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The best water gardens to visit

Published: September 13, 2022 at 11:45 am
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Watch reflections in a millpond and hear the gentle tinkle of flowing streams in a beautiful water garden

There is something calming about water. Whether you're hearing the gentle tinkle of flowing streams or watching reflections on a millpond, being near water has an instantly soothing yet invigorating effect, awakening the senses and prompting you to pause and reflect.

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Many water gardens in the UK are blessed with a natural water source, and they harness these springs, streams or lakes to feed their fountains, canals and other water features. These lush gardens are bountiful with moisture-loving plants, such as water lilies and gunnera, and attract a variety of wildlife including kingfishers, dragonflies and water voles.

Plan your next day out with our guide to the best water gardens to visit in Britain.

The best water garden to visit in the UK

Water gardens in the south east

Fullers Mill, Suffolk

Fullers Mill water garden
© Clive Nicholls

The River Lark flows through this seven-acre garden, planted with Mediterranean plants by the late Bernard Tickner. Recognising the poor soil and dry conditions at Fullers Mill, Bernard chose plants naturally adapted to those places, including Tulipa sprengeri and Betula 'Silver Grace'.

As well as the beautiful river you'll find a Mill Pond and tranquil dappled woodland.

Fullers Mill, West Stow, Bury Saint Edmunds IP28 6HD, perennial.org.uk

Ightham Mote Garden, Kent

A particularly fine view to enjoy at Ightham is the medieval manor house reflected in the South Lake. The lake and moat are fed by a stream flowing down the valley garden, which also boasts a cutting garden, orchard, rich summer borders and a 'secret garden'. Natural springs have been tapped to supply the fountain pools and open channels.

Mote Rd, Ivy Hatch, Sevenoaks TN15 0NT, nationaltrust.org.uk

Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, Sussex

Leonardslee Gardens

In this lush valley garden you'll find seven lakes that are a haven for wildlife, including voles, herons and wild mandarin ducks.

There's so much to explore in the 240 acres of grounds, including an impressive array of sculptures, a camellia walk and a beautiful rock garden. Fuel your exploration with an afternoon tea in the Grade II listed house.

Leonardslee Gardens, Brighton Road, Lower Beeding, Horsham RH13 6PP, leonardsleegardens.co.uk

Painshill, Surrey

Painshill Park lake
© Painshill

Charles Hamilton envisioned a living painting when he created this astounding garden in the 18th century. Take a stroll around the Serpentine Lake where you'll find a Gothic Temple, a a restored water wheel and a crystal grotto, which sparkles when it reflects the lake water. Also next to the lake is a vineyard where the estate grows grapes for own sparkling white wine and rose.

Painshill Park Trust Ltd, Portsmouth Road, Cobham KT11 1JE, painshill.co.uk

RHS Gardens Wisley, Surrey

RHS Garden Wisley tropical zone

The Seven Acres garden at Wisley features a lake and a smaller 'Round Pond' originally dug as a pit to provide gravel for the garden paths. There you'll see sculptures of two cranes that seem to dance on the surface of the lake, and on the bank you’ll find the Chinese Pavilion, originally built for an exhibit at the 2005 Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

Another highlight of Seven Acres are the Equinox Borders, which have been designed to peak in spring with peonies and alliums, then again in autumn with kniphofia and hardy fuchsias.

RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB, rhs.org.uk

Water gardens in the south west

Forde Abbey, Dorset

Forde Abbey water garden

The award-winning gardens of Forde Abbey have the highest-powered fountain in the country, shooting skywards 160 feet. The Great Pond is the only monastic structure that remains in the garden. Water cascades from this down to the Canal and Mermaid Ponds then into the Long Pond.

Elsewhere in the gardens you'll find topiary, an arboretum, bog garden and swathes of tulips in spring.

Forde Abbey Estate, Chard, Somerset TA20 4LU, fordeabbey.co.uk

Bennetts Water Gardens, Dorset

This water garden is home to the National Plant Collection of water lilies, displayed across a patchwork of ponds and lakes.

Along the lakeside trail you'll see a tropical house, woods and a Monet-style Japanese bridge. Complete your day with a cream tea at Cafe Monet.

Bennetts Water Gardens, Putton Lane, Chickerell, Weymouth, Dorset DT3 4AF, bennettswatergardens.com

Stourhead, Wiltshire

Stourhead, Wiltshire
© National Trust Images, James Dobson

Stourhead was described as ‘a living work of art’ when first opened in the 1740s. The centerpiece is undoubtedly the lake, created by damming the river and flanked by ornate buildings, including the Temple of Flora, dedicated to the Roman goddess of flowers and spring.

Stourhead has a nationally significant collection of pelargoniums, first introduced to Stourhead in the early 1800s.

Stourhead, near Mere, Wiltshire, BA12 6QD, nationaltrust.org.uk

Heale Garden, Wiltshire

In this eight-acre garden on the banks of the River Avon you'll find trout-filled streams overlooked by a Japanese teahouse, a wisteria-covered bridge and pond edges teeming with giant rhubarb. The garden is particularly lovely to visit in January for its swathes of snowdrops.

Heale Garden, Middle Woodford, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP4 6NT, healegarden.co.uk

Fast Rabbit Farm Gardens, Devon

The sound of flowing streams is ever present in this woodland garden, tumbling down to ponds overhung with magnolia trees. The garden is home to an impressive collection of acid plants, including rhododendrons and camellias.

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Strawberry Valley, Dartmouth TQ6 0NB, fastrabbitfarm.co.uk

Longstock Water Gardens, Hampshire

The East family started developing Longstock the late 1800s. They extracted gravel to make roads through the wooded estate, the resulting pit then filled with groundwater from the nearby River Test, creating a lake. Longstock is now regarded as the "finest water garden in the world” by the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society.

There are 40 different species of waterlily at Longstock, alongside lakeside lobelia and feathery astilbe.

Longstock Park, Leckford Estate, Stockbridge, Hampshire SO20 6EH, leckfordestate.co.uk

Water gardens in central England

Buscot House, Oxfordshire

Buscot water gardens

This 18th-century estate features an Italianate water garden designed by Harold Peto. You'll find a charming chain of miniature cascades, basins and a central canal flanked by box hedges, statues and marble seats, all leading down to a large lake.

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

Westbury Court, Gloucestershire

Aerial view of Westbury Court Garden, Gloucestershire.
©National Trust Images/Mike Calnan/Chris Lacey

Westbury Court's Dutch-style water garden is a rare survival of 17th-century garden design. Restored to its original glory, the straight canal reflects the topiary and ornate garden buildings, while in the orchard you'll find fruit varieties dating back to the Romans. Westbury is also home to one of the oldest oaks in the country.

Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire, GL14 1PD, nationaltrust.org.uk

Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

The crowning glory of this Herefordshire estate is the Dutch Garden, admired for its stunning symmetry, canals and fountains. There's also a sunken garden with a cascade of stepping stones along a stream, and a waterfall you can walk behind.

Hampton Court Castle, Hope under Dinmore, Herefordshire HR6 0PN, hamptoncourtcastle.co.uk

Westonbury Mill Water Gardens, Herefordshire

Westonbury Mill Water Garden

A unique water garden in the Marches with remarkable follies including a a giant water-powered cuckoo clock, water tower and a dome constructed from 5,000 wine bottles.

The garden is set around the Curl Brook, with pathways and bridges criss-crossing the streams and ponds. The bog garden and ponds are flanked by giant irises, rushes and huge gunnera leaves.

Westonbury Mill Water Gardens, Pembridge, Leominster, Herefordshire HR6 9HZ, westonburymillwatergardens.com

Chatsworth, Derbyshire

Chatsworth fountain

Chatsworth's waterworks are renowned as examples of early innovation in engineering and sustainability. Manmade lakes behind the house feed the ponds, canal and water features, including the mighty Emperor Fountain, which reaches a height of 90 metres. Once the water has flowed through the water features, it then feeds a turbine that supplies electricity to the house.

Chatsworth, Bakewell, Derbyshire DE45 1PP, chatsworth.org

Croome Court, Worcestershire

This historic estate was one of 'Capability' Brown's early designs, and a secret airbase during the Second World War. The 1.5 mile parkland trail includes a lakeside walk and charming garden buildings, including the Grade I listed Temple Greenhouse. It housed the 6th Earl’s collection of exotic plants, including orange and lemon trees, birds of paradise plants, cacti, canna lilies and oleanders.

Croome Court, near High Green, Worcester, Worcestershire, WR8 9DW, nationaltrust.org.uk

Water gardens in the north of England

Cholmondeley Castle Gardens, Cheshire

The Folly Water Gardens at Cholmondeley have shrubs displaying stunning colours throughout the year, underplanted with ferns, geranium and primula. There's also the Temple Garden, which has a small lake and two islands. Beside the lake great plumes of pampas grass appear in autumn, followed by scarlet and gold leaves of Peltiphyllum, then snowdrops in winter.

Cholmondeley Castle Gardens, Malpas, Cheshire SY14 8AH, cholmondeleycastle.com

Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park, Yorkshire

Himalayan water garden

The acid soil and abundance of springs in this woodland garden makes it ideal for its collection rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias. There are three lakes, one of them adorned with a floating magnolia sculpture. This is one of 87 sculptures and land art in the gorgeous grounds.

The Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park, The Hutts, Hutts Lane, Grewelthorpe, Ripon, HG4 3DA, himalayangarden.com

Alnwick, Northumberland

The first thing that greets you on your visit to Alnwick is the Grand Cascade, comprising 120 water jets and an impressive fountain at the bottom. Enjoy the jets' choreographed displays of shooting water – and prepare to be soaked!

The Alnwick Garden, The Gardeners Cottage, Greenwell Road Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1HB, alnwickgarden.com

Water gardens in Scotland

Blair Castle Gardens, Perthshire

Hercules Garden at Blair Castle is a nine-acre walled garden that has been restored to its original Georgian design. It features a long artificial lake teeming with swans and ducks, and a beautiful Chinese bridge. The garden is named after the life-sized statue of Hercules that overlooks the grounds.

Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH18 5TH, atholl-estates.co.uk

Crarae Garden, Inverary

The Crarae Burn is the centerpiece of this Himalayan-style garden among the hills of Argyll. Crarae Garden was created in 1912 by Lady Grace Campbell, the aunt of intrepid plant hunter Reginald Farrer, who sourced trees and shrubs from China, Nepal and Tibet. Among the rocky gorges and thickets of maple and birch, keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels, dippers and woodpeckers.

Crarae Garden, Crarae, Inveraray PA32 8YN, nts.org.uk

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Authors

Abigail is a freelance writer and editor based in Hereford.

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