The best gardens to visit for culture
We select some of our favourite gardens in which you can immerse yourself in cultural delights such as art, literature, science, politics and music
Many of the UK's most famous gardens, although celebrated for their planting and garden design, have much more to offer in terms of cultural interest. The Oudolf Field at Hauser & Wirth, for example is a draw to those who love considered design and art in all its forms, as the gallery poses as an inviting backdrop to the inspiring planting beyond. Literature and music are also covered, as are gardens tied-up in history as political or creative influences. Here is our list of gardens to visit for culture.
Art & literature
Hauser & Wirth
International gallery owners Hauser & Wirth invited eminent Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf to create a garden in the field beyond their gallery. Oudolf’s drift-planted, perennial meadow allows for a softness of planting that loosens the formality of the gallery. 2017’s first major exhibition is Djordje Ozbolt’s Brave New World, a collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures and landscape interventions.
Address: Durslade Farm, Dropping Lane, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0NL. Tel 01749 814060, hauserwirthsomerset.com
Created in the 18th century by William Kent, Rousham continues to influence designers and visitors today with its classical narrative, structure, skilful sense of place, and clever use of light and shade to draw you on a journey through the garden. A lesson in masterful restraint. Read more about Rousham here.
Address: Steeple Aston, Bicester, Oxfordshire OX25 4QU. Tel 01869 347110, rousham.org
Art gallery housed in a restored Georgian mansion and set within a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape. Brown’s carefully managed viewpoints are used to display works of art and set up eye catchers. Designer Dan Pearson has created a parterre of native meadow plants, mown in a pattern based on William Morris designs.
Address: Compton Verney, Warwickshire CV35 9HZ. Tel 01926 645500, comptonverney.org.uk
In 1925 Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst opened the doors of Dartington Hall to artists, economists, horticulturists and social reformers who would stimulate new thinking. That ethos continues today with a programme of events, courses and festivals, much of it focused on the arts. Dartington’s cultural brief is complemented by the gardens, which include tiered earthworks, swathes of bulbs, extensive borders and a Henry Moore sculpture.
Address: Totnes, Devon TQ9 6EL. Tel 01803 847000, dartington.org
Scottish poet, philosopher, writer and artist Ian Hamilton Finley moved to Little Sparta in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh in 1967. A garden was developed over the years as Ian collaborated with stonemasons and letter cutters to create permanent ‘poem objects’, carefully placed so that language is made to inhabit the landscape.
Address: Stonypath, Dunsyre ML11 8NG. littlesparta.org.uk
The country home and garden for artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who created a bohemian retreat for themselves and their numerous Bloomsbury Group guests. The garden features mosaics, box hedging, gravel pathways, ponds and quirky sculpture, while the intense use of colour reflects the painting, textiles and decoration in the house. Together, the garden and house convey a sense of characterful creativity and prolific productivity.
Address: Firle, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 6LL. Tel 01323 811626, charleston.org.uk
Renowned as a writer and poet, Vita Sackville-West is also highly regarded for the garden she made at Sissinghurst Castle. Created with her husband Harold Nicolson, the garden is considered the embodiment of British gardening tradition. The National Trust is completing a project to conserve all the books in Vita’s writing room – including plant catalogues – giving us an insight into her vision for the garden.
Address: Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB. Tel 01580 710700, nationaltrust.org.uk
Hill Top Farm
The 17th-century Cumbrian farmhouse is a time-capsule of writer and illustrator Beatrix Potter’s life. Potter bought the property in 1909 as an escape from London and the house and garden were to feature regularly in her stories and illustrations. Now owned by the National Trust.
Address: Near Sawrey, Hawkshead, Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 0LF. Tel 015394 36269, nationaltrust.org.uk
Power & Symbolism
Here is a contemporary garden that continues the 18th-century landscape garden tradition so ably demonstrated at Stowe. Owner Alasdair Forbes has been developing the 32-acre valley site near Tiverton in Devon since 1992 to include references to the music, art, poetry, classical myth and psychology that have inspired his intellectual life. Open by appointment only. Email email@example.com
Considered the definitive garden opera location, Glyndebourne is tucked beneath the Sussex Downs and offers a refined marriage of music, architecture and gardening. Herbaceous borders, a kitchen garden, lake and new rose garden all provide an intimate foreground to sweeping views of the Sussex countryside. Highlights for 2017 include the world premier of a new opera based on Hamlet.
Address: Lewes, East Sussex BN8 5UU. Tel 01273 815000, glyndebourne.com
Garsington Opera at Wormsley
The renowned opera season moved to the Wormsley Estate in 2011, where performances are held in a pavilion set within the landscape of the Chiltern Hills. Pre performance, visitors can stroll the Opera Garden flower borders and 18th-century walled garden designed by Penelope Hobhouse.
Address: Wormsley Estate, Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire HP14 3YG. Tel 01865 368201, garsingtonopera.org
Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Tucked beyond the crowded streets of St Ives, Hepworth’s compact workshop remains full of tools and unfinished pieces. Step through into the secluded garden where she displayed some of her favourite works. The intimacy of space and careful placement of sculptures ensure the garden’s enduring appeal.
Address: St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1AD. Tel 01736 796226, barbarahepworth.org.uk
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
The vast 18th-century Bretton Estate is the perfect setting for large-scale sculpture, many of international importance. Encounter the exhibits close up, or view across carefully designed vistas.
Address: West Bretton, Wakefield, Yorkshire WF4 4LG. Tel 01924 832631, ysp.org.uk
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