There’s a wealth of gardens to visit across England that can offer inspiration for planting and designing your 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. 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 gardens to visit throughout England.
One of the most iconic 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.
2 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. Still on a grid system with order beds and many unusual plants.
3 Great Dixter
Famous garden of late plantsman Christopher Lloyd. The 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.
4 Hidcote Manor
Lawrence Johnson’s influential early 20th-century 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 and tired but remains essential visiting.
5 The Courts
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. Today it needs some renovation but there are many good plants and ideas abound.
6 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 here making it a feast for the plantsman.
8 Special Plants
Nursery and garden with many rare plants and a garden laid out by Derry Watkins and her architect husband to demonstrate their use. A magical place.
Special Plants, Greenways Lane, Cold Ashton, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN14 8LA
Tel 01225 891686 www.specialplants.net
9 Stone House Cottage
A garden with walls and sheltered beds specially created to show off nursery plants. A rewarding visit to admire and buy.
Stone House Cottage, Nr Kidderminster, Worcestershire DY10 4BG
Tel 07817 921146 www.shcn.co.uk
10 Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens
This microclimatic 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.
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. Splendid nursery of unusual plants.
The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex CO7 7OB
Tel 01206 822007 www.bethchatto.co.uk
Formal and Landscape Gardens
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.
13 Boughton House
In 2010, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch invited Kim Wilkie to augment the early French-style layout with an imaginative and beautiful inverted sunken pyramid of grass based on the legend of the descent of Orpheus into the Underworld.
15 Hestercombe House
Two extraordinary restored historic 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.
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.
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.
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.
23 Herterton House
An astonishing private 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.
Herterton House, Hartington, Nr Cambo, Northumberland NE61 6BN
Tel 01670 774278 www.heterton.co.uk
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.