Country gardens used to be for old people. They would sit on benches and eat egg and cress sandwiches, buy unsightly glass vases from the gift shop, and then go home an hour later. Oh, how things have changed.
Gardens are now cool. They’re frequented by influencers. They have young gardeners researching climate change, contemporary artists adding a splash of colour, and the gift shops? It’s like stepping into Daylesford stores – very over priced, but you want all of it.
As we pray for sunny weather and enjoy holidays at home, a visit to see some clipped bushes and immaculate grass is the very thing we all need. Plus, reconnecting with nature, even if it’s just with a light stroll, can really boost your mood. Just don’t forget to bring your egg sandwich.
1. Alnwick Castle Gardens
In the late 90s The Duchess of Northumberland set about landscaping the gardens of her home Alnwick Castle (the second largest inhabited castle in England and also the film set for Harry Potter). Obviously, this involved more than planting a few tomatoes and chives.
Around 12 acres of land have been transformed into an outdoor playground of plants, treehouses and swinging benches (yes, they proudly announce that they have 50 of these).
Top sights include the world’s largest Tai Haku cherry orchard with 329 blossom trees. Although the best time to see these in bloom is in April and May so you’ll have to wait until next year. There’s a grand waterfall comprising 120 water jets, a Rose Garden with 300 roses (best seen in June and July), and the world’s largest treehouse. The latter doubles up as a restaurant and wedding venue and looks like something out of the Hobbit – all higgledy piggledy logs and trees winding round each other.
There’s also a deadly Poison Garden filled with 100 toxic plants, which is kept locked behind black iron gates. You can step inside with a guided tour… but be warned, people have been known to faint.
Where: Greenwell Road Alnwick, Northumberland, NE66 1HB
Wisley is one of the oldest RHS Gardens and is home to impressive greenhouses, the RHS Hilltop building (the HQ for The Home of Gardening Science), and a gardening laboratory which is designed to look like it predates the garden (which was started back in 1903).
They take gardens very seriously here. If you want to know how to change your gardening techniques because of climate change, or want to identify new pests and diseases, then this is your place.
Covering 240 acres, the place has plenty to explore from Mediterranean borders, herb gardens, fruit gardens, a South African meadow, and an arboretum… basically everything you green-fingered folk could ever want.
Where: Wisley Lane, Woking, GU23 6QB
Bridgewater used to be home to Worsley New Hall – a glamorous estate that was visited by Queen Victoria no less. In fact, in honour of her visit, the Bridgewater Canal was dyed blue – something that must make modern-day environmentalists throw-up in disgust. But alas after surviving a fire and two World Wars it was demolished in the 1940s. Just like that. Gone. Now the RHS has stepped in and given the whole 154-acre site a much-needed facelift.
A few reminders of the past can be seen around and about, such as a disused military concrete bunker, an icehouse, lean-to glasshouses that once sheltered exotic plants, and old terraces. Now it’s also home to a walled garden, a kitchen garden, a woodland play area, meadows, woods and the picturesque Ellesmere Lake.
Where: Occupation Road, Worsley, Manchester, M28 2LJ
Price: From £11
The Cool Garden has 3,000 shrubs planted around a teardrop-shaped pond
Another RHS garden – yes, they really do love their shrubs and trees – this one is snuggled away in North Devon and is a brilliant garden to see all year round.
They have a rose garden, fancy hedges, fruit and veg gardens, a croquet lawn, a stone garden, a woodland, a meadow, an arboretum – it’s seriously impressive.
But the main attractions are the Hot and Cool Gardens. The former reaches its fiery, bright peak in July through to September and has prairie-style planting, with many of the plants from the grasslands of North America. And the latter is designed around a water feature, with a cool, calm colour palette. Around 3,000 plants are nestled into a curved terrace that hugs a teardrop-shaped pond.
Where: Torrington, Devon, EX38 8PH
Trebah Gardens in Cornwall would not be out of place in Jurassic Park. Squint your eyes and you can imagine a T-Rex stomping through the 26-acre sub-tropical garden.
There are around four miles of footpaths that wind through exotic planting down to a private beach. It’s a year-round garden, but you can go on their website and click ‘What’s Looking Good’ to read up on which plants will be out for your visit. And if that doesn’t tantalise you enough, there’s an outdoor theatre with live music, comedy, puppetry and dance.
Where: Mawnan Smith, Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 5JZ
This is where Mr Darcy emerged from a pond with a wet shirt clinging to his torso
Chatsworth House gardens
Chatsworth House is famous for many things, but the biggest of them all is that scene from Pride & Prejudice where Mr Darcy emerges from a pond with a wet shirt clinging to his torso.
Aside from being a place to swoon over Jane Austen characters, the 105-acre garden has been the recipient of 500 years of expert gardening. The house is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has belonged to the Cavendish family since 1549.
Original features include the Canal Pond, the Cascade, and the 1st Duke’s greenhouse. As well as this, it has plenty of modern redevelopments – this year saw the arrival of a monumental sculpture, Natural Course, created by Laura Ellen Bacon, and it’s also home to a rock garden, a maze, and a trout stream, in case you fancy catching your dinner.
Where: Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1PP
Penshurst Place & Gardens
Penshurt’s 48 acres of grounds is chock-a-block with stuff to do. There’s a 100-metre long Peony Border (best seen in bloom from May to June), a 16th-century Italian garden complete with a lily pool and classical statue, an apple tree orchard, a Union Flag garden and just generally loads of flowers: snowdrops, daffodils, tulips, primroses, bluebells, cowslips…
For those who really don’t fancy staring at flower beds and trees, there’s also loads of other stuff to keep you busy. A toy museum, bike hire, an outdoor theatre, falconry and the chance to meet Henry VIII’s wives (we presume they’re actors…).
Where: Penshurst, Tonbridge, Kent, TN11 8DG