Not So Secret Gardens
Let us lead you up the garden path as we go in search of the very best of Britain’s green spaces.
Between marvellously manicured lawns and wonderful wildflower meadows, you’ll be spoiled for choice whatever your planting preference in this list of blooming brilliant UK gardens.
ARLEY HALL & GARDENS
Northwick, CheshireIt’s rare to think about the history of a garden when you visit one in a stately home, as the nearby house and its various antiques are the more obvious examples of the area’s past. But the herbaceous borders at Arley Hall date back as far as 1846 and are thought to have inspired generations of similar gardens in other estates around the country. Spend the afternoon wandering the 8 acres of open, formal grounds – a feast for the eyes for both expert plantsman and amateur growers alike.
Holland Park, LondonOne of the greatest things about London is its frequent and yet unexpected green spaces amidst the bustling cityscape. Need time out from your shopping spree? Pay a visit Holland Park’s Japanese-inspired Kyoto Garden. Koi carp effortlessly glide through tranquil rock pools beneath a beautiful waterfall, as colourful peacocks patrol the perimeter. Visit in autumn to see the vivid reds and oranges of the Japanese acers.
Oakham, RutlandBarnsdale is home to nearly forty individual gardens and has earned a reputation as a ‘theme park’ for those with green-fingers. Once the filming location for Gardeners’ World, it was created by the late and much loved presenter, Geoff Hamilton. A pioneer of organic gardening, Geoff’s legacy continues throughout all 38 plots of the property with each being built on organic and eco-friendly principles. Budding amateurs should pay a visit to the First Time Garden to learn about building the foundations for their own patch, while more experienced horticulturists can glean top tips from resident experts.
THE GREAT GLASSHOUSE
Carmarthenshire, WalesCovering over 568 acres of Carmarthenshire’s countryside, the National Botanic Garden of Wales has to be the biggest green space on this list. Home to over 100,000 plants, as well as the world’s largest single-span glasshouse, this mammoth plot should really be savoured over the course of an entire day, if not several. Lakes, fountains and pools complement the immaculate, walled grounds, while wildlife lovers will adore exploring the adjacent nature reserve.
Ousden, SuffolkIf stately homes and parks aren’t on your go-to (or should that be grow-to?) list, then why not visit one of the thousands of usually private properties which are opened up across England and Wales by the National Gardens Scheme. What’s more, it’s all for charity! While themes and styles do tend to vary, this excellent example in Suffolk exhibits a unique architectural style of planting with clean-cut topiary, sculptural evergreens and even a nice bit of bamboo.
WEST GREEN HOUSE
WEST GREEN HOUSEAs part of the perimeters of West Green House, these gardens take a backseat in summer to a budding spectacle of a different kind, as the 18th Century estate hosts a season of opera music and accompanying light shows which illuminate the flora, water and architectural features. Everything about the garden is theatrical, with flowers such as scarlet crocosmia and deep blue delphiniums putting on a ‘display of floral fireworks’ for visitors to ooh and ahh over all year round.
The Scottish equivalent of the NGS is Scotland’s Gardens, whose website and guidebook lists places of horticultural interest which are open to the public. Glenkyllachy Lodge is one of the most beautiful examples; set in a remote highland glen, the garden is decorated with original sculptures hidden amidst rhododendrons and hardy native shrubs. Ornamental ducks populate the peaceful ponds and a wild flower meadow adds a touch the wilderness to contrast the simple oriental-style bridges which span them.
If you’re headed to Scotland on an impromptu road-trip, check out the ‘Open This Fortnight’ section of the NGS site to see what’s open during your stay.
MOUNT STEWART HOUSE & GARDENS
Newtownards, N. IrelandVoted one of the top ten gardens in the world, this National Trust site is home to plants from every corner of the seven continents. The formal gardens have a Mediterranean feel with Italian and Spanish twists, while the newly restored walled garden is home to classic English roses and what is thought to be Britain’s oldest grapevine (dating back to 1769). As well as the handsome landscaping, Mount Stewart is home to a fantastic array of wildlife including otters, buzzards, moorhens and elusive red squirrels. There’s even a trail dedicated to spotting these rare creatures, and a glimpse of one in such a stunning setting is a treat indeed.
Fowey, CornwallThis hidden gem, tucked away on Cornwall’s southern coast, is a must see for any plant-lover on a South-West sojourn. Perched on a cliff-side overlooking Polruan and the Fowey Estuary, there’s a rock garden and vegetable allotment which lead down to a secluded swimming spot. The gardens have been specially planted with species that can tolerate the salty air and sub-tropical plants are flourishing in the grounds due to the distinctive Cornish climate. Stop off and enjoy the panoramic views across the ocean, before heading into Fowey for a slap up fresh fish supper.
PAINSWICK ROCOCO GARDEN
Stroud, GloucestershireThese ornate rococo gardens in the heart of the Cotswolds are pure history brought to life. Once used as a setting for lavish parties where rich and flamboyant flower beds burst forth in abundance, today’s exhibitions include an increasingly famous annual snowdrop display and wonderfully decorative sculpture collection. Open for all but 8 weeks of the year, each month Painswick has its own unique feature and theme. September, for example, will see a bumper crop of heritage fruit harvested from the orchards, as well copious hydrangeas in the picturesque walled garden.