1) Bodnant Garden, Conwy
This 80-acre garden set in a stunning valley delights in variety. Features that especially appealed were the formal gardens, Italianate terraces, lawns, a laburnum arch and several stunning water features, including the Pin Mill and the tree-lined streams of The Dell.
Judge Phoebe Smith says: “The laburnum arch changes every season, sometimes bright yellow, sometimes green, sometimes bare. There’s a secret garden and places to get lost – it’s very family friendly with big open spaces and lots of little places to hide away as well.”
You said: “A fabulous mix with something for everyone. All of the water features (pin mill, dell, terraces) get my vote,” Tad Peisakowski
“I love the quantity and variety of azaleas. The laburnum arch plus the beautiful valley that the gardens lead down through. Also the quirky mill and stream area at the bottom of the valley. It is beautiful, particularly in spring.” Peter Kent
2) Coleton Fishacre, Devon
Besides this beautiful arts and crafts home of the D’Oyly Cart family sits a radiant RHS designed garden with views to the sea. With glades, ponds and tropical plants blooming in a lush valley, the atmosphere is both tranquil, colourful and elegant, complementing the art deco character of the house.
Judge Mark Rowe says: “This is one of the edgier National Trust gardens, framed by coastal cliffs as you approach it, and it’s not really formal as such inside – it’s quite ragged at the edges, and it’s got a lot of charm to it.”
You said: “Simply stunning. My first visit in June, when the garden was at its best, meant that this property now ranks first of the National Trust properties I have ever visited.” Chris Gee
3) Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire
This privately-owned garden (though open to the public) was designed by William Kent in the early 18th century, and is almost unchanged since then. It retains many features that delighted 18th century visitors to Rousham, including sham ruins, ponds and cascades. The walled garden has herbaceous borders, small parterre, pigeon house and espalier apple trees, while a herd of rare Long-Horn cattle can be seen in the park. Be warned – there is no tea shop!
Judge John Craven says: “Rousham Gardens managed to escape Capability Brown, so it still has the formal gardens as well as the broad open landscape garden, which leads down to the Oxford Canal. There’s a beautiful rose garden and statues in the formal gardens and in the open gardens. It’s a wonderful place to wander round and see what is possible in a large English garden.”
4) Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall
A genuine secret garden, Heligan languished under weeds for years. Today, these recovered gardens have a rare beauty and mystery, with winding paths, restored gardens, vast tree ferns, bamboo tunnels and ancient woodland.
Judge Fergus Collins says: “Lost Gardens of Heligan is a great restoration story where, 25-30 years ago, there was nothing there apart from a lot of weeds. It was rediscovered and has become an absolute jewel full of mystery and romance. One of Cornwall’s greatest gardens now wins great plaudits all the time. A great, beautiful place to visit.”
You said: “There is so much to look at – the walled garden; the jungle, which has a magical feel with a rope bridge; the greenhouses with grapes, peaches and oranges. There is both formal and informal planting and a large range of plants. There are walks to take around the estate and something new to see every month.” Kate Pitman
5) Mount Stewart, County Down
Located just south of Belfast on the edge of Strangford Lough, Mount Stewart is in a spectacular position. The mild climate allows for an impressive degree of planting experimentation, and the formal areas have a Mediterranean feel. Formerly owned by society hostess Edith, Lady Londonderry, the 20th-century gardens are also interesting historically – there are stories of wild, bacchanalian parties at the lodge and in the gardens.
Judge Marke Rowe says: “The landscape is a wonderful jumble of formal gardens and Italianate gardens, where lots of high shrubs have created a wonderful microclimate. Its racy history also adds spice to any visit.”
Images: National Trust/ Lost Gardens of Heligan/ Getty