Skills

Let the Woburn Abbey Gardens Team give you the confidence to tackle essential jobs in your own garden with this seasonal session.
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Easter Flowers with Jonathan Moseley

A masterclass in Easter flower-arranging with floral expert, Jonathan Moseley.
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Parkland Tour - April

Come along on a tour around our beautiful deer park, and experience it as Humphry Repton intended.
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Humphry Repton Study Day

Take an in-depth look at the career of Humphry Repton and what made him such a remarkable landscape gardener.
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Woburn Abbey Gardens Tour and Lunch

Enjoy the splendour of the Woburn Abbey Gardens through the seasons with our 2017 private garden tour and lunch at The Sculpture Gallery.
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Kitchen Gardening

Learn a variety of skills to take away and use in your own Kitchen Garden.
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Wedding Flowers with Jonathan Moseley

A masterclass in wedding flower-arranging with floral expert, Jonathan Moseley.
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Parkland Tour - May

Come along on a tour around our beautiful deer park, and experience it as Humphry Repton intended.
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Woburn Abbey Garden Show 2017

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After the huge success of the 2016 Garden Show this June we are pleased to announce that tickets can now be purchased for the 8th Woburn Abbey Garden Show taking place on 24th and 25th June 2017. Set against the stunning backdrop of Woburn Abbey, ‘The Gardener’s Garden Show’ offers visitors the best location of any show in the UK, taking place within the 42 acres of Abbey Gardens.
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Introduction to Garden Photography

A great opportunity to learn the basics of digital photography
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Woburn Abbey Gardens Tour and Lunch 13th July

Enjoy the splendour of the Woburn Abbey Gardens through the seasons with our 2017 private garden tour and lunch at The Sculpture Gallery.
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Bee Walk

Discover the importance of attracting bees to your garden and, more importantly, how to attract them.
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Garden Safari Week - July

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Calling all Garden Explorers! Come and join us on our Garden Safari this summer holiday.
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Parkland Tour - July

Come along on a tour around our beautiful deer park, and experience it as Humphry Repton intended.
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Garden Safari Week - August

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Calling all Garden Explorers! Come and join us on our Garden Safari this summer holiday.
Image for Parkland Tour - August

Parkland Tour - August

Come along on a tour around our beautiful deer park, and experience it as Humphry Repton intended.
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Bat Walks

and
Take an exclusive tour of the Woburn Abbey Gardens at night and learn about the nocturnal activities of the bats living in the gardens.
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Bat Walks

and
Take an exclusive tour of the Woburn Abbey Gardens at night and learn about the nocturnal activities of the bats living in the gardens.
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Pruning Study Day

This session is designed to give you a wide range of pruning skills and enable you to get hands on with plant material to gain the confidence with your own garden maintenance.
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Christmas Flowers with Jonathan Moseley

A masterclass in Christmas flower-arranging with floral expert, Jonathan Moseley.