Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset, England
The Larmer Tree Gardens on the borders of Wiltshire and Dorset represent the eccentric philanthropic vision of General Augustus Pitt-Rivers, who laid them out to his own design in 1880 "for the recreation of people in the neighbouring towns and villages". By the end of the century he had welcomed half a million visitors. In fact, they were the first private gardens opened for public enjoyment in the United Kingdom and they were free to enter.
The gardens are situated on the Rushmore Estate in Cranborne Chase, an ancient royal hunting ground and now an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the gardens themselves are listed as Grade II on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England by English Heritage. You’ll have the opportunity to visit the gardens on High Point Holidays' walking tour: Wonders of Wessex walk, which explores this beautiful region of southern England on the Dorset / Wiltshire border between the cathedral city of Salisbury and the Saxon hill-top town of Shaftersbury as well as our Hart of the Cranborne Chase. Visits are dependent on opening times, days of the week you are passing by and any events that may be taking place there.
In 1880, Augustus Lane Fox inherited the Rushmore Estate, with a condition of the will stipulating that he should change his name to Pitt Rivers. The gardens are named after the Larmer Tree, a landmark tree on the ancient boundary between Wiltshire and Dorset. The tree was possibly an ancient Wych elm (Ulmus glabra) under which King John (1167–1216) and his entourage were reputed to have met when they were out hunting. The original tree was still living as late as 1894, around which time it was replaced by an oak, which was planted in the centre of the decayed rim. As part of the estate, Pitt Rivers had also inherited King John's House in Tollard Royal, one of King John's hunting lodges in Cranborne Chase. This village also features on our independent walking holiday, Wonders of Wessex Walk, which explores the hills and historic sites of this beautiful part of southern England. The origin of the word 'Larmer' is so ancient that it can only be guessed at. Originally spelt Lavermere, 'Mere' would certainly mean a boundary, while 'Laver' might have come from the Anglo-Saxon 'Laur', perhaps meaning Laurel.
Pitt Rivers built several structures around the main lawn including the Nepalese or Indian Room. There was also a racecourse, a bowling green and tennis courts. There were eight picnic areas, each enclosed by cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) hedges and with thatched buildings for shelter. Music and entertainment was provided at the Singing Theatre, where plays and poetry recitals were performed. A band was provided on Sunday afternoons during summer. Thousands of Vauxhall lights, hanging glass lamps lit by candles, illuminated the gardens in the evening, when there was open-air dancing. The night that Thomas Hardy danced with Pitt River's daughter Agnes in 1895 he described the gardens as "Quite the prettiest sight I ever saw in my life".
With Pitt Rivers' death in 1900 the gardens closed, opening only occasionally after that time. Restoration of the gardens started in 1991 under the direction of Michael Pitt-Rivers, the General's great grandson. The cherry laurel had taken over almost all the gardens apart from the main lawn and many of the buildings had decayed.
The gardens cover 11 acres (45,000 m2). Walking around the gardens, you’ll discover many of the Victorian buildings, including the Nepalese Room, a Roman Temple and the Colonial style pavilion, which still remain. The open air theatre has a backdrop painted by the scenery department at the Welsh National Opera and is based on a painting by Poussin. Peacocks and macaws, neither indigenous to the UK, roam the gardens. The gardens are privately owned and are open on a fee-paying basis from Easter to the end of September each year.
A music and arts festival, the Larmer Tree Festival, has been held at the Larmer Tree Gardens every year from 1991 to the present. The 10th End of the Road Festival was held at the Larmer Tree Gardens in 2015. Other events and concerts take place at the gardens throughout the summer. If you decide to book on our self-guided walking holiday: Wonders of Wessex Walk, you should be aware that due to the festivals, the gardens are closed to the general public during some weeks in July, August and the start of September.
End of The Road Festival 2020 - 3rd - 6th Sept 2020
"Simply one of the most magical, inspiring and intimate festivals of the summer."
Larmer Tree Festival 2020 (30th year) - 16th – 19th July 2020
Early bird tickets available - over 100 bands and performers - 8 venues - Comedy Club - 150 free workshops - street theatre - carnival - intimate crowd of 4,000 - independent - The perfect escape from it all!
Other places of interest on the Wonders of Wessex Walking Holiday: Salisbury - Shaftesbury - Tollard Royal - Old Sarum - Old Wardour Castle - Gold Hill - Wilton House - Ashmore - Cranborne Chase - Wessex - Woodford Valley - Stonehenge