Gardens Illustrated
Garden days out with the kids: playing in the Back to Nature Garden at RHS Garden Wisley
© RHS/Helen Yates

Garden days out with the kids

Published: July 13, 2022 at 10:26 am
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Planning a day out with the kids this summer? From den-building to outdoor theatre, we recommend the best gardens to visit that are hosting an array of activities for children over the summer holidays

Britain's beautiful estates and gardens are wonderful places for a family day out in the summer. As well as sweeping lawns to run around on, bountiful borders and cooling streams and fountains to enjoy, many of these gardens host family-friendly activities over the summer holidays, inviting children to get up close to nature, express their creativity and, most importantly, have heaps of fun. Read our guide to some of the best gardens to visit with your children this summer.

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The best garden days out with the kids

Family days out in the south east

Garden games and Disney's Encanto at Petworth Park, West Sussex

Nestled in the South Downs amid 700 acres of landscaped park and gardens, Petworth is often referred to as the 'English Versailles', and it's easy to see why.

This summer Petworth is offering a range of activities for families throughout the holidays, including garden games, activity stations and an outdoor screening of Encanto on 21 August. This will take place in the Pleasure Garden and guests are encouraged to bring their own chair and blanket. Ticket prices start from £7.50.

Petworth House & Park, Petworth, West Sussex, GU28 9LR, nationaltrust.org.uk

The Wind in the Willows at RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Essex

Clover Hill Borders at RHS Hyde Hall

During the summer holidays families can enjoy mini beast workshops, pond-dipping, den building and an Explorer Quest at RHS Hyde Hall, where you'll find an eclectic mix of traditional and modern styles of gardens. Highlights include the Courtyard Gardens and the Dry Garden, with its fantastic range of drought-resistant plants.

On 19 August, the garden is hosting an outdoor production of The Wind in The Willows, where you can join Mole, Ratty, Toad and Badger for some "frantically feral fun". Tickets start from £8.

RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Creephedge Ln, Chelmsford CM3 8RA, rhs.org.uk

Victorian horses of Audley End, Essex

Victorian horses of Audley End
© English Heritage

This summer you can see Audley End's amazing resident horses soar, gallop and prance through the house's beautiful grounds. The groom, saddler and wheelwright will be on hand for you to chat as they carry out their work, and you can learn the art of riding side saddle and cheer on the riders in the Gymkhana Games. This event takes place 28-29 August.

Audley End is one of England's grandest mansions and boasts idyllic sweeping gardens re-landscaped by 'Capability' Brown. Don't miss the beautifully restored parterre and walled organic kitchen garden.

Audley End, Off London Road, Saffron Walden, CB11 4JF, english-heritage.org.uk

Bushcraft and storytelling at RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey

World Food Garden at RHS Garden Wisley

These vast Surrey gardens feature a cathedral-like glasshouse with three climatic zones, including a 'Cloud Forest' and a Tropical Zone.

Throughout the summer holidays RHS Wisley will be hosting lots of family-friendly activities, such as immersive storytelling sessions, scarecrow making, bug hunts and tree climbing. There'll also be bushcraft sessions, where children can try out wood-carving, campfire cookery and shelter building. These activities take place on selected days and times – check the website for full details.

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

Experience medieval life at Eltham Palace and Gardens, London

Knights Tournament
© English Heritage

Eltham might be an Art Deco mansion today but this summer it's going back to its medieval origins, hosting jester workshops, archery and you can even learn the art of courtly etiquette. A medieval joust will also take place on 13-14 August, alongside a falconry display.

At Eltham you can take in 19 acres of award-winning gardens, including a Rock Garden, pools, cascades, a moat, play area and London's oldest working bridge.

Eltham Palace, Court Yard, London SE9 5QE, english-heritage.org.uk

A spellbound summer at Hever Castle, Kent

Hever Castle

During the summer holidays, Hever Castle's resident sorcerers will be teaching young visitors how to cast spells and how to execute the perfect wand waving technique. Come dressed as your favourite fairytale character, witch, wizard or knight.

Hever Castle was Anne Boleyn's childhood home, and among the award-winning grounds you'll find an Italian Garden, a Rose Garden and a Tudor Garden, laid out as they might have been in the time of Henry VIII and his doomed second wife.

Hever Castle, Hever, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7NG, hevercastle.co.uk

Family days out in the south west

Peter Pan at Kingston Lacy, Dorset

Kingston Lacy is an opulent family home built to resemble a Venetian Palace. Visitors can enjoy a picnic on the south lawn, wander through the Japanese Garden and Kitchen Garden, then explore the vast 8,500 acres of estate.

For children there are two new play areas at Kingston Lacy, and this summer the estate is hosting a series of outdoor theatre, including an exciting production of Peter Pan on 18 August. Ticket prices start from £11.

Kingston Lacy, Wimborne BH21 4EA, nationaltrust.org.uk

The Gunpowder Plot at Stourhead, Wiltshire

The Three Inch Fools are touring the country with their explosive production of The Gunpowder Plot, which includes "endless costume changes and many, many false moustaches" as five actors try to pull off the most infamous conspiracy in history. The 18th-century estate of Stourhead will be hosting the event on 13 and 27 August – bring your own blanket, chairs and picnic for a fun and uproarious evening.

Aside from the outdoor theatre there's plenty to keep the whole family amused at this beautiful estate, which was described as "a living work of art" when first opened in the 1740s. Throughout the summer holidays there'll be a Pavilion of Play – designed to get visitors closer to nature with its giant ear trumpet and humungous periscope.

Stourhead, Stourton, Warminster BA12 6QF, nationaltrust.org.uk

Family days out in central England

A legendary joust at Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden, Warwickshire

Knights Tournament
© English Heritage

At Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden you can experience the exhilarating spectacle of speed and skill as four legendary knights compete for honour and glory in the Grand Medieval Joust. Taking place 30-31 July, this is a wonderful opportunity for children to witness one of history’s most spectacular sporting contests.

While you're at Kenilworth, be sure to visit the recreated Elizabethan Garden where you can take in fragrant walkways, carved arbours, an ornate aviary and an 18-foot-high fountain carved from Italian marble.

Kenilworth Castle, Castle Green, Off Castle Road, Kenilworth, CV8 1NG, english-heritage.org.uk

Family days out in the north

Crafts, seed planting and bug hunts at RHS Garden Bridgewater, Salford, Greater Manchester

The Paradise Garden at RHS Garden Bridgewater

Designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, these beautiful gardens include orchards, a Kitchen Garden, a Chinese Streamside Garden, woods and play areas.

Throughout the summer holidays RHS Bridgewater is hosting a range of activities for children, including storytelling, a mindfulness nature trail, bug hunts and craft workshops, including making a bird feeder and bark rubbing. The activities take place on selected days and times – check the website for full details.

RHS Garden Bridgewater, Occupation Rd, Worsley, Manchester M28 2LJ, rhs.org.uk

Story yoga and giant bubbles at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

The Subtropical border at RHS Garden Harlow Carr.

At RHS Garden Harlow Carr you'll find lakeside gardens, a Sub-Tropicana Garden, an arboretum and a Scented Garden.

Throughout the summer holidays there'll be a range of kids activities, including story yoga, giant bubbles to catch, dance sessions, orienteering and a chance to have a go at playing the ukulele. These activities take place on selected days and times - check the website for full details.

RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Crag Ln, Beckwithshaw, Harrogate HG3 1QB, rhs.org.uk

Cinderella at Gibside, Tyne & Wear

This Georgian estate is one of a few remaining 18th-century designed landscapes in the UK, with over 600 acres of gardens, woodland and countryside to explore. For families there's an Explorer Trail, den building in the woods and a play fortress with ropes and a zip wire.

This summer Gibside is hosting a performance of Cinderella by Chapterhouse Theatre Company. Taking place on 4 August, families are invited to picnic on the grounds during the show, perhaps even dress up as their favourite fairytale and join in the the midsummer ball dance. Ticket prices start from £12.10.

Gibside, Rowlands Gill NE16 6BG, nationaltrust.org.uk

A Georgian family weekend at Belsay Hall, Northumberland

Belsay Hall Gardens

At Belsay you'll find a Grecian mansion (currently undergoing restoration), a medieval castle, Victorian tearoom and 30 acres of Grade I listed gardens. The Quarry Garden is well worth a visit – it has its own microclimate and is filled with an array of exotic plants.

On 27-29 August, Belsay is hosting a Georgian Family Weekend – expect interactive plays and traditional Georgian games.

Belsay Hall, Belsay, Belsay, Morpeth NE20 0DX, nationaltrust.org.uk

Family days out in Scotland

The Gruffalo at Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire

Crathes Castle

Oh help! Oh no! It's the Gruffalo! This summer the prickly-backed creature is visiting this 16th-century castle and gardens in Banchory, prowling the adventure trail on the 27th and 28th August. Booking is essential and the ticket price (£10) includes a copy of The Gruffalo, which you can get signed by the friendly beast himself if you spot him along the trail.

There's plenty to keep the whole family amused, including the internationally-renowned Walled Garden where you'll find pools, fountains, roses and a range of unusual plants. There's also a Wild Wood Adventure play area and six way-marked trails around the estate's multitude of habitats.

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Crathes, Banchory AB31 5QJ, nts.org.uk

Authors

Abigail is a freelance writer and editor based in Hereford.

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