Gardens Illustrated
© National Trust Images, Sarah Davis

25 English gardens to visit

In this feature from the Gardens Illustrated archives, designer and garden historian Penelope Hobhouse shares 25 of the best English gardens to visit

Updated 5 May 2022: English gardens are incredibly varied and here you’ll find something to suit every taste – whether you prefer to visit classically designed English gardens, formal and landscape gardens or modern gardens.

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The best English gardens to visit

English gardens with a classic design

Sissinghurst Castle

The newly re-created Delos garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent © National Trust Images, Eve Nemeth

One of the most iconic English gardens to visit, 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.

Sissinghurst Castle, Nr Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB. Tel 01580 710700, nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle

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.

Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HS. Tel 020 7352 564, chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk

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.

Great Dixter, Dixter Road, Northiam, Rye, East Sussex TN31 6PH. Tel 01797 252 878, greatdixter.co.uk

Hidcote Manor

The Old Garden in June at Hidcote, Gloucestershire © National Trust Images, Sarah Davis

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 still an essential English garden to visit.

Hidcote Manor, Hidcote Bartrim, Nr Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire GL55 6LR, Tel 01386 438333, nationaltrust.org.uk/hidcote

The Courts

The Courts Garden
The Courts Garden, Wiltshire in August. © National Trust Images, Chris Lacey

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 to see and spark inspiration.

The Courts, Holt, Nr Trowbridge, Wiltshire BA14 6RR. Tel 01225 782875, nationaltrust.org.uk/courts-garden

Plantsman's English gardens

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.

Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly TR24 0QQ. Tel 01720 422868, tresco.co.uk

Coleton Fishacre

Coleton Fishacre
The house and garden in July at Coleton Fishacre, Devon © National Trust Images, Mel Peters

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

Coleton Fishacre, Coleton, Kingswear, Dartmouth, Devon TQ6 0EQ, Tel 01803 752466, nationaltrust.org.uk/coleton-fishacre

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, specialplants.net

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 01562 69902, shcn.co.uk

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

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.

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, Nr Weymouth, Dorset DT3 4LA. Tel 01305 871412, abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk

The Beth Chatto Gardens

Superb and influential gardener Beth Chatto is responsible for all our current ideas on plant husbandry and suitability; she was a supreme garden artist. Splendid nursery of unusual plants.

The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex CO7 7OB. Tel 01206 822007, bethchatto.co.uk

Formal and landscape English gardens

Stourhead

Stourhead, Wiltshire
The Pantheon in September sunshine at Stourhead, Wiltshire © National Trust Images, James Dobson

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.

Stourhead, Stourton, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 6QH, Tel 01747 841152, nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead

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.

Buscot Park, Faringdon, Oxfordshire SN7 8BU. Tel 01367 240786, buscot-park.com

Boughton House

Boughton House
The Orpheus at 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.

Boughton House Park, Kettering, Northamptonshire NN14 1BJ. Tel 01536 515731, boughtonhouse.org.uk

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.

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

Iford Manor

Iford Manor
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, Iford, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire BA15 2BA. Tel 01225 863146, ifordmanor.co.uk

Levens Hall

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

Levens Hall, Kendal, Cumbria LA8 0PD. Tel 015395 60321, levenshall.co.uk

Rousham House

An iconic place of pilgrimage for both historians and the casual visitor, the landscape was designed by William Kent between 1737 and 1741.

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

Westbury Court

Westbury Court Garden, Gloucestershire
Summer in the parterres at Westbury Court Garden, Gloucestershire © National Trust Images, Sarah Davis

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.

Westbury Court, Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire GL14 1PD. Tel 01684 855377, nationaltrust.org.uk/westbury-court-garden

Modern gardens

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden

Sculptures in the garden at The Barbara Hepworth Museum
Sculptures in the Barbara Hepworth Museum © Getty

Special artist’s garden displaying bold plants and sculptures created from 1949. Images to stimulate the senses.

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

Denmans

Designer John Brookes’ own garden demonstrates his eclectic style, combining straight lines within walls with informal more natural planting schemes. Many lessons to be absorbed here.

Denmans, Fontwell, Nr Arundel, West Sussex BN18 0SU. Tel 01243 542808, denmans.org

Cothay Manor

Cothay Manor
Cothay Manor

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

Cothay Manor, Greenham, Nr Wellington, Somerset TA2 10JR. Tel 01823 672283, cothaymanor.co.uk

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

Shute House

Autumn leaves at Shute Barton, Devon © National Trust Images, Rob Skinner

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.

Shute House, Donhead St Mary, Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 9DG. Tel 01752 346585, nationaltrust.org.uk/shute-barton

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.

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

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

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