Exploring Somerset’s garden of earthly delights

If you walk left on entering the Newt in Somerset, past the shop selling artisanal wares, up the slope and into the deer park, you will arrive at an avenue of pines edging an old Roman road. It’s a good place to view the monumental scale of the work that has taken place on the 800-acre Hadspen estate since the South African, Koos Bekker, and his wife Karen Roos bought it in 2013.

Look west, towards the 17th-century, Grade II*-listed Hadspen House and you can take in the owners’ masterplan, designed by the French architect Patrice Taravella. There are the pretty squares of the kitchen garden; the egg-shaped “parabola”, a walled labyrinth featuring 267 varieties of apple tree; a cascade of ponds; a Victorian glasshouse; a cottage orné; and a succession of pools and lawns leading up to the house itself, once the seat of the Hobhouse family, now a hotel.

“It’s best to think of the Newt as a garden with a hotel attached rather than a hotel with a garden attached,” is how visitor manager Arthur Cole puts it. The estate has 300 years of horticultural history to draw upon – the original estate featured a French garden of limes and elms; the great garden designer Penelope Hobhouse lived here until 1979; and artists Nori and Sandra Pope opened their celebrated “colour gardens” here in 1987, now reimagined in red, blue and white – but still, many visitors are surprised at the extent of the Bekker-Roos vision.

From the vast yew hedge (shipped in fully mature from Belgium) that surrounds the badminton court, to the state-of-the-art cider-making facilities and garden-to-table restaurant, the whole place has a no-expense-spared vibe about it. The Newt is named after the 2,000 crested newts that occupy the site – but its scale is more like that of Jurassic Park.

Still, if you turn around 180 degrees and look west from the pines, over the deer park, you’ll spy a less showy side of the project. A grassy hill rises gently, then falls away into a dell of ancient beech, oak, ash and hornbeam. You would imagine at first glance that you’ve reached the periphery of the estate. But you would be wrong. Carved as if by Hobbits into the Somerset earth is the Story of Gardening, a state-of-the-art interactive museum, designed by Stonewood architects and kitted out by the Dutch exhibition designers Kossmanndejong. Its roof is covered in grass – and sometimes the deer wander on top of it.

The first thing that struck me was the scale. You haven’t seen that since Victorian times

To reach the museum’s entrance you walk out into the forest on a wooden pathway. After a few paces, the grass drops dramatically away beneath you and you’re up in a canopy of trees on a spectacular serpentine walkway, rising 12m from the forest floor. The path – nicknamed the Viper – sashays for 130m among the treetops before winding back to the museum’s huge, glassy entrance.

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Exploring the Largest Tropical Botanical Garden in the Americas

Nestled in the heart of the Americas, in the beautiful country of Honduras, you will find the largest botanical garden in the Americas: Lancetilla Botanical Garden. Its name comes from one of the local plants that is quite abundant here: the Lancetilla Palm, a lovely tropical palm tree that is protected by a nasty set of thorns that keep it away from the menu of the diverse local animals, as well as off the roofs of the thatched palms that locals build.

Lancetilla Botanical Gardens is located in the lovely destination of Atlantida, right in the heart of Central America's Caribbean Coast, jus t outside the city of Tela. Atlantida, was the actually created as a department (local equivalent to a state of province) to facilitate the activities of two large fruit companies that established themselves in the area at the beginning of the Twentieth Century: The Vaccaro Brothers Company, which later became the Standard Fruit Company, and the Tela Railroad Company, which is part of the United Fruit Brands. The first had its operational and administrative hub in the city of La Ceiba, and the latter in the city of Tela.

As part of an effort to find different fruits that would be a profitable produce to export, the Tela Railroad Company established a center for investigation and created what today is known as Lancetilla Botanical Garden. Here, a large collection of exotic fruit trees from Central and South America, as well as Asia, Africa and even Oceania was put together, with experimental plantsations of several of them, including the absolutely delicious Mangosteen and Rambutan from southeast Asia. Get acquainted with the over 16 different species of palms that form part of the local collection, and walk under the tunnel that the giant spiny bamboo forms at the end of the trail.

Today Lancetilla Botanical Garden is managed by the ESNACIFOR, which stands for National School of Forest Sciences, whose headquarters is in the City of Siguatepeque, in the department of Comayagua. The Gardens are open to the public year round, and have a nice, well kept trail and great guides that will make exploring the largest botanical garden in the Americas a truly learning experience.

Lancetilla Botanical Gardens is also a great place for birdwatchers, because the abundance of tropical fruits make it a site that naturally attracts birds of different species who thrive on the abundance of food in the area.

Plan on spending at least three or four hours in the garden, but make sure you bring some insect repellent with you, as a large part of this tropical garden is covered with a dense jungle that makes mosquitoes thrive!

Lancetilla is but one of the many different nature and educational activities that you can enjoy in Atlantida, which is probably the most complete destination of its sort in the World, certainly in Central America.

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