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Bedfordshire Gardens

Bedfordshire Flag

Though one of England’s smaller counties, Bedfordshire is also one of the most densely populated.

Just on the edge of London’s commuter belt, it’s a popular place to live - but beyond its urban enclaves, there’s a lot going on. With beautiful rural countryside to take advantage of, and heaps of history and heritage to discover, Bedfordshire has plenty to see and do.

Days out in Bedfordshire

Bedfordshire has fantastic activities and attractions to visit, some great days out, and lots of open countryside to enjoy, including The Chilterns AONB. Best known for the county town of Bedford and larger Luton, Dunstable, and Leighton Buzzard towns, Bedfordshire offers a fascinating mix of history, culture, and open spaces.

Among the most popular places to visit in Bedfordshire are some of the best for family days out. Woburn Safari Park near Leighton Buzzard is a spectacular drive-through wildlife park in 360-acres of parkland, letting you see some of the world’s most endangered animals up close and personal, including tigers, lions, elephants, and white rhinos. Near Dunstable, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is home to animals, wildlife, and birds from three continents.

Twinwoods Adventure Park in Milton Ernest near Bedford has a whole range of onsite activities to enjoy for all ages. From indoor climbing walls and indoor surfing on the FlowRider to adrenaline-filled indoor skydiving and base jumping from the 125ft BodyFlight Vertigo tower: a great day out for everyone.

Bedford is also perfect for exploring, with plenty of historic sights and landmarks to see. The Higgins Bedford is the town’s art gallery and museum that includes a collection of fine art on display. For literature buffs, the John Bunyan Meeting House and Museum celebrates the author’s life and works; take in the superb views over the River Ouse as you walk over the historic Bedford Town Bridge.

As Bedfordshire’s largest town, Luton also has plenty to offer. Wardown House, Museum, and Gallery is a lovely Grade II listed building in Wardown Park. With displays and exhibits, Wardown is a time capsule from the Victorian era and houses a collection of over 700 hats, celebrating a big part of Luton’s history. Nearby Someries Castle is a historic site featuring the ruins of a 15th-century house thought to be one of the earliest brick-built homes in England.

But let’s not forget about the county’s beautiful countryside. Just inside Bedfordshire’s south-western border is a part of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where you’ll find the stunning landscapes of the Dunstable Downs. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, the miles of footpaths include plenty of circular walks to take in the scenery, while the hills and ridge are ideal for picnics or, on a windy day, kite flying.

Topography, geology, and climate

With a rich and varied range of urban and rural landscapes across the county, Bedfordshire’s land cover and varied soil types provide a blend of different qualities and fertility levels.

Unusually, almost the entire county is covered with highly fertile, lime-rich soils made up of loam and clay. This is punctuated by pockets of base-rich loam and clay in the far north, and slightly acid, sandy in the east. A mix of lime-rich and slightly acid loam and clay soils also flank the length of the River Ouse across the county.

In the south, soil types are more varied. Featuring a patchwork of soils similar to those in the north, shallow lime-rich soils run east to west through the Chilterns. Around Luton and beyond, the lime-rich loamy soil turns to slightly acid loam and clay soils.

Somewhat protected from the UK’s south-westerly winds, weather in Bedfordshire maintains an overall mild and temperate climate. Temperatures across the summer months can average around 22ºC (71ºF), while winter temperatures can be low, dropping to around 1ºC (33ºF) on average. And rainfall can reach around 650mm (26”) across the county.

Bedfordshire’s parks and gardens

Together with the open Bedfordshire countryside, there are several notable gardens to enjoy. Giving you plenty of time and opportunity to explore and discover inspiring, tranquil, and renowned gardens, Bedfordshire’s parks and gardens offer something for everyone, from the able green-fingered to those just wanting to get back to nature.

North Bedfordshire

The 10-acre Shuttleworth Swiss Garden near Biggleswade is an RHS partner garden in a Regency style that provides interest for everyone. With wonderful landscapes, surrounded by woodland walks and sculpture trails, the Swiss Garden is filled with lakes and open gardens with herbaceous borders, trees, and shrubs. In amongst it all, there are 13 listed buildings together with some amazing views out to the other gardens beyond.

Wrest Park near Silsoe is perhaps Bedfordshire’s, and England’s, most wonderful garden – but it’s also a real hidden gem. The 90-acre background to this Grade I listed house was landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in his trademark style. But the stunning gardens surrounding the house brilliantly display distinct French, English, Dutch, and Italian styles with beautifully shaped beds, packed with colour. There’s also a variety of hidden ornaments to look out for including a marble fountain, and a Chinese temple and bridge. Make sure you visit the Capability Brown Memorial at the far end of the Long Canal.

If you’re in Bedford, the Priory Country Park is a 360-acre space on the outskirts of town that’s well worth visiting. Sitting alongside a natural bend in the River Ouse, this award-winning park features lakes, meadowland, and woodland that provides a haven for wildlife and birdlife. There are plenty of walking trails to explore, plus a play area for children, and opportunities for fishing, bird watching, and water sports.

South Bedfordshire

Stockwood Park in Luton offers a great day out for families inside what was once the grounds of a stately home, now known as the Stockwood Discovery Centre. Re-purposed to include an indoor gallery and museum together with an outdoor children’s play area, the magnificent gardens are still a joy. Alongside the 100-acre main parkland with mature trees, the garden areas provide plenty to explore, including the historic walled garden, Victorian garden, knot garden, and tranquil sensory garden.

Ascott House and Garden in Leighton Buzzard is a popular National Trust property featuring a half-timber manor house dating back to the 1600s and magnificent surrounding gardens. A mix of formal and informal, the gardens feature pathways through glorious parterres with colourful herbaceous borders and notable beds. Architectural hedging, topiary, and water features all add interest, while specimen trees including oaks, cedars, and horse chestnuts, and expansive views all provide the perfect backdrop.

With extensive English landscape gardens designed by designer, Humphry Repton, the gardens of Woburn Abbey cover 28-acres and certainly capture the imagination. With a bog garden, sensory garden, kitchen garden, and amazing herbaceous borders, there’s plenty to enjoy. But these historic grounds also include a 3,000-acre Deer Park which is home to nine species of deer as well as public footpaths leading you through the glorious surroundings.