It is the end of an era for one Wiltshire family, as they make plans to bid farewell to an incredibly special home.

The Abbey House and Gardens are of huge historical significance to Malmesbury, dating back to the 12th century.

King Athelstan, the first King of England, is buried somewhere in the garden, and many illustrious owners have called the five acres of land home over the years.

But for many, it’s the Pollard name that is synonymous with the gardens.

Ian and Barbara Pollard took over the Abbey House and Gardens in 1994 and, alongside gardener Martin Roberts, transformed overgrown grass and looming weeds into the beautiful site that can be seen today.

Huge hedges, colourful tulips and towering trees soon lined the once-neglected land.

But all was not perfect behind closed doors, and Ian and Barbara filed for divorce in 2014.

Ian’s children Rufus and Kian, joined by Rufus’ wife Kristen, took over guardianship of the gardens after Ian suffered a stroke and since his death in 2019, have been working to maintain the gardens.

The land, however, is not legally theirs, and despite best efforts to officially christen it their home, it will soon be time to bid adieu to Malmesbury.

Looking back at “lives like no other”, they spoke to the Gazette about their memories throughout the years.

Sat under a plaque commemorating their father, the trio spoke of the joy the gardens had brought to visitors and locals alike.

“Before any gardens were planned this was all wild grass standing 5ft tall,” said Rufus.


Barbara and Ian Pollard became known as ‘The Naked Gardeners’

Barbara and Ian Pollard became known as ‘The Naked Gardeners’


“We have an older sister, and the three of us used to play hide and seek in the grass, it was that tall. It was a huge project to take on, but Dad did it.

“He had this kind of vision when he visited like he had been welcomed home. It’s where he belonged.

“He’d had a career in architecture that hit a tumultuous time in the early nineties, so wanted something different.

“Him and Martin would work seven days a week, 7am to 7pm. There were no phones, no Internet, no distractions. It was just them and nature.”

Kian recalled following Ian and Martin round the gardens and watching the transformation from an incredibly young age.

“I was literally born in the library, this place is everything to me,” he added.

“Dad was 50 when he started this, and I think that’s a testament to his strength of character. We now understand the toll the gardens can take. It’s beautiful, but immense.”

Malmesbury House and Gardens gained wider public attention in the early noughties, thanks in part to a dedicated episode on Gardeners’ World, presented by Alan Titchmarsh. The same week, the Pollards were featured in the Radio Times.

Headlines of the Naked Gardeners soon followed in national papers, with Clothes Optional Days bringing a whole new kettle of visitors to Malmesbury.

The Naked Gardener idea was formed through chance, Rufus explained.

“We had a Reverend living next door when we first moved in, he was quite traditional,” he said.

“On a summer’s morning shortly after we moved in, Dad realised he had left a hose pipe running. He thought he was going to flood the place, so ran outside about 6am in just his pants.

“There was a confused call to he police that some sort of naked maniac was running around the gardens.”

A newspaper headline soon followed, along the lines of “Naked Gardener Offends Reverend”.

“He liked that, and that was the genesis. The idea grew from there, much to the Reverend’s disdain, I’m sure,” added Kian.

Growing up with the gardens was a joy with frequent events, spring festivals and eager visitors.

But there was trouble in paradise, and the divorce between Ian and Barbara soon put the house and gardens’ future in jeopardy.

A family schism meant the home was put up for sale and, by the end of the year, the younger Pollards will no longer call Malmesbury home.

Despite the adversity they have faced, Kristen, Rufus and Kian are an impermeable trio. And in spite of their limited horticultural experience, they’ve grown the gardens into an even larger tourist attraction for the town.


The beautiful gardens

The beautiful gardens


Through social media and increased advertising, it has become a popular spot for young people, families to visit and even for first dates.

All three agreed that because of the lockdowns of the last 18 months, the empty gardens was an incredibly strange experience.

While they have admitted defeat in their battle to officially take over ownership of the house and gardens, lasting memories will stick with them on future adventures.

The trio have transformed their own lives in much the way their father built an unruly five acres into one of England’s most beautiful open gardens.

“When I first came here, I was speechless,” said Kristen.

“I was blown away by everything Ian had created. It truly was a labour of love, and I remember feeling that I had never been anywhere so magical, so special and raw in love. I had to pinch myself.”

Kristen met Rufus during her winter visit to the Abbey, when they locked eyes near the river that passes through the gardens, as he wrapped a palm tree ahead of the colder weather.

“We didn’t truly appreciate the vision Dad had until we started to take over in 2015, after Dad had his stroke.

“Since then, we have really appreciated the vision and guts he had to make this dream a reality. He poured everything into this. We did want to continue that, but at some point when you’re staring at a guillotine for so long, it’s easier just to let it drop.”

Kian added: “For every year since 2015, we’ve been thinking it’s the last year.


Photo by Kirsten Robertson

Photo by Kirsten Robertson


“And during Covid, things were totally different. When we were shut during lockdown, all you could hear was the sound of the birds. It was the first springtime I could remember where the Gardens had been without people. When we were able to reopen, it was such a huge sigh of relief not only from us, but from people in the town as well.

“Dad did so much for Malmesbury as a result of the gardens, it’s brought so many people here. And the community will always have a special place in our hearts, and I hope it feels the same for them.

"We’ve made wonderful friends here that have become extended family. People that visit have been able to share the love our dad had for this place, and that’s really special.

“It will be an awful thing to say farewell, but this place will always be part of us.”

While Rufus and Kristen make plans to travel to America and Kian works on his own adventure – the three hope to one day return to Malmesbury.

Kristen added: “This garden has always been here for Malmesbury, to be shared and to be loved. I felt so sad in Spring when all the tulips were in bloom but there was no-one here to see them.

“It’s been like a fairytale, but behind every fairytale there’s a dark undercurrent.”

People can visit the Abbey House Gardens until October 3.