The best gardens to visit this winter

On a sparkling frosty day, why not explore one of our great winter gardens? James Alexander-Sinclair presents 10 of the best for seasonal colour, scent and spectacle


Fountains Abbey

1. Pensthorpe Natural Park, Norfolk

Piet Oudolf is probably the number one garden designer in the world at the moment. Among others, he is responsible for the High Line – a sensational park in New York created on the old elevated railway track. Here he has laid out his characteristic swathes of planting: on a frosty morning it will look spectral yet scintillating. The gardens are surrounded by acres of natural wetland landscape and woodland brimming with birds and sundry wildlife. 01328 851465

2. Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire


This is, I reckon, about the finest winter garden in the country. Loads of exciting plants full of texture and scent set alongside a generously proportioned pathway. Go right to the end of the path as there is a deeply wonderful surprise waiting for you. No, I am not going to tell you what it is: suffice to say that I saw it for the first time in the snow and was captivated. Perfect for a gentle winter amble. 01223 810080


3. Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire

Clumber has the longest stretch of working glasshouse of any of the National Trust properties: it is a beautiful thing and is in the process of being painstakingly restored. After you have finished striding purposefully around the gardens and along the two-mile Lime Tree Avenue, drop in on the museum of garden tools where you can marvel at how our ancestors did all that digging with such extraordinarily heavy spades and discover the point of a cucumber straightener. 01909 544917


4. Painswick Rococo Garden, Gloucestershire

I spent a week here in the summer and loved it – it is the sort of garden that I could imagine owning. Big but not ridiculously so, full of quirks and interesting corners, good fruit and, once you climb out of the valley, some gorgeous views. This was a garden designed almost 300 years ago for parties and it would be a pity to stop now. If you go in January, when the gardens reopen, the place will be carpeted with snowdrops. 01452 813204

5. Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

If you catch Fountains in just the right light – maybe with a bit of early morning mist, or possibly as the sun sinks into an early sunset – then it looks not only ethereal but a little bit spooky. The ruined Cistercian abbey (the monks were booted out during the Reformation) is close to the Georgian gardens of Studley Royal, Fountains Hall and the old medieval deer park. Come back next October to sample the apples from the orchard. 01765 608888

6. Stowe, Buckinghamshire

Walking boots on – there is a lot of landscape to see here. There’s nothing that you would easily describe as a garden but lots of cleverly landscaped valleys studded with some of the finest garden buildings ever made: “Elysian fields? Certainly, sir, right down there by the Temple of Ancient Virtue.” The gardens were laid out by such eminences as Capability Brown, William Kent, Charles Bridgman and John Vanbrugh and are not only majestic but also tell a great story. 01280 817156

7. Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Britain’s largest winter garden is in Altrincham, just a stone’s throw from Manchester. Many of the trees in the surrounding parkland were planted in the 1730s by the Earl of Warrington: they were paid for with the dowry of the unfortunate wealthy merchant’s daughter who he married for her money.  The Earl may have been a bounder but his trees look pretty amazing. The 300 acres of parkland boast a range of architectural oddities, fallow deer and fabulous walks. 0161 941 1025

8. Cambo Gardens, Fife

Cambo has beautiful walks through the woodlands of oak, sycamore and ash, which take you along the burn to the sea, and are open every single day of the year. But if you want a special treat, then go when the snowdrops are flowering. In winter, the first emerge to greet you and before long, great swathes of nodding white flowers carpet the woodland floor. Just the thing to shake off the new year blues and set you on a course towards spring. 01333 450 054

9. Bodnant Garden Conwy

With sprightly views of the River Conwy and the distant prospect of Snowdonia, this is one of the great gardens of Wales. The 80 acres offer both a more formal area up by the house and a wild garden further down the hill, towards the river. There are plants growing here from all over the world, collected by five generations of the Aberconway family. And perched above the river Hiraethlyn, there is a building called The Poem, which has to be a good thing. 01492 650460

10. RHS Wisley, Surrey

This is the flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society: 60 acres of planty happiness, with something going on every day of the year. There are deep borders stuffed with striking wintery stems and berries. If the weather gets too hideous then there are some excellent cafes and a huge and exciting glasshouse, showcasing a world-class plant collection. All the RHS gardens are also very strong on activities designed to both educate
and amuse children. 0845 260 9000


James Alexander-Sinclair is a regular BBC presenter who works as a garden designer. He was a judge at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014.