The Upper Gardens in Bournemouth were originally laid out as a private garden for the Durrant family in the 1860s. However, before the nearby Lower Gardens were laid out, the lease was given to Bournemouth Council. Unlike the other two gardens in the centre of town, the Upper Gardens have a “three continent” theme with three separate sections.
There is a European themed section, an Asian section and the third is filled with plant species from North America. The gardens are home to many unusual tree species that are not native to the UK, such as a Giant Redwood (believed to be the largest in the country). Many of the trees date from the end of the 19th century, making many of them over a century old.
The stream of the Bourne is arguably the focal point throughout all of the public gardens in Bournemouth and in places, boardwalks are provided to help visitors around the path during heavy rain. There are a number of species that are hard to identify without a guide, but the impressive range is striking for all types of people, not just for keen arborists.
The Upper Gardens have been referred to as a ‘hidden wilderness’ and it is hard to disagree. However, there are still reminders – the gardens are bisected by Queens Road, Prince of Wales Road and Branksome Wood Road. The latter marks the boundary between Bournemouth and Poole meaning that the last quarter-mile section of the Upper Gardens and Coy Pond, are technically in the adjoining town of Poole.
There is an elegant Gothic style Victorian water tower, complete with castle-style turret. Although no longer in use, the tower used to provide water for a fountain in the gardens and was fed by a pump driven by a water wheel from the nearby river Bourne. The small disused sluice can still be seen at the end of the stream, although there is no longer any trace of the pumping apparatus.
Built in 1885, the pumping tower was made to power a sprinkler system and the garden’s fountain, but today the entrance has been sealed and the inside has been left as a haven for a local bat population, as they can roost there in safety.
The area of the Upper Gardens has always drained poorly, due to the surrounding rocky soil and Bourne stream. Originally there was even a large lake in the area, but the Durrant family brought in a large volume of shingle and broken clay pipe to add drainage but the area can still become waterlogged when it is particularly heavy rain. This however does work to the advantage of some of the more tropical species growing in the garden, adding to the diversity of the plant stock across the three gardens.
Although the path is more of a “nature trail” than the other two gardens in Bournemouth, the Upper Gardens are easily accessible and require no special footwear or clothing and are also an excellent place for picnics or relaxing. It is by far the quietest of the three gardens, despite being so central to the busy town.