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.
The vegetable garden at Great Dixter is worth a visit at any time of the year. Photo: Andrew Montgomery.
1 Sissinghurst Castle
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.
Sissinghurst Castle, Nr Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB
Tel 01580 710700
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.
Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HS
Tel 020 7352 5646
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.
Great Dixter, Dixter Road, Northiam, Rye, East Sussex TN31 6PH
Tel 01797 252878
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.
Hidcote Manor, Hidcote Bartrim, Nr Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire GL55 6LR
Tel 01386 438333
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.
The Courts, Holt, Nr Trowbridge, Wiltshire BA14 6RR
Tel 01225 782875
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
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.
Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly TR24 0QQ
Tel 01720 424108
7 Coleton Fishacre
An Arts & 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 842382
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
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
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.
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. Splendid nursery of unusual plants.
The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex CO7 7OB
Tel 01206 822007
Formal and Landscape Gardens
This impressive sunken garden at Boughton House in Northamptonshire is the work of Kim Wilkie. Photo: Jason Ingram.
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
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.
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.
Buscot Park, Faringdon, Oxfordshire SN7 8BU
Tel 01367 240786
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.
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, 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.
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 was designed by William Kent between 1737 and 1741.
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.
Westbury Court, Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire GL14 1PD
Tel 01452 760461
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.
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.
Cothay Manor, Greenham, Nr Wellington, Somerset TA2 10JR
Tel 01823 672283
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
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
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.
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.