Rose garden at Sissinghurst Castle

25 of the best English gardens to visit

For a great day out, here's 25 favourite gardens to visit, chosen by designer and historian Penelope Hobhouse

There’s a wealth of English gardens to visit across the UK that can offer inspiration for planting and designing in your very own garden. From the classic gardens such as Great Dixter in East Sussex to more contemporary styles such as Bury Court in Surrey, there is a garden for every taste and style.

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Many of these great English gardens have an impressive horticultural history, too. Eminent garden figures such as Vita Sackville-West, Christopher Lloyd and Gertrude Jekyll are a just a few influential characters that have put their stamp on some of the most-loved gardens in the UK. We asked garden designer and historian Penelope Hobhouse to choose 25 of her favourite English gardens to visit.

For more inspirations for gardens to visit, why not check out our piece on ten of the best gardens to visit for planting inspiration. 

Following the coronavirus lockdown, we have marked the English gardens below that have reopened and flagged when you need to book. Always check before your travel as most garden visits in England will now need to be booked before you arrive.

 

 

Classic English Gardens

The vegetable garden at Great Dixter
The vegetable garden at Great Dixter is worth a visit at any time of the year. Photo: Andrew Montgomery.

Sissinghurst Castle

One of the most iconic English gardens, created in 1930 by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. It’s still almost perfect, although nowadays it is more manicured to cope with huge public interest.

The garden and estate is now reopened, but you must book in advance to visit.

Sissinghurst Castle, Nr Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB

Tel 01580 710700

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Chelsea Physic Garden
Founded in 1673 as an apothecary’s garden, in a warm microclimate by the river Thames, to train apprentices in medicinal plants. This English garden is on a grid system with order beds and many unusual plants.

There is an hourly limit on the number of people allowed in the garden and you now need to book to visit. It is also recommended that friends book a free ticket.

Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HS
Tel 020 7352 5646

Great Dixter
The famous English garden of late plantsman Christopher Lloyd. The beautiful house and garden were originally restored by Lutyens in the 1920s to create a series of enclosures and garden themes. Unusual, sometimes outrageous, colour schemes, with contrasting formal and informal areas. Interesting plants throughout in the Lloydian tradition continually expanded by head gardener Fergus Garrett.

Great Dixter garden is now open for advanced bookings although the house and Loggia remain closed.

Great Dixter, Dixter Road, Northiam, Rye, East Sussex TN31 6PH
Tel 01797 252878

Hidcote Manor
Lawrence Johnson’s influential early 20th-century English garden became a model for many other gardens. Beginning in 1907, Johnson used his artist’s eye to create ‘a cottage garden on the most glorified scale’. Today it’s a little old but remains essential visiting.

The garden, Winthrop’s Cafe and the main shop are open. You will need to book your visit in advance.

Hidcote Manor, Hidcote Bartrim, Nr Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire GL55 6LR
Tel 01386 438333

The Courts
An English garden built around an early 18th-century house, this is another Hidcote-themed garden, but on a smaller scale. Strong Arts and Crafts atmosphere with yew topiary, water features and cottage garden planting. There are many good plants and ideas abound.

The Courts garden is now open to the public, but you will need to book your visit in advance.

The Courts, Holt, Nr Trowbridge, Wiltshire BA14 6RR
Tel 01225 782875


Plantsmen’s Gardens

Stone House Cottage Garden
At Stone House Cottage Garden in Worcestershire, the nursery plants are grown in sheltered beds so you can admire them in situ before you buy. Photo: Jason Ingram

Tresco Abbey
First established by the Isles of Scilly Lord Proprietor Augustus Smith in 1834. A warm climate for tender plants on a terraced hillside, protected from salt winds by pine windbreaks and stone walls. Unusual plants are the key in this English garden, making it a feast for the plantsman.

The garden and the visitor centre are open.

Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly TR24 0QQ
Tel 01720 424108

Coleton Fishacre
An Arts & Crafts English garden created in 1925 in this sheltered seaside valley. Microclimatic sites for astonishingly beautiful and rare tender plants.

The garden and cafe are open, but the gate from the coastal path is closed and you will need to book in advance.

Coleton Fishacre, Coleton, Kingswear, Dartmouth, Devon TQ6 0EQ
Tel 01803 842382

Special Plants
Nursery and English garden with many rare plants and a garden laid out by Derry Watkins and her architect husband to demonstrate their use. A magical place.

The nursery is open Thursday through to Saturday without booking needed, but check before you travel. Garden is open each Wednesday with timed slots that need booking.

Special Plants, Greenways Lane, Cold Ashton, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN14 8LA
Tel 01225 891686

Stone House Cottage
An English garden with walls and sheltered beds specially created to show off nursery plants. A rewarding visit to admire and buy.

The garden is open until 5 September, when it closes for the season. Check before you travel.

Stone House Cottage, Nr Kidderminster, Worcestershire DY10 4BG
Tel 07817 921146

10 Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens
This microclimatic English garden by the seashore is protected by belts of evergreen oak. The garden is a haven for unusual tender species, and features an interesting plant centre. Particularly good to visit in August. 

The garden is open everyday but must be booked in advance.

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, Nr Weymouth, Dorset DT3 4LA
Tel 01305 871412

11 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. This English garden also has a splendid nursery of unusual plants.

The garden and nursery is open, but pre-booking is essential.

The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex CO7 7OB
Tel 01206 822007


Formal and Landscape English Gardens

sunken garden at Boughton House in Northamptonshire
This impressive sunken garden at Boughton House in Northamptonshire is the work of Kim Wilkie. Photo: Jason Ingram.

12 Stourhead
The most beautiful watery landscape in the country. The brainchild of the banker Henry Hoare, begun in the 1740s and enhanced by deciduous tree plantings and 19th-century conifers.

The garden, cafe, toilets, restaurant, takeaway kiosk and shop are all open. Booking is essential.

Stourhead, Stourton, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 6QH
Tel 01747 841152

13 Boughton House
In 2010, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch invited Kim Wilkie to augment the early French-style layout in this English garden with an imaginative and beautiful inverted sunken pyramid of grass based on the legend of the descent of Orpheus into the Underworld.

The garden is now open Monday to Friday throughout August and September, but pre-booked tickets are needed.

Boughton House Park, Kettering, Northamptonshire NN14 1BJ
Tel 01536 515731

14 Buscot Park
Harold Peto’s formal vista – a series of box-edged Italianate terraces and narrow canals – is a masterpiece, linking formal gardening with the softer landscape beyond the lake.

Open in afternoons only, Monday to Friday in August and September. The house and tea room remain closed. Check before you travel.

Buscot Park, Faringdon, Oxfordshire SN7 8BU
Tel 01367 240786

15 Hestercombe House
Two extraordinary restored historic English garden landscapes. The first is an 18th-century park designed by Copleston Warre Bampfylde, with numerous follies, a grand cascade and a pond. The second is one of the most celebrated Lutyens/Jekyll gardens, with formal stonework, rills and Jekyll colour schemes, designed between 1904 and 1906.

You must book a time slot before you arrive.

Hestercombe House, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset TA2 8LG
Tel 01823 413923

16 Iford Manor

This Italianate garden, designed for himself by Harold Peto from 1899, is on a steeply terraced slope above and beside a house that gazes over the River Frome. The whole ensemble makes a perfect composition, an evocative balance between steps, stone, walls and quiet planting of evergreens.

Iford Manor remains closed in 2020, but will reopen in April 2021.

Iford Manor, Iford, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire BA15 2BA
Tel 01225 863146

17 Levens Hall
The best-loved topiary garden in England, although originally conceived by a Frenchman, Guillaume Beaumont, in 1694. Today rich in immaculate topiary forms and splendid new herbaceous borders.

Gardens, house and Levens kitchen are open. Visitors are asked to book in advance. Check before you travel.

Levens Hall, Kendal, Cumbria LA8 0PD
Tel 015395 60321

18 Rousham House
An iconic place of pilgrimage for both historians and the casual visitor, the landscape of this English garden was designed by William Kent between 1737 and 1741.

The garden is open. Check the website for ticket information.

Rousham House, Steeple Aston, Bicester, Oxfordshire OX25 4QU
Tel 01869 347110

19 Westbury Court
A beautiful formal Dutch-style water garden created from 1696. Light-reflecting canals lined by formal walls and hedges mark out an inspirational pattern, enlivened by plants authentic to the early period.

The garden is open with a one way route and you must book your tickets to the garden in advance.

Westbury Court, Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire GL14 1PD
Tel 01452 760461


Modern English Gardens

The contemporary walled garden at Bury Court in Surrey
The contemporary walled garden at Bury Court in Surrey has been designed by acclaimed Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf.

20 Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden
Special artist’s garden displaying bold plants and sculptures created from 1949. Images to stimulate the senses.

You will need to book a timed ticket.

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden, Barnoon Hill, St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1TG
Tel 01736 796226

21 Cothay Manor
Enchanting well-stocked garden with strong architectural features surrounding a medieval house. Interesting formal layout smothered with soft flowing plants.

The manor and gardens are open, pre-pay only.

Cothay Manor, Greenham, Nr Wellington, Somerset TA2 10JR
Tel 01823 672283

22 Denmans
The English garden of the late designer John Brookes now owned by the John Brookes-Denmans Foundation and recently reopened and highlighting John’s eclectic style, combining straight lines alongside more informal, more natural planting schemes. Many lessons to be absorbed here.

It looks like the garden is open, but check before you travel.

Denmans, Fontwell, Nr Arundel, West Sussex BN18 0SU
Tel 01243 278950

23 Herterton House
An astonishing private English garden created in 1975, with a series of maze-like enclosures lined with box, inspired by Mondrian and designed to look good in winter and summer.

Check with the owners whether the garden is open before visiting.

Herterton House, Hartington, Nr Cambo, Northumberland NE61 6BN
Tel 01670 774278

24 Shute House
A modest-sized masterpiece by Geoffrey Jellicoe, created in 1968, but timeless in atmosphere. Jellicoe incorporated distant views over the downs. Pools and descending rills are hidden in thick planting, introducing surprise elements.

Open by appointment only.

Shute House, Donhead St Mary, Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 9DG
Tel 01935 814389

25 Bury Court
Two separate gardens respectively by Piet Oudolf (1995) and Christopher Bradley-Hole (2001). Oudolf in his typical exuberant style plants sustainable perennials while Bradley-Hole has a more formal architectural approach.

Check the garden is open before you travel.

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Bury Court, Nr Bentley, Hampshire GU10 65LZ.
Tel 07771 663437

Please check all opening times carefully with each individual garden before visiting. Also take note of any special events that might be taking place.