We have been cultivating land and growing plants for our own enjoyment for thousands of years and we have a special relationship with the landscapes around us. Whether you’re a keen horticulturalist, a window box enthusiast or simply want to wander in a modern-day Eden, there’s a gorgeous British garden waiting for you…
Hampton Court Palace Gardens, Greater London
Just outside London, on the banks of the river Thames lies the Royal Palace of Hampton Court. Exquisite and extensive gardens and grounds delight visitors, and every year in early summer, it plays host to the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. The palace’s Privy Garden is a fantastic example of formal gardening, created for William III in 1702, and restored to its former geometric glory. For centuries this garden had been the exclusive retreat of monarchs, including Henry VIII, who undoubtedly took many a wife for a secluded stroll here. The yew tree maze is an exciting place to lose an hour and The Great Vine – the longest grapevine in the world – is a testament to Capability Brown, who planted it in 1769. It still bears fruit and the sweet black grapes are sold in palace shops in early September.
Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
The sumptuous Chatsworth estate in the Derbyshire Peak District offers many treasures, and perhaps the most striking are its water features. The Squirting Willow Fountain (where clear, cool jets shoot in all directions from its branches) and the towering Emperor Fountain are impressive in their own right, but the pièce de résistance is the commanding 300-year-old Cascade, tumbling down a grassy hillside with sweeping views to the English Baroque architecture of the house itself. Immortalised in the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Chatsworth promises – if not a semi-clad Colin Firth – a chance for the kids to paddle and let off steam. There is also a modern, sensory garden created to stimulate all of our five senses and a kitchen garden where you can find ‘mummy peas’ – supposedly developed from peas found in Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.
The Dingle Garden, Welshpool, Wales
The small and secluded Royal Horticultural Society’s Dingle Garden is a serene idyll in the middle of Wales. Four and half acres of lawns and lakeside gardens are dominated by unusual trees and shrubs. And, despite being only two miles from the busy town of Welshpool, in this sheltered dingle (a deep wooded valley or dell) you feel more like a million miles away. There are shady glades and a beautiful arboretum, and Dingle is particularly acclaimed for its colour-themed planting which comes into its own in the autumn. Leaves explode into a rich riot of burnt reds, yellows, oranges and gold and the woods which steeply slope towards a tranquil lake are reflected majestically in the water below.
Abbey Garden, Tresco Island, Isles of Scilly
In 1834 Augustus Smith began creating a garden amongst the 12th century ruins of St Nicholas Priory on the temperate island of Tresco. Abbey Garden is now home to thousands of exotic plants from more than 80 countries. It’s a sub-tropical paradise which survives despite its far-westerly position, 30 miles off the tip of the Cornish coastline. Stroll through monastic arches dwarfed by huge palm trees, and marvel at the array of superb succulents and the sea of bright blues, pinks and flame reds. Walled shelters and a warm, south facing slope provide the perfect conditions for plants usually found in the southern hemisphere to thrive. It’s a richly colourful place to visit, even in the dead of winter, when, incredibly, more than 300 plants are in full bloom.
Inverewe Garden and Estate, Wester Ross, Scotland
Inverewe is a lush, loch-side garden and 2000 acre estate in the North West highlands of Scotland. It occupies a serene position less than a mile from the sea and overlooking Loch Ewe. The National Trust for Scotland’s garden is famed, amongst other things, for its collection of rhododendrons and at least one will be in flower for every month of the year. And, despite its northerly location, warm currents from the Gulf Stream make for a benign environment where exotic plants prosper, in contrast to the surrounding and harsher, highland landscape. The estate is a nature-lover’s dream, with trails offering visitors the opportunity to catch a glimpse of native wildlife, such as red deer, eagles and perhaps even the elusive Pine Marten.
Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden, St Ives, Cornwall
The sculptor Barbara Hepworth is one of Britain’s most important and celebrated 20th century artists. Sitting beside the Barbara Hepworth Museum on a hillside above St Ives harbour is a beautiful and unusual garden filled with her sensational sculptures. Barbara relished the opportunity to work on her pieces in the great outdoors here from 1949 until her death in 1975. Her huge, bold works can today be viewed, in the most part, exactly where she placed them in a garden she laid out herself. Her sculptures are enclosed by the lush foliage and trees surrounding them and the trademark circular holes in smooth, curving bronze act like windows onto nature.
The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh
Situated just a mile from the bustling, cosmopolitan centre of Scotland’s capital is the 70 acre oasis of The Royal Botanic Garden. A centre of internationally important research and conservation, the garden is home to thousands of alpine flowers and a huge collection of Chinese plants. It also boasts massive American redwoods and the Scottish Heath Garden, which celebrates native species and has created a haven for wildlife within the city. If the infamous Scottish weather is against you there are many magnificent temperate and tropical glasshouses to take refuge in. They house palms, ferns, incredible orchids and exotic rainforest foliage and visitors to The Windows on the World experience can explore ten different climatic zones, (probably all preferable to British drizzle.)
Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales
Bodnant Garden is known worldwide for its botanical collection, and has stunning and spectacular views of Snowdonia at any time of the year. Five generations of the same family have created more than 80 acres of fabulous gardens and the amazing collection of plants has been grown from either cuttings or seeds gathered on Victorian plant-hunting exhibitions. One of the most impressive sights is the wonderful yellow scented laburnum arch, at its best in late spring and early summer. Italian-style terraces hold formal gardens, roses and invite visitors to enjoy the dramatic vista of the Carneddau mountains. You can even tie the knot here and a more romantic setting is hard to imagine.
Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire
Mottisfont, near Romsey in Hampshire is a must-see in early to mid June. Here, the absolute highlight is an internationally-renowned walled rose garden boasting more than 500 varieties of old-fashioned roses. When they are all in full bloom, it’s a feast for the senses – waves of colour accompanied by sensational, sweet scents. Many of the roses growing here are on sale so you can attempt to recreate the magic in your own garden. It is believed that the ancient Mottisfont plane tree is the largest in the country, its branches spreading over more than 1,500 sq metres. The gardens also stretch right down to the River Test, a fantastic chalk stream which due to careful National Trust management and regeneration is now home to otters, water voles, the striking blue flash of the kingfisher and the rare southern damselfly.
Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent
Nestled in the Weald of Kent, the world-famous garden at Sissinghurst is endlessly popular and, for many, is the epitome of an English garden. It was created in the 1930s by poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her author husband Harold Nicholson and their original vision is now being carefully recreated. A prison for French sailors in the 18th century and a home to the Women’s Land Army during the Second World War the castle has seen many guises. Today wild flowers are being reintroduced, there’s a fragrant herb garden, rose garden, orchard and a nuttery, dedicated to Kentish cobnuts (a variety of hazelnut). A climb to the top of the Elizabethan tower affords a panoramic view of the large estate and the rolling Kent countryside beyond.