The park is open from 7.30am - 7.30pm Monday to Saturday and from 9am
- 7.30pm on Sundays.
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP33 1XL
Available April –October
Adults: £3.70 per person, per game
Under 16: £2.20 per person, per game (must be accompanied by an adult)
Off peak charges:
Monday – Friday 12 noon to 2.30pm (excludes bank holidays)
Adults and under 16s: £2.30 per game
Bowls hire: £2.30 for a set of 4 (this includes a £1 deposit)
Jacks hire: £2.85 per jack (this includes a £2 deposit)
Available April – October from 9am until dusk
Charges: Adults: £3.00 per person, per round
Under 16: £2.20 per person, per round
Available April – October from 9am until dusk (weather dependent)
Adults: £2.75 per person, per round
Under 16: £1.90 per person, per round
Available all year round
Adults and under 16s: £2.30 per court, per hour
Racket hire: £7 per racket per hour (includes a £5 deposit)
Ball hire (set of four): £7 per hour (includes a £5 deposit)
All deposits are refundable upon the return of equipment.
Kiosk, near the aviary, the kiosk sells light refreshments
Metal detecting is not permitted in the Abbey Gardens as it is a scheduled ancient monument site
The internationally acclaimed Abbey Gardens in the centre of historic Bury St Edmunds attracts thousands of visitors
each year, drawn by the superlative floral displays, the ancient setting and the excellent facilities.
The six hectare park is on the site of a former Benedictine Abbey, once a power house of medieval England. The combination of floral excellence, formal bedding schemes and the heritage of its backdrop make the gardens a very special place to visit. The site is meticulously maintained and has features of interest to a wide range of visitors including ancient monument ruins, an aviary, a refreshment kiosk, bowling green, tennis courts, water garden, rose garden, sensory garden, a section of the river Lark, a play area, pergola and public toilets.
Abbey Gardens is much loved by both the local community and the many tourists who visit it throughout the year. It is a stunning venue for the many and varied cultural events which take place in Bury St Edmunds including the annual Bury Festival.
The Abbey Gardens received the Green Flag award in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014
The Abbey Gardens is owned by St Edmundsbury Borough Council. However, because it covers the major part of the precinct of the medieval abbey of St Edmund, it is under the guardianship of English Heritage as a scheduled ancient monument.
Abbey Gardens play area
The Abbey Gardens is a hugely important green space in the centre of Bury St Edmunds. The play area nestles between the dramatic ruins of the medieval abbey and the River Lark. The gardens are visited by over a million people every year, a large percentage of those visitors are children.
The design concept for the play area harmonises play with the natural and historic setting creating new and exciting play opportunities that will undoubtedly challenge, inspire and excite whoever visits the play facilities.
The main features are:
- Canopied structure and marker posts: This wooden sheltered area provides an ideal seating area and undercover space for play. Additional natural materials have been added to the area to enhance playability.
- Willow maze area: Existing refurbished play equipment nestles within a living willow structure.
- Sand and water: An amazing area enhanced by pumps, wells and pools using sand and water.
- Riverside area: A log wall boundary highlights the new riverbank area.
- Woodland area and tree houses: A new tree house was constructed in an existing tree, incorporating a staircase and rope bridge
Appleby Rose Garden
In the 1720s this area was the site of an old orchard and it wasn't until 1947 that it became established as a Rose Garden within the Abbey Gardens.
The design was by Mr Bond, a previous Parks Superintendent. and the project became possible through the generous donation of the royalties of a best selling book called Suffolk Summer, written by John Appleby, a man from the American air force stationed at Rougham during World War Two.
The sixteen rose beds have some 400 rose bushes ranging from Hybrid T's, Standards, Floribunda's and Shrub roses.
There is an unusual bench made from the wing of a USAAF B17 Flying Fortress bomber aircraft and a memorial stone in recognition of the many American serviceman based in Suffolk.
Originally the central area of the Abbey Gardens was a botanic garden laid out in the same style as the Royal Botanic Gardens in Brussels.
It was created in 1831 by Nathaniel Hodson and consisted of radiating, concentric beds planted with native plants and herbs laid out in their natural botanical orders.
In 1936 the concentric circles were replaced by the sixty four island beds which, together with illuminations, formed part of the Coronation celebrations for George VI in 1937.
Today, approximately 20,000 plants are bedded out in the spring for the summer display plus 12,000 plants and 20,000 bulbs in the autumn for the spring display.
Although this area is still planted in the Victorian Bedding Style, using similar plants, the actual varieties have been bred to modern F1 standards for disease resistance, repeat flowering and uniformity.
The designs and colour schemes vary each year but the old favourites like geraniums, begonias, and salvias are always included.
To avoid disastrous failures new and unusual plants are always trialled in other parts of the garden before being used in the Central Area.
Abbey Gardens has become renowned for its colourful and attractive displays and visitors come from all over the world to see it.
Games and facilities
Aviary: The Abbey Gardens has varieties of birds include canaries, budgies, teal ducks, Bengalis and Zebra finches and diamond doves.
Bowling green: Tickets for bowling are available from the Abbey Gardens shop.
Bowling is available from April to October.
To make a group booking please phone 01284 757490.
Refreshment Kiosk: This is located near the aviaries and sells ice creams and light refreshments
Putting green: Available from April to October between 9.30am and dusk, and is weather dependant. Tickets and equipment are available from the Abbey Gardens shop
Crazy golf: Available from April to October between 9.30am and dusk. Tickets and equipment are available from the Abbey Gardens shop.
Tennis courts: Available all year round. To make a bookings please phone the Park Ranger 01284 757490 or go to the Abbey Gardens shop
If you want to get outdoors and make a difference to your local park, then join the Abbey Gardens conservation volunteers. We have sessions running once a month in the Abbey Gardens on Wednesdays from 9.30am - 12.30pm. If you would like more information please call Parks admin 01284 757088, Abbey Gardens shop 01284 757490 or speak to a park ranger in the Abbey Gardens
History in Brief
7th century – King Sigebert, the first Christian king of East Angles has established a modest religious community on the site.
9th century – King Edmund was captured by Vikings near Norwich. He refused to renounce his Christian faith and was decapitated. The martyred king became a royal saint after a series of miracles around his death. His body was laid to rest here.
10th century – the growing settlement became a site of pilgrimage to visit St Edmund’s resting place.
11th century – King Cnut established a Benedictine community.The Abbey and surrounding area developed under the influence of Abbot Baldwin, who planned and designed the layout of Bury St Edmunds.
12th century – serious fire damages major buildings in the abbey. Abbot Samson continues the building programme.
13th century – legend has it that Earls and Barons assembled in the abbey to listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury read Henry 1s charter. Inspired, they swore on the high altar to force King John to establish a similar charter of liberties, the Magna Carta. The Abbey continues to prosper, but townsfolk are unhappy with the Abbot’s power.
14th century – the abbey suffers a series of disturbances from the townsfolk, keen to gain civic control of the town.
16th century – as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII. It was sold on by the Crown; the abbot’s palace survived as a house until 1720, but the abbey precinct became a quarry for building material for the townsfolk. Today various buildings and boundary walls in the town still show evidence of this plundered stone.
In 1831, after 300 years of neglect, the grounds, which were owned by the Marquis of Bristol, were laid out as a Botanic Garden.
Created by Nathaniel Hodson, plants that had been kept in an area on the eastern side of the churchyard were transferred to a location on the site of the Great Court of the Abbey.
Hodson compiled a comprehensive Catalogue of Plants containing 2000 plants in 1822 and it is presumed that most of these plants were moved to the new site in the 1830s, where the formal beds now are.
In the early years the gardens were financed by subscribers and included the Duke of Grafton and the Marquis of Cornwall. The subscription rate was two guineas.
At the end of the 19th century visitors were allowed into the Gardens for a fee of one shilling and children for sixpence. This was a lot of money at the time but was specifically done to exclude the ‘undesirables’.
1912 – St Edmundsbury Borough Council took out a lease for the Abbey Gardens at £90 per annum with the intention of maintaining the area. It was proposed to make the gardens a free open space and they were officially opened as a free park on 28 December 1912.
1953 - The gardens were eventually bought by the borough council for the sum of £7,814. 1s 0d.
Pilgrim's Herb Garden
The idea of creating a herb garden in the Abbey Gardens came from one of the most famous surviving illustrated manuscript of Apuleius Platonicus that was written at the Abbey in approximately 1220AD. (The Bury Herbal as it is known is now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.)
The new Pilgrim's Herb Garden was opened in June 1998 by HRH Prince Charles and forms a link between the Cathedral and the Abbey Gardens.
Volunteers from the Friends of the Cathedral now maintain it.
Most of the plants are hardy perennials and climbers including old favourites such as Lavender, Paeonia and Roses.
There are also many traditional native medicinal plants including Yarrow, Plantain and Betony, which is reputed to cure most ills and to have powers against evil spirits.
Abbey Gardens Sundial Fountain
This Victorian drinking fountain, with sundial cube on the top, was gifted to the people of Bury St Edmunds in 1871 by the 3rd Marquess of Bristol. The structure is Grade II listed.
The sundial is highly significant, being a very early example of a dial that allowed the city clocks to be set to GMT rather than local mean time, through the application of the Equation of Time graph inscribed on the dial.
The Equation of Time is the difference between solar time and mean time throughout the year. Until the 1860s, villages used solar time, read from sundials and derived from the non-uniform movement of the sun, while towns used local mean time, derived by astronomers from the highly uniform movement of the stars.
In those days, in the absence of broadcast time signals and if there was no local astronomer, the only way to set town clocks to mean time was to read a sundial and apply the Equation of Time correction from a table or graph. The Abbey Gardens Bury St Edmunds sundial is an extremely early example - quite possibly the earliest in the country - of a sundial that allowed the town clocks to be set to GMT rather than the local mean time.
It has always been enjoyed by the general public, both in its original location in the centre of the town and since 1939 in Abbey Gardens. However the sundial has now weathered to an undecipherable state and the fountain is also in a poor state of repair.
St Edmundsbury Borough Council, have recently put up a plaque describing the history and purpose of the sundial. The wording on the plaque says: “ The 3rd Marquess of Bristol gifted this structure to the town in 1870. It originally stood in the town centre, but was moved here in 1939. The sundial cube has on one face a unique graphical form of the ‘Equation of Time’. This showed how to adjust local timepieces to display Greenwich Mean Time.”
The Abbey Gardens first ‘Blind Garden’ was built in 1990 and was designed to provide interest for the visually impaired through scented plants and herbs.
After consultation with the local branch of the West Suffolk Voluntary Association for the Blind a plan was drawn up for a garden that would stimulate all the senses.
The garden is traditional in design to complement its surroundings.
The pergola is designed to give the effect of a cloister where the monks would have walked in days gone by. It runs around three sides of the garden separating the inner courtyard garden from the main Abbey Gardens and has many climbing plants such as Clematis, Akebia and thornless roses trained over it to provide interest throughout the year.
There are many other features of interest including fragrant and brightly coloured borders, a water fountain with pebble-work surround, plus tactile maps and plants.
A garden of reflection
The Garden of Reflection in the Abbey Gardens was opened in January 2015. The centre piece of the Peace Garden is a one and a half metre tall teardrop The garden is designed to commemorate the murder of 57 Jews in Bury St Edmunds on Palm Sunday, 19 March 1190 and all victims of genocide
The teardrop is a natural and universal symbol of pity and persecution, of human suffering and sorrow. It is made from polished stainless steel; its mirrored surface reflects back to us the role we all must play in opposing humanity's inhumanity. The Peace Garden also includes 57 cobble stones - one for each of the victims of the 1190 massacre. There are two stone benches for sitting and enjoying quiet reflection. The money was raised for the garden by a trust formed by local residents and supported by St Edmundsbury Borough Council, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, and members of Suffolk’s Jewish Community.
The garden also provides a dignified setting for the annual holocaust service the Peace Garden on 27 January each year The Reverend Canon Matthew Vernon from St Edmundsbury Cathedral, who leads the service, says: “Each year this service is a poignant reminder of the suffering which people have endured at the hands of others. Our prayers, readings and music, led by local school children and representatives of the Jewish community, remind us that we must all work together for peace and unity.”
The River Lark runs along the eastern border of the Abbey Gardens and has seen many changes since people first settled in the area.
The waters were vital to the wellbeing of the Abbey's community and they took full advantage by diverting the river to supply power to a mill and using the course of the river as a trading route when many a barge could be seen plying its way through the countryside.
Today the bankside and the river act as a vital green corridor through the heart of the town. Sights and sounds of the countryside are never far away as Kingfisher and Water Vole enjoy the fruits of the river.
Trees and shrubs
A wide variety of trees and shrubs were planted when the Abbey Gardens botanic garden was first laid out. Some of the trees are still growing on the site, and many others have been planted since. Some of the more interesting and unusual specimens are in a tree guide produced by the Abbey Gardens Friends is available from the Abbey Gardens Shop:
The original Abbey Gardens water garden on this site was built in 1959 when the local pageant made a surplus of £2000 which was used to fund the project.
It was a modern, paved, open plan water garden and the basic layout still remains. However, many years later it was decided to enclose it and extra beds and a bog garden were added.
The water gardens were refurbished in 2014 following a generous private donation.
The sound of running water captures the peaceful nature of this area of the park.
Wildlife feeding area
Problems with pigeons In the Abbey Gardens we have had complaints about the amount of mess caused by pigeons, especially when they roost in areas used by people visiting the park. Their droppings damage buildings, such as the Abbey Gate, block gutters, make pavements slippery .
Pigeons carry insect pests, as well as various diseases which can affect us, and food left for them also attracts rats and mice. Feeding pigeons throughout the whole park will only increase these problems
We know visitors like feeding the birds, so we have set aside a special area in the Abbey Gardens. The feeding area can be found if you head towards the play area and walk over the river bridge. It is on your left hand side.
Feeding the pigeons and other wildlife Feeding the pigeons and other wildlife is only allowed in the designated area. Feeding them elsewhere in the Abbey Gardens could lead to a fine for littering.
Looking after the pigeons The more food that is available, the greater the number of pigeons - because they breed more. If we limit the food supply, the pigeons will limit the number of eggs they lay so the size of the flock will slowly fall to a natural level. Pigeons are very good at controlling their numbers to match the local food supply so none of them will starve.
We need your help to keep pigeons to a reasonable level by getting them used to feeding in the wildlife feeding area. Please do not feed them or any other wildlife anywhere else in the Abbey Gardens.