Best country gardens to visit in the UK
From coastal terraced gardens to Italianate marvels, here is our pick of the best country gardens to visit in spring and summer in the UK.
Few scenes feel more quintessentially British than a country garden in summer. Borders spill the vibrant flower-heads of annuals and perennials, rose gardens bloom and perfume, and trees bow and wave beneath canopies full of fresh leaves.
Such is our passion for gardens on these islands that some people have brought it upon themselves to spend all their waking hours growing, tending and presenting their gardens to the public. Rarely are you far from one of these floral havens.
There are many great gardens in the UK, each with its own special character. Here, we reveal some of our favourites, from world-famous Kew in London and the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, to the lesser-known Dyffryn Fernant Garden in Wales and Scotland's exuberant Crathes Castle Garden.
Britain's best country gardens to visit
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall
The Heligan manor was first built in the 1200s as home to the Tremayne family. The estate was developed from 1766, when the walls of the flower garden were built, to 1907, when the Italian garden was put in place. However, throughout the early 20th century bramble and ivy covered the thousand acres and after decades of neglect the gardens were almost completely concealed.
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The derelict gardens were discovered by Tim Smit and John Willis who were inspired by a motto carved into a limestone wall, which still reads “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber” with the workers names signed underneath and the date – August 1914.
By 1991, planning permission was given to open to the public. Since then, work on the grounds has continued through an established team at Heligan and the garden has received numerous awards for restoration.
Kew Gardens, London
Perhaps the UK's best-known gardens, Kew offers visitors a bit of everything, from its 500 acres of woodland and the world's largest seed conservation project, to its wild botanic garden and tree-top walkway. There are more than 50,000 living plants at Kew, so it's worth spending the whole day there if you don't want to miss out on seeing them all!
Wisely Gardens, Surrey
One of Wisley's highlights is its splendid glasshouse. There are three climatic zones to explore in the 12-metre-high structure: tropical, moist temperate and dry temperate. The steamy tropical area is filled with bananas, bromeliads and climbers. In the moist temperate zone you’ll find giant ferns and epiphytes, while in the dry zone, desert cacti thrive.
Bodnant Gardens, Conwy
Cleverly designed to allow water beneath it, people across it and eels through it, the Waterfall Bridge forms a dam between Bodnant’s lake and the rhododendron-lined Afon Hiraethlyn. This Snowdonia garden also includes grand lawns, colourful terraces, wildflower meadows and enormous trees.
Great Dixter, East Sussex
There are few better days out in East Sussex than a visit to Great Dixter, a garden once owned by the late, great plantsman Christopher Lloyd and now looked after by head gardener Fergus Garrett and the Great Dixter Charitable Trust. Its fabulous borders are exciting at any time of year due to clever succession planting giving ever-changing displays. The garden is divided into ‘rooms’, with each area having its own distinct character.
Coleton Fishacre, Devon
After an invigorating hike along South Devon’s coastal path, drop down a gear or two and explore the terraced gardens of Coleton Fishacre, a colourful mix of rare, exotic and tender plants that cascade from the house to beautiful Pudcombe Cove.
Pick a route along the many paths that thread through the trees and shrubs of this stylish 1920s Arts and Crafts house, teased by pretty ocean views. A dreamy mix of pastel shades fringes the stream that dances down the combe, and buzzards mew overhead. On a hot June day, end your visit with a cooling drink at the delightful café.
Dyffryn Fernant Garden, Pembrokeshire
Rocks stipple the blackened slopes of Mynydd Dinas, a high point of the Preseli Hills, surrounded by gorse, rough pasture, stone walls and the teal waters of St George’s Channel. This is a place of megalithic significance, huddled between the deep Gwaun Valley and the coast; a place where, to the song of a stream, a sinuous lane rises, ducks beneath ash trees, twists between hedges and delivers you to Dyffryn Fernant.
The garden belongs to this landscape. It’s a conversation with the rocks, the tussocky bog and the blue clay from which it has been coaxed. Bold exotics are accommodated among natives that creep and drift in by rhizome and seed.
Crathes Castle Garden, Aberdeenshire
Home to the Burnett family for 400 years until gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1952, successive baronets changed the Crathes Castle Garden but retained some features, creating an eclectic mix of styles from the 18th century to the present.
The spectacular 1.6-hectare walled garden, adjacent to the castle, is divided into eight areas, notable for their colour themes and rare plants. Much of the planting was the work of plant collector Sir James Burnett and his wife Lady Sybil, a talented designer who transformed the kitchen garden into an ornamental garden in the 1920s.
The upper walled garden boasts ancient topiary, including the iconic ‘egg and egg cups’, a croquet lawn and the Pool Garden. Below is the Fountain Garden and the soon-to-be replanted rose garden. The most recent addition, an Evolution Garden, was created by head gardener James Hannaford.
Parcevall Hall Gardens, North Yorkshire
The bountiful terraces, sweeping views and mossy woodlands of Parcevall’s hillside gardens rejoice in spring and summer with vibrant colours, floral fragrances and stirring birdsong. parcevallhallgardens.co.uk
Pensthorpe Gardens, Norfolk
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Rowallane Garden, County Down
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Greenbank Garden, Glasgow
Less than six miles from Glasgow city centre and set in the grounds of a Grade A-listed Georgian House is Greenbank Garden, a tranquil oasis featuring a large walled garden and 6.5-hectare woodland.
Greenbank was built in the 1760s for Robert Allason, a merchant in the tobacco and slave trades. Over the next two centuries, the house changed hands several times until it was bought in 1962 by William Blyth who, with his wife, transformed the walled garden into the ornamental gardens seen today.
Powis Castle and Garden, Powys
Sun-warmed bricks coax heady scents from the roses at Powis Castle and Garden. Peacocks wail. Apples blush. It’s a feast for all the senses when this south-facing garden is at its best in late summer.
It’s the time when acers begin their slow burn and the smoke bush smoulders. When dahlias, rudbeckias, katsuras, colchicums and penstemons roll out spice-market colours that are richer and warmer even than the sandstone cliff from which the garden has been encouraged.
Iford Manor, Wiltshire
Iford’s Italianate gardens in Wiltshire unite the natural and the managed, creating a charming blend of time-worn sculptures, perfume-scented lilac wisteria and flower-hemmed walkways. ifordmanor.co.uk
Scotland’s Garden Route, Galloway
The Rhins of Galloway in south-west Scotland is home to some of Britain's most spectacular county gardens – discover six of the best with Scotland's Garden Route.
Dyffryn Fernant Garden, Pembrokeshire
Herterton House Gardens, Northumberland
Early summer is the perfect time to experience the intimate artistry of this small but much-acclaimed rural Northumbrian garden, designed around a derelict 16th-century farmyard. gardenvisit.com/gardens/herterton_house_gardens
Sheringham Park, Norfolk
Close to the reputable Humphry Repton’s home in the village of Sustead is Sheringham Park, perhaps the best-preserved example of the Englishman’s work. The gardens include a variety of habitats, such as Bower pond, which bursts into life in summer with azure damselflies and broad-bodied chaser dragonflies. nationaltrust.org.uk/sheringham-park
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Antony Woodland Garden, Cornwall
These gardens are split into two areas, the Wilderness and West Down. The former – a wooded slope rolling down to the River Lynher – was designed by Humphry Repton and his friend Reginald Pole-Carew. antonywoodlandgarden.com
Attingham Park, Shropshire
A circular trail through Attingham Park, nicknamed the ‘Repton Ramble’, offers visitors a flavour of the harmonious landscapes that the designer envisaged for the 18th-century mansion and estate. The loop includes a stop at The Repton Oak, a tree planted by Humphry Repton himself. nationaltrust.org.uk/attingham-park
Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire
Open to the public since 1955, the gardens at Woburn Abbey are a great place to go for day out in the sun. A particular highlight is the reconstructed Cone House, originally designed as a platform from which the Duke of Bedford, his family and their guests could safely watch the wild animals of their menagerie. woburnabbey.co.uk
Hatchlands Park, Surrey
National Trust gardeners deserve great credit for their efforts at Hatchlings Park, most recently with the planting of oaks, sweet chestnuts, limes and hornbeams. The gardens were partly landscaped by the famous designer Humphry Repton. nationaltrust.org.uk/hatchlands-park
Tatton Park, Cheshire
The appearance of Tatton Park owes itself to the work of Humphry Repton. A stroll through the park’s beech-lined avenues is well worth it and, in June, you can take part in a Repton-themed cycle ride. tattonpark.org.uk/home
Uppark House and Garden, West Sussex
This property was graced by the hands of both Repton and ‘Capability’ Brown. In the summer months, the café sets up tables and chairs on the grass with views out over the South Downs National Park. nationaltrust.org.uk/uppark-house-and-garden
Danny is the Section Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, responsible for commissioning, editing and writing articles that offer ideas and inspiration for exploring the UK countryside.