Going Dutch at Dunsborough Park gardens, Ripley

The scene across the Dutch garden

The scene across the Dutch garden - Credit: Archant

Some 20,000 dazzling tulips will be on display at Dunsborough Park in Ripley this month, a treat that is not to be missed

The Baron and Baroness

The Baron and Baroness - Credit: Archant

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2015


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Need to know:

Dunsborough Park, Ripley GU23 6AL. The Festival of Tulips takes place on Saturday April 18, Saturday April 25 and Sunday April 26 (1pm to 5pm) and Thursday April 30 (1pm to 7pm). Admission: £6. For more information on other opening dates, visit the website at dunsboroughpark.com


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For Dutch-born Baron Dolf and Baroness Caroline Sweerts de Landas Wyborgh, tulips are a must-have beauty in the spring garden at Dunsborough Park in Ripley. Indeed, every year they plant some 20,000 of these glorious bulbs, some in neat regimented colour-themed rows, others randomly distributed in flower meadows, creating their famous Festival of Tulips each April. “We love tulips, both in the garden and also as cut flowers in the house,” says Caroline. “They make me feel very happy because they are so bright – and some, such as ‘Angelique’, look like peonies, another of my favourite flowers.”

A potted history

Dating back to the 16th century, the estate was formed during the dissolution of the monasteries, when a local nobleman was granted the land from Newark Abbey. Since then, the property has grown from a small farmhouse to the stunning building we see today with Queen Anne and Georgian accretions. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that the gardens were first professionally laid out and encircled by red brick walls.

Over the years, they were gradually extended and improved by the various owners, though as with many estates, the grounds fell into a state of disrepair in the 20th century. Thankfully, in 1994, Caroline and Dolf moved into the property and, since then, they have been guiding a transformation of the gardens to a beautiful landscape blending formal and informal areas.

“The gardens were completely derelict when we arrived,” says Caroline. “We started on our own initially and later worked with garden designers Penelope Hobhouse and then Rupert Golby.”

The structure of the gardens at Dunsborough now reflects exuberant planting schemes and impressive definition. Six acres of formal gardens extend around the house in a series of garden rooms and vistas, and also as ‘showroom’ spaces for their collection of antique garden ornaments for sale. The walled garden includes a white garden with an ancient 300-year-old mulberry tree, a rose garden of David Austin varieties, a Dutch garden with a sophisticated potager, as well as shrub and herbaceous borders.

Also of special note are the Edwardian glasshouses, a Palm House, long grassed walks edged with hedges and a large water garden, created in the 1930s and being gradually redeveloped.

“I am very involved in the garden and design,” continues Caroline. “Not so much the planting, but the colour and symmetry, and I meet with the gardeners every morning.”

Festival of tulips

Three main seasonal interests have been developed – spring is the tulip extravaganza; herbaceous and roses feature in June; and dahlias dazzle in September – but it’s the tulips for which they are perhaps most famous.

Every autumn, around 10,000 new tulip bulbs are planted in the formal beds, colour-themed in neat designs. Colours are bright and eye-catching, including massed ‘Temple’s Favourite’, a stunning red splashed with orange, lily-shaped flower that Caroline particularly loves. An idea inspired by a visit to Keukenhof in Holland also sees ribbons of violet blue muscari lining and interweaving the display.

“This year, we had to give some areas a rest from tulips and have planted thousands of blue and white hyacinths as well,” adds Caroline.

In contrast, a large bulb meadow has been created over the past few years near the bridge by the water garden in a wild, naturalistic style. Each June, when the tulips finish in the formal garden, they are lifted, peeled, dried and stored, then replanted in a totally random fashion into the meadow in the autumn.

“Originally, we tried placing the bulbs in a pattern but that really didn’t work, so now we literally throw them randomly without knowing the colours they’ll become and plant them where they fall,” explains Caroline.

The effect is mesmerising with a meld of bright colours jostling together. Other natural areas can be found by the water where meandering paths under a canopy of weeping willows are planted with white tulips, creating little lights in the dappled shade, and circles of soft pink ‘Angelique’ are echoed overhead by blowsy cherry blossom of the same colour on a grassy bank.

National interest

It’s no wonder that their spectacular display has attracted the attention of TV producers. In fact, you may have seen the ever-enthusiastic plant hunter and TV presenter Tom Hart Dyke interview Caroline for the superb BBC Great British Garden Revival Series just recently, on his campaign for more people to grow tulips. His enthusiasm for these flamboyant flowers and ideas for how to grow and display them in the garden included the showcase at Dunsborough with both the bedding uses and wild meadow. “We had such a lovely day filming and chatting about the tulips,” adds Caroline.

Happy to share their beautiful gardens with the public, they also open to visitors through the year on various open days, raising money for some of the couple’s favourite charities, as well as holding weddings and events. “I enjoy chatting with visitors and also do the teas,” adds Caroline. She even takes orders for tulip bulbs, which she will collect along with her own when she drives over to Holland to buy them later in the year before the planting regime in October begins the process again.


Get the look...

• By selecting a variety of early to late flowering tulips, you can create a succession of bloom

• Plant in colour-themed rows and within parterres for a formal style

• Decorative impact is increased by edging with vibrant muscari

• In small gardens, try containers of layered tulip bulbs to flower in a succession of timings

• Good drainage is important as tulips will rot if the soil is too wet

• Species tulips can stay in the ground and will continue to thrive

• For other varieties, lift and store, and replenish beds with fresh bulbs as well

• Try a ‘meadow’ effect by planting the bulbs randomly in a mixed colour palette in the grass


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