Franklin retreat fulfills an English emigrant's childhood dream

Special to the Union Leader
June 22. 2018 10:20PM
Richard Tarbin is the owner and sole gardener at Tarbin Gardens. His daughter, Lindsey, helps around the property and serves the English teas. (LISA BROWN)
Visiting Tarbin Gardens
WHERE: 321 Salisbury Road (Route 127 South), West Franklin

CONTACT: 934-3518;

HOURS: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.

FEES: Adults $9, seniors and children $7.50; English tea $8.50 (reservations required). Cash only; no credit cards.

FRANKLIN -- Tarbin Gardens in Franklin is as peaceful as a prayer. Artists, photographers, wedding parties, bird watchers, serious horticulturists and those who simply enjoy quiet picnics can spend an afternoon discovering the garden's marriage of beauty and nature.

Set off Route 127, the five-acre garden is nestled in the middle of a 37-acre forest. More than a thousand different plants can be found in this oasis just off the beaten path.

"It's a collector's garden. Everything is unique. When you walk by you'll see that things just fit in," said Richard Tarbin, the owner and sole gardener.

Tarbin, who was born in England, was inspired by that country's formal gardens and wanted one of his own. When his family moved to the States and eventually Franklin, he saw his opportunity.

His father ran a greenhouse, growing specialty tomatoes. Beyond that operation was Richard's dream. At the age of 15 Richard began clearing woods, making paths and planting his garden.

English tea is served in the garden by reservation only. (LISA BROWN)

"I bought all the shrubs and trees through the mail. That's how we could afford it." He smiles, "that's why we're poor. We have a millionaire's garden and a pauper budget."

Tarbin says most of his inspiration came from Gertrude Jekyll, a British horticulturist, garden designer, artist and writer. She created more than 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States." "I'm just a passionate amateur, really," he says.

Tarbin Gardens features gentle waterfalls, a few small ponds (some with fish), a barnyard with goats, Highland cattle and more, a playground and an abundance of open space. Paths lead visitors through the maze of exotic trees and plants with benches and shaded areas throughout. Stone figurines and sculptures are placed throughout the gardens. Fragrance fills the air and the birds sing their approval. Hummingbirds are frequent guests.

The centerpiece the formal garden, a magical place for little girls who dream of being a princess. Fittingly, there's tea.

The English tea is served on a patio with a half a dozen tables, surrounded by trees and roses. Several varieties of clematis climb the pergola while a tall hedge adds a certain amount of privacy. Tea arrives in a teapot fitted with a hand-knitted cozy to keep it warm. Places are set with English china and a whisper of royalty. 
The English formal garden is the centerpiece of Tarbin Gardens. (LISA BROWN)

The sweets include homemade scones, coconut macaroons, anise biscotti, a variety of dainty English pastries with real clotted cream and jam.

During the season (May-Labor Day) a large white tent for weddings and other celebrations of up to 125 guests sits in a clearing. Tarbin Gardens will host only one wedding on a weekend to allow brides enough time to decorate and make their day personal.

"We charge about $2,000 for the whole thing; the tent, chairs and tables and the setting," Tarbin says. Unlike many wedding venues, brides can use their own caterer and guests have full access to the gardens, which remain open for other visitors.

Tarbin Gardens offers a map for visitors to tour the garden on their own. If they have questions, Richard is always there and willing to share his knowledge. "Most people get a lot of advice when they come."

The gardens are Richard Tarbin's life. He is the sole caretaker and does not have hired help.

"I'm the master of the garden but also its slave," he says. Tarbin lives in the family home on the property with his mother, who bakes the sweets and runs the teas. His daughter Lindsey, 19, serves the teas and helps around the property.

Tarbin, 58, says his intention was never to have a garden open to the public. "It was a hobby that went and got out of control," he says, "so I keep going and realized we had to go in business." 

His "hobby" is a continuous work in progress, and after meeting him, you might think that's just fine with him. "It's not done. It's never done. One tree falls on another, nothing's done."
Paths wind through naturalized planting areas as well as formal gardens at Tarbin Gardens in Franklin. (LISA BROWN)

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