Heale Gardens are eight acres of tranquility, birdsong and gently running streams in the Woodford Valley. Open to the public five days a week, they are the perfect spot for the Slow Traveller to wander through an 'English Country Garden' in near solitude.
Heale House is a 16th century, privately-owned house just outside Middle Woodford in the Woodford Valley, about 4 miles outside Salisbury and just 4 miles from Stonehenge. The Woodford Valley is a beautiful place; three small villages which follow the meandering path of the River Avon, villages of thatched cottages, lichen clad churches and old village halls surrounded by hills of woods and open farmland. A visit here can feel like a step back in time.
The house is 16th century, a delightfully quirky, unpretentious manor house. Built by Sir William Green, it was given to his daughter as a wedding present in 1533. It changed hands several times over the following centuries with the occupants making several changes to the structure, until a fire devastated much of it in 1835. Sensitively rebuilt on the original foundations, it is now a beautiful, wisteria-clad building of mellow red brick with a dressed stone façade, tall ornate doorways and windows of gently bowing glass panes.
Its claim to fame is that Charles II spent 6 days hiding here in 1651 when he was on the run from parliamentary forces after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. 'The Monarchs Way' is the 625 mile route he took to escape to France (which can now be followed as a long distance footpath) and it enters the area through Grovely Woods, going through nearby Stoford and Stapleford before following the Avon into Middle and then Lower Woodford.
At the time, the house was owned by Katherine Hyde, widow of the MP Lawrence Hyde who was loyal to the Crown. He arrived with his servants and then made a great show of leaving by riding around the district and visiting Stonehenge, before returning secretly, known only to Mrs Hyde. He hid there for 6 days while plans were made to find a ship which would take him to France and safety.
The house is sadly not open to the public as it is a private family home, but it makes a beautiful backdrop to the gardens, giving them a focal point. The full eight acres are not available to the public, but I think they have allowed us into the best bits. There are discreet signs telling you where you can and can't go - small and unobtrusive enough not to ruin your photos, obvious enough so that you know exactly where you are welcome.
A visit to the gardens starts with your entrance down the long, tree-lined driveway, typical of so many stately homes. A small car park is at the end and the entry to the plant centre and coffee shop, where you pay for entrance to the gardens. It is all very low key and sets the perfect tone for the peaceful gardens.
Walking through a small wooden gate leads you to your first impressive look over the landscape. Small wooden bridges cross the shallow river and there is an abundance of plants and trees to draw the eye in every direction. You can explore as you wish, there is no set path to follow and there are plenty of places to just sit and admire the view or listen to the sounds of the river.
There is a Japanese theme to the first part of the gardens, with the presence of an authentic Japanese Tea House, which is Grade II listed. It is a lovely building made of pale wood with ornate carvings and a thatched roof. A strong torrent of water emerges from underneath it through a small brick lined channel - a remnant of the 17th century water-meadow irrigation system. Next to the tea house is a red lacquered bridge, known as the Nikko Bridge, which crosses the Avon to a field filled with small goats. The bridge is intertwined with white and purple wisteria providing a vivid splash of colour amongst all the greens around it, and the smooth brass of the knobs glisten in the sunshine.
The Japanese Garden also contains two stone temple lanterns, which emerge from an area of wildflower planting, their smooth and weathered edges blending in to their surroundings.
The whole Japanese Garden was planted in 1915, with the elements all imported from Japan and laid out according to a Japanese garden design.
It has changed somewhat since then after being neglected during World War II, but I like that it is less formal than it probably was and is more in keeping with the English countryside around it.
There are small formal gardens near the house with immaculately cut hedges and a perfect grass lawn without a single weed that I can only dream of having. To one side of the house is the Grade II listed 'boat terrace', a decorative landing area where you descend a few steps and can sit on a bench surrounded by plants and watch the river flowing by.
My favourite garden is the Tunnel Garden, which seems to be a mix of formal planting and kitchen garden. Divided into quarters with a fish pond at the centre, the tunnels are walkways of apple and pear trees which form delightful bowers to walk under. Planted in 1965, they are mature enough to provide shade underneath, their gnarled branches with fresh green leaves sheltering you from the overhead sun. They must look fantastic in autumn when the fruit is ripening.
There are other small garden areas, such as the sundial garden, and the one left to go wild with tall grasses and the odd beautiful flower popping through which must be left over from when the area was planted more formally.
The gardens are small but lovely, with the low lying River Avon tributaries as a focal point and the backdrop of densely wooded hills making you feel as if you are in an isolated bubble of discreetly managed nature.
The owners of the house thoughtfully provide plenty of benches around the gardens where you can just sit and appreciate your surroundings - you don't feel as if you are under any pressure to move on and that you are welcome to take your time.
Your visit ends going back through the tea rooms. The food is good and a reasonable price - tea is served in tea pots with delicate china cups and sandwiches are generous and freshly made. You can sit indoors in the tasteful pale room, or outdoors by the river where a cheeky robin has no qualms about landing on your table to steal a few crumbs.
The exit is through the small garden centre where the plants are on sale for a very good price and you can take home your own little piece of Heale Gardens.
VISITING HEALE GARDENS
How to get to Heale Gardens
Postcode: SP4 6NU
Public Transport: From Salisbury, take the 201 bus towards Amesbury, get off at Avon Meadows and then it is only a 10 min walk to Heale Garden. Find timetable >>
Parking: There is a free car park on site
When is Heale Gardens open?
Usually 11am - 4pm, Wednesday - Sunday. Check the website before setting out.
How much does it cost to visit Heale?
£6 per adult and £3 per child.
Are there any facilities at Heale Gardens?
There is a tea room and loos.
Useful tips for visiting Heale House
The gardens are open in every season and apparently are amazing during early Spring when the snowdrops are out, when I believe you may need to pre-book your visit. My photos were all taken on a visit during late May.
Tours with the head gardener can be booked, as can group visits.
It is sometime possible to book a visit on a day they are normally closed - you need to email to check availability.
Dogs and picnics are not permitted.
There are no play areas or facilities specifically for kids - which is great for keeping the place peaceful!
Which is the nearest town to Heale House Gardens?
Salisbury is the nearest town. See our Salisbury City Guide for details on how to get to Salisbury, locally owned accommodation, restaurants and shops, further places to visit and things to do.