9th August 2022
The Enchanting Carey's Secret Garden in Dorset
Imagine buying a house with extensive grounds and then discovering a large, overgrown walled garden hidden in the woods – a secret garden.
It sounds like fiction but it is fact for the Constantine family. Soon after purchasing Carey House in 2019 they stumbled upon a padlocked wooden gate set in a brick wall so overgrown it was barely visible. Through gaps in the wooden slats they could see the old wall enclosed a large garden. A secret garden that has lain untouched for at least forty years. Soon after this discovery plans were made to re-generate the area and the creation of Carey’s Secret Garden began.
An element of secrecy spices up a visit to this unique garden that is still a work in progress but fascinating none-the-less. Visits to the garden must be pre-booked online. And the whereabouts of this garden is not revealed until a booking is confirmed. But I can tell you that it is close to the Dorset town of Wareham. The aim of its creators is to restrict the number of visitors each of the three days it is open every week – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – in order to preserve the peace and tranquillity of this special space. I followed the instructions I was sent, parked in the car park and then followed a signposted trail through the woods.
My companion laughed when I started whispering but it has that effect on you. Excitement and anticipation bubbled up inside me as we strolled along a narrow avenue of trees and shrubs wondering what we would find ahead of us. It was not long before the elegant entrance through the walls appeared before us. These walls and the entrance are 150 years old but look remarkably good for their age. The Victorian walls were in very good condition when they were released from their woodland captors and the walls and integral buildings have been carefully restored to their former glory.
The garden is only enclosed on three sides as the southern boundary is railed fencing to allow the early morning mists and frosts to roll out of the garden and across the water meadows below it towards the River Piddle. This is a natural protection for young trees and crops. Evidence of prior uses of this garden can be seen as you wander through the gardens and original buildings including the old potato store that now houses the Secret Salt Pig Café where a variety of snacks and drinks are available. As it was a hot day this was our first stop for a very welcome Victorian Lemonade.
We sat in the shade of a sun umbrella while Tink (aka Emma Shaw) told us about the garden that surrounded us. A haven for wildlife it is home to deer, squirrels and rabbits as well as numerous birds. A section of the garden was recently closed off as the rare wood lark had chosen to nest here. No doubt the bird was attracted here by the closeness to nature that pervades the atmosphere here. A testament to the successful planning and tending of the garden by the team from Beeutiful Gardens – Paul (head gardener), Dan (garden planner), Amanda and Dom (apprentices).
We started exploring in the Rose Garden which is the focal point of the whole garden and features scented roses and alliums. Its centrepiece is an unusual sculpture and water feature created by local artist Ted Edley at Dorset Copperfish. It looks like an enormous seed, but, then again it could be an egg.
It was while we were admiring the rose garden that we had a chance meeting with Mike, the beekeeper. He took us to show the hives in a fenced-off wooded area at the edge of the garden. His pride and passion regarding bees shone through as he told us about the bees and answered our numerous questions. I could have continued the conversation for a lot longer as it was so interesting but Mike had work to do and we had a garden to explore. It is hoped the honey from these bees will be on sale in the garden’s gift shop (a work in progress) just inside the entrance to the gardens.
Next stop the Stumpery decorated with twisted, old tree stumps from the estate plus lime trees, willow arches and dens creating a natural play area for children.
A whole corner of the garden is devoted to a wild meadow and small orchard. Pears, apricots, nectarines and peaches grow against the wall and there are also a variety of fruit trees such as apple, crabapple, plum, pear, quince and greengage This little orchard reflects the time when the whole garden was once an orchard. It also once housed a whole farm including a piggery. Remnants of prior uses have been found in the garden and around the estate and it is hoped some of these, including a waterwheel, will be featured in the future. This winter plans include the creation of a pond.
There is so much to see here including the Vegetable Garden, a Food Forest, an Arid Garden, the Fruit Cage and the Herb and Tea Garden. Those wishing to learn more can join a Garden Tour (approximately one hour) available on the last Friday of each month. Booked on a first-come, first-served basis they are subject to availability and incur a charge additional to the entrance fee. But the gardeners are always happy to answer questions should you encounter one of them working in the garden or busy in the Roundhouse Potting Shed.
Carey’s Secret Garden is so much more than a productive, lovely garden and somewhere to sit in the cool shade of mature trees and just enjoy being there. It also offers courses embracing a variety of topics and skills from seed sowing to scented gardening, mushroom foraging to moth identification, bird song to creative clay, and permaculture to propagation. Special events and courses are held in the outdoor classroom or ta tent erected in the garden. Book your visit and learn more about the garden here
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing 4 books she turned to online travel writing and photography. Today she is editor, features’ writer and reviewer for ExperiencedTraveller.com and regularly contributes guided city walks to GPSmyCity.com