******How To Get There: ****
Admission is normally free, unless there is a pre-arranged craft or show event there. There is ample parking right outside the gates and that too is free.
At the Black Dam Roundabout on the A30 London Road, take the 2nd exit following Ring way south and signs for A30, Andover and Winchester.
At Hackwood Road Roundabout take the 2nd exit continuing to follow Ring way South.
At Winchester Road Roundabout, take the 1st exit along Winchester Road.
At Brighton Hill Roundabout, take the 4th exit right following the signs to Down Grange Playing Fields. Pass Homebase on your left and join Pack Lane.
At the brown Walled Garden sign, turn left into the sports complex. Follow the road that runs past the athletics track, pass the Hockey club on the left and drive into the car park. The Walled Garden is easily identified by the large ornate front gates.
*** What Is It? ****
The fully enclosed walled garden is situated in Basingstoke, Hampshire.
The land used to part of the historical Down Grange Estate in 1800 and originally served as a kitchen garden to The Down Grange House. As you approach through the entrance gates, it resembles something from Narnia, this is truly a delightful secret garden that you least expect to find, just off Pack Lane.
Today Basingstoke and Deane council own operate and maintain the Walled Garden as a public garden and wildlife area. Original features however still remain such as the yew hedges, croquet lawn and beautiful gothic style gates.
It contains a good display of demonstration allotments, beehives (run by the Basingstoke and District Beekeepers Association), plus a wildlife and picnic area. This little known haven of tranquillity is ideal for taking the children on a nature walk and just relaxing in the summer sunshine. Though not overly large, do not expect Hampton Court size gardens, there is still enough to keep the little ones amused for an hour or so.
It really is back to nature for entertainment value and set in safe and secure surroundings, which is not situated near a main road. Walk around at your own leisure (believe me it wont take you that long) and admire the scenery and the different aromas of lavender and herbaceous bushes.
For example you or the children can try pond dipping, water permitting. With its wooden bridge over the top, children can look down and see water snails, frogs, etc. Not too deep, just over a foot of water is usually present but adult supervision is required at all times. Take a jam jar and an old kitchen sieve, then see what they can scoop up and observe. My friend and I were there just this week and even with all this rain we have had recently in 2007, there was hardly a covering of water below the bridge. Perhaps the council should look into drainage.
You can also go bug hunting amongst the fauna and flora. In the Early Learning Childrens Shop there is an ingenious gadget that costs no more than £5 but allows the little ones to search for mini beasts and then place them inside the bug catcher and observe them close up through a magnifying porthole. When they have finished with this particular bug, they are easily released and returned back to their home.
The Garden is perfect location for wedding receptions and private functions. The flat and immaculate kept grassy area is large enough for a marquee. Incase you are wondering where the food for an event can be kept, well there is a small building called The Bothy. This has public toilets with disabled access as well as baby changing facilities. There is a small kitchen area too inside this building.
Unfortunately you cannot rely on The Bothy being opened and if you need a toilet, you will have to walk to the Down Grange Pub/Restaurant about half a mile away.
Its in the garden that they often host a series of popular family events such as craft shows throughout the year. Also school trips are accommodated but you have to arrange it prior to coming. As this is a nature and conservation area, it really does make it ideal for school visits.
On the last school trip I attended here, all the equipment was provided for pond dipping and bug catching plus The Bothy was kept opened for the children to wash their hands afterwards. Unfortunately there is no water tap anywhere else in the garden, so as a tip, go prepared with wet wipes for cleaning. You also have to take your rubbish with you as I did not see any facilities for litter.
However, for older children this place soon becomes tiresome. There are no swings, no slides or climbing frames. It really is just various hedgerows, immaculate lawns and allotments. Please remember do not touch the vegetables or herbs; this is not a pick your own allotment, everything grown here is for show purposes in the autumn. Figs, pears, apples and beans are growing slowly but surely at the present moment.
There are no benches to sit on, so take your own picnic rug or if travelling by car, I suggest a fold up deck chair. Its not a place to spend the whole day, no more than a couple of hours at best. Shade is limited and the majority of it is by the compost heap enough said! Be prepared on a hot day with sun hats, sun cream and lots of water.
There is a sign outside that states no dogs but the Basingstoke and Deane website states that dogs are allowed in with a lead. Each time I have been there I have seen no dogs inside. I am sure if dogs were permitted inside, the lawns would have yellow patches not be such a deep vibrant green.
In clean and pleasant surroundings, I would recommend this garden, especially for wheel chair users as this place is completely level. Its worth a visit but not for too long, even adults will get bored. If you live within a mile of this place make the effort to see the gardens, if not then save your petrol.
Remember there is a pub within walking distance!
Contact Details to hire the garden: 01256 844844 and ask for the events coordinator.