I’m no expert on the best UK gardens. I love to visit them, but I really don’t have the skill-set to tell a great British garden from merely a very good one.
I am, however, a very good information miner so I decided to hunt out the opinions of experts on the best of British gardens.
The only thing they could agree on was that they can’t agree on much.
The four experts I sounded out came up with 42 alternatives on their “X Great UK Gardens” lists.
Only a garden obsessive would contemplate visiting that many places in the course of a trip to the UK.
So, in an effort to reduce the choices, I came up with the following list by simply including any garden voted on by two or more of the websites I consulted.
Many of these gardens are owned by the National Trust or English Heritage and if you buy my eBook Great British Road Trips I’ll tell you how to save on every visit to a National Trust or English Heritage property.
Sign up here and for a mere £5.90 and it will make planning and driving a tour of Britain a hellava lot easier.
I’ll lay out all the best (and even a few maybe-not-so) sightseeing options and I’ll give you easy-to-follow navigation notes to get you around with the least possible hassle and the fewest possible “debates” with the navigator.
And I’ll give you some serious money-saving tips when it comes to car hire, accommodation and sightseeing.
“A top ten Great British Garden – Hidcote Manor is one of the greatest gardens in England created this century by the great horticulturist Major Lawrence Johnston.
The Hidcote Manor Garden should not be missed. It is situated in the beautiful Cotswold countryside amongst hills, rolling valleys, and drystone walls.
Hidcote comprises of a series of small gardens within a garden, but also with long avenues bordered by different plantings. The garden is famous for rare shrubs and trees as well as its outstanding design features. There are water features, wild flower areas and pools with plenty of places to sit and take in the atmosphere.” from Great British Gardens.
Hidcote Bartrim, Nr Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire GL55 6LR
You can visit Hidcote Manor as part of a drive from Stratford-on-Avon to Bath, one of the touring routes on on this website.
Sissinghurst Castle. In the 1930s novelist and poet The Hon Victoria Mary Sackville-West, Lady Nicolson, better known as Vita Sackwille-West and her diplomat husband, Sir Harold Nicolson, rescued the ruins of a 15th century moated manor house and turned a wilderness into a classic English garden. Its blend of fresh greenery and stone walks puts it right up there on this list.
Nr Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB.
You can visit Sissinghurst as part of a drive between Canterbury and Brighton, one of the touring routes on this website.
Chelsea Physic Garden
Not all the great gardens are out in the provinces. Here’s one right in the very centre of London.
“Founded in 1673 as an apothecary’s garden, in a warm microclimate by the river Thames, to train apprentices in medicinal plants. Still on a grid system with ordered beds and many unusual plants.” Gardens Illustrated.
Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HS
A splendid Palladian House with magnificent 18th C gardens – one of the best examples of landscaped gardens in Europe.
With hills, water and classical architecture overlaid by a great collection of trees and shrubs, Stourhead was described as ‘a living work of art’ when first opened in the 1740s. Meandering paths offer vistas through trees to classical temples and surprises at every turn.
Stourhead, Stourton, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 6QH
You can visit Stourhead as part of a drive between Exeter and Salisbury, one of the touring routes on this website.
Bodnant Gardens located in Colwyn Bay are a world-famous and respected garden home to national collections of plants.
Created over 150 years, with plants collected and brought to Britain from far afield, and curated by the vision of generations of the McLaren family and their head gardeners, this haven of rarity and beauty is set to backdrop of the towering Carneddau mountains of Snowdonia.
Bodnant Gardens, Bodnant Rd, Tal-y-cafn, Colwyn Bay LL28 5RE
RHS Garden Wisley
“A flagship of England’s Royal Horticultural Society, this world-renowned spot maintains a staff of 90 groundskeepers to keep things looking fresh.
“Exploring its long, polished lawns and delicately planted flowerbeds is like a crash course in high-style English gardening. Take a walk through its dense wooded trails, listen to songbirds, and admire the garden’s architectural accents, which include a giant glass house the size of 10 tennis courts.” Smithsonian Magazine.
RHS Gardens Wisley, Just off the A3, south of Junction 10 on the London Orbital Motorway, the M25.
The Beth Chatto Gardens
“Superb and influential gardener, Beth Chatto, is responsible for all our current ideas on plant husbandry and suitability, as well as being a supreme garden artist. Splendid nursery of unusual plants.” Gardens Illustrated.
The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex CO7 7OB
You can visit The Beth Chatto Gardens as side trip on a visit to Constable Country . . . one of the recommended destinations on this website.
Arley Hall and Gardens
“A vibrant garden, cultivated for over 250 years by generations of the same family. The Herbaceous Border – probably the first of its kind in England – draws green-fingered visitors from miles around.” Independent.
Arley Hall and Gardens, Northwich, Cheshire, CW9 6NA.
Arley is signposted from Junction 9/10 on the M56 and Junction 19/20 on the M6. Follow the brown tourist signs.
“Belvoir Castle (pronounced Beaver) is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland. Crowning a hill in Leicestershire, its turrets and towers look over the Vale of Belvoir. The estate has been divided up into four gardens; The Formal, The Japanese, The Duchess and Hermits – all unique and stunning in their own right.” Country and Town House.
It was the subject of a tv doco that recorded the work by the present duchess of Rutland to realise the landscape plan of Lancelot “Capability” brown, prepared 300 years ago but never done. Brown regarded the plan as his final masterpiece.
Belvoir Castle, Woolsthorpe Rd, Grantham, Leicestershire, NG32 1PE. GPS 52.8947, -0.7836.
You can visit Belvoir Castle as part of a drive between Peterborough and Lincoln, one of the touring routes on this website. Take the A52 westwards from the A15.
Chatsworth in Derbyshire has gardens which have evolved over 450 years. The famous waterworks include the 300-year-old Cascade, the Willow Tree Fountain and the impressive gravity-fed Emperor Fountain The gardens also feature a maze, rockery and kitchen garden.
The house and garden were first constructed by Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick in 1555. The Elizabethan garden was much smaller than the modern garden is now.
Chatsworth, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1PP, GPS 58.2293, -1.6122
Hestercombe Gardens are unique as they span three centuries of garden design. Set within 50 acres, the Victorian Shrubbery, the Georgian Landscape Garden and the Edwardian Formal Gardens all offer a different experience.
“Hestercombe House is nestled in a sleepy little village in Taunton in Somerset. Perfect for a stroll, the gardens feature two exquisite historic landscapes – an 18th century park by Copleston Warre Bampfylde, and a Lutyens/Jekyll area with formal stonework and classic colour schemes.” Country and Town House.
Hestercombe House, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset TA2 8LG.
Levens Hall Topiary Garden
The topiary garden at Levens Hall is a living sculpture gallery. It is the finest, oldest and most extensive topiary garden in the world. There are over 100 pieces here, each clipped to an unusual and individual design.
Some of the trees and bushes are three hundred years old and the layout of this garden has changed little since their planting and initial training in the 1690s.
Most pieces of topiary here are nameless abstract or geometric shapes but look out for the Chess pieces – the King and Queen, the Judges Wig, the Howard Lion, the Great Umbrellas, Queen Elizabeth and her Maids of Honour, a Jug of Morocco Ale and four Peacocks.
Levens Hall, Kendal, Cumbria, LA8 0PD. GPS 54.2588, -2.7769.
You can visit Levens Hall as part of a drive between Keswick and Chester, one of the touring routes on this website.
These extensive gardens, covering 90 acres, showcase over three centuries of design, incorporating French, Dutch, Italian and English landscaping styles. Don’t miss the statue of Diana, the goddess of hunting.
Fancy French curves and bold Italian geometry provide an opportunity for contrast through the dynamic bedding displays. Explore the sweeping landscapes and woodland walks. From an riot of colour in spring to the lush greens and browns of summer and autumn.
Wrest Park, Silsoe, Bedfordshire, MK45 4HR. GPS 52.0078, -0.4124.
You can visit Wrest Park as side trip on the drive between Cambridge and Oxford, one of the touring routes on this website.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
These award winning gardens are thought to be the largest garden restoration project in Europe. They consist of over 80 acres of magnificent gardens, which until 1991 were lost and forgotten under seventy years of ivy, bramble, laurel and fallen timber. Take a deep breath and cross the rope bridge above a sub-tropical jungle garden. At 100ft long, it’s the longest rope bridge in Britain.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St Austell. PL26 6EN. GPS 50.2876, -4.8142.
You can visit The Lost Gardens of Heligan as part of a drive between Penzance and Plymouth, one of the touring routes on this website.
The Eden Project
Built into the wall of an abandoned china clay pit just outside St Austell, the Eden Project’s biomes house a lush jungle of 10,000 trees and plants from all over the world.
Feel the tropical heat in the Rainforest Biome and experience four of the world’s rainforest environments: Tropical Islands, Southeast Asia, West Africa and Tropical South America.
With the domes and enormous trees towering above you, you’ll follow the path deep into a vast indoor jungle.
The Eden Project, Bodelva, Cornwall, PL24 2SG. GPS 50.3637, -47458.