This Valentine’s Day lose your heart in one of the world’s most romantic gardens. Garden writer Anna Pavord picks ten of her favourite gardens to visit all with an atmosphere of calm and beauty that will sweep you off your feet.
Humphry Repton, the great 18th-century landscaper, worked at Endsleigh and in the valley to the west of the house you catch the essence of his genius. Water charges under paths, tips down rock faces and meanders obediently along leats. ‘Of all picturesque subjects there is none so interesting as Water in rapid motion,’ he wrote. Endsleigh has a quality that is increasingly difficult to find in a garden: romance and a strong spirit of place. In 2014 the garden opens for the first time for the National Gardens Scheme.
Milton Abbot, Tavistock, Devon PL19 0PQ
When you cross the stone bridge over the river to Dundonnell in Scotland, you arrive in a different world. First are the trees – huge limes, beech and sweet chestnuts, as well as sycamore and ash. Then the house, superbly strong, white-harled, standing in a meadow of long grass. Then the walled garden, three acres of inspired beauty arranged around a monumental yew, thought to be at least 2,000 years old. Thrilling. Astonishing.
Open for charity (Scotlands Gardens)
Dundonnell, Little Loch Broom, Wester Ross IV23 2QW
Bolfracks tells you immediately that it is a much-loved garden, beautifully looked after and impervious, quite rightly, to fashion. It has a quiet peace and self confidence, the planting still singing of the 1950s: cherries, acers, berberis, good species rhododendrons. The twig house makes a romantic hideaway.
Aberfeldy, Perthshire PH15 2EX
“I’m getting more Italian as I get older,” says designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd about her own garden at Gresgarth where a geometric arrangement of steps and terraces leads down to meet the lake on the southwest front of the house. The design may be formal but the planting is rich, lush and passionate.
Caton, Lancashire LA2 9NB
For more than a decade in the first half of the 20th century, the brilliant architect-designer Cecil Pinsent worked with Iris Origo on her garden at La Foce in Italy’s Val d’Orcia. Were they in love? “He was. And I was,” said Iris Origo. “But not at the same time.” Around the villa, a series of intimate gardens are enclosed by yew hedges and walls of gorgeous travertine stone. At a higher level, a pergola swathed in wisteria gives staggering views out over the vale.
Strada della Victoria 61, 53042 Chianciano Terme, Siena, Italy.
The garden at Villa Lante in Italy is said by connoisseurs to mark the beginning of the story of the pleasure garden in Europe. Made by Cardinal Gambara for love of himself, rather than another, the design hangs on a dramatic central vista stretching over fountains and pools, shady benches and stairways to a delicious grotto (just made for proposals) at the far end of the garden.
Via Jacopo Barozzi 71, 01031 Bagnaia (VT), Italy
Marqueyssac overlooks the Dordogne, one of a clutch of battlemented châteaux that glare at each other from their respective peaks. The garden was created by Julien de Cervel, who adored Italy and made this place as close to his Italian dream as he could manage. The result, more than 150 years on, is spectacular: molten box topiary under tall cypresses and umbrella pines.
Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac
24220 Vezac, Dordogne, France
Tel +33 5 53 31 36 36
When I let myself into the garden at Misarden, it was so still, so enclosed in its own bubble of tranquillity, I thought I might have tripped into a golden afternoon of the Edwardian era. Generous herbaceous borders run down either side of a central lawn: echinops, plume poppy, inula, stately spires of delphinium. A pergola of roses and a wide yew hedge shield a kitchen garden. Timeless. Gorgeous.
Miserden, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL6 7JA
Tel 01285 821303
Architect Clough Williams-Ellis lived at Plas Brondanw in Wales for more than 70 years, gradually surrounding himself with architectural topiary and allées of box and yew, curling flights of steps, fountains, and the best vista in Britain, ending in the peaks of Snowdonia. For him, the place became a passion “an obsession if you like,” and romance still lingers in this wonderful place.
Llanfrothen, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd LL48 6SW
Tel 01766 772772
To British eyes, the extraordinary garden at Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California, is like a giant film set for the Disney film Fantasia with weird but wonderful cacti, superb succulents, rare cycads, flowering aloes and a forest of dragon trees. The only thing more extraordinary than the garden itself, with its Moorish rills and lotus pools, is its creator, the self-styled Madame Ganna Walska (1887–1984), who spent the fortunes of six husbands making this place. Not to be missed.
Directions to garden given when booking a visit.
Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation (offices only) is at 695 Ashley Road, Santa Barbara, California 93108, USA.
Tel +1 805 969 9990
This feature appears in February 2014 issue (206)