Ferns add flourish to rare Regency garden restoration

Almost a year on from the completion of its £3.6m rescue restoration, the rare Swiss Garden in Bedfordshire – Britain’s most complete surviving Regency period garden – has just been given a finishing flourish.

The Swiss Garden team. Image: Darren Harbar Photography
The Swiss Garden team. Image: Darren Harbar Photography

Ferns, exotic and shade-loving plants now light up its Grade II grotto and fernery. The garden team of staff, apprentices and volunteers have just completed the planting inside and along the banks outside the stunning grotto and fernery - one of 13 listed garden buildings and structures restored in the nine-acre garden. 

The grotto and fernery dates from the early 1800s, with Pulhamite-lined tunnels with planting pockets added to the building by the garden’s Victorian owners. The tunnels create a shady fern-lined entrance to contrast with the warm and sunny glazed Regency conservatory, framed with original wrought ironwork and now boasting 4,300 panes of new hand-cut, handmade cylinder glass replaced during restoration. 

Planting in the tunnels includes Adiantum, Asplenium, Dryopteris, Polypodium and Polystichum, with added interest in the form of different frond shapes - for instance ‘Hart’s Tongue’ ferns, the parsley-like Athyrium felix-femina 'Lady in Lace’ and Cyrtomium fortunei  with its sickle-shaped pinnae.  Also included are some of the smaller varieties of hosta.

In the brighter conservatory area, there is more colour on offer with four large Strelitzia reginae acting as a vibrant centrepiece and contrasting with the more delicate fronds of the tree ferns. Streptocarpus varieties and further light-tolerant ferns add more variety to the mix. Wisteria sinensis, which was previously trained along wires to arch across the glazed ‘arms’ of the grotto and fernery, has also been replaced.

Just outside, more ferns and ground-cover plants now help with weed control in the steep banks leading down to the grotto. A base planting of hardy staples such as geranium, foxgloves, Brunnera and Alchemilla has been embellished with splashes of vinca, Viola odorata and Omphalodes cappadocia.  Bulbs also play an important role.

Elsewhere in the garden, the Floral, Pond Cascade and Chapel Arches now host a selection of newly planted rambling rose and clematis varieties, and future plans include the addition of a series of "intense horticultural moments" into the garden’s main series of planted beds, to break up the shrub planting and offer further colour and vibrancy.

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