Marianna Hunt

The English summer gardens worth a visit

The English summer gardens worth a visit
Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park
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The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is mere weeks away – the floral spectacular that inspires us all to head out into gardens once again.

In May and June a host of British flora comes to life, with dabbles of bubblegum peonies, shocking fuchsia azaleas and the syrupy smell of lilacs in the air. So why not draw inspiration for your own backyard by visiting some of the UK’s best and most beautiful gardens.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show, London

Image: Getty

Rather than confining yourself to visiting one garden, head to this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, which brings together more than 30 – curated by some of the world’s leading landscape architects and designers.

Running from 24 to 28 May this year, the show is the event in the horticultural calendar, with gardens as delicate and intricate as works of art. In 2022 exhibits range from a fresh take on the Blue Peter garden (complete with a subterranean soil-viewing chamber) to a 15-tonne ice cube enveloped by Siberian woodland (a stark warning about climate change) and a fusion garden where the French Riviera meets the Jurassic coast.

Standout designs include ‘A Rewilding Britain Landscape’, which offers a vision of a rewilded Britain that is a perfect home for newly reintroduced beavers. A brook tinkles through hawthorn, hazel and field maples to a beaver dam, pool and old timber walkway.

At the ‘Alder Hey Urban Foraging Station’, rampant blossoming hedgerows and a moveable foraging kitchen teach you the ways of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. And finally there’s the ‘Morris & Co’ garden, which reimagines two of William Morris’ most iconic designs in horticultural form – bursting with willow, apple trees and hawthorn.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

Like Sleeping Beauty herself, the grand Heligan estate was left dormant and abandoned for decades – gradually swallowed up by brambles and thickets – after its gardeners and occupiers were sent off to fight in WW1.

The wild oasis was rediscovered in 1990, kickstarting Europe’s largest garden restoration project. Now it is a 200-acre playground - with a jungle woven through by bamboo tunnels and canopied with giant banana trees and ferns; pleasure gardens with lily pad-encrusted pools and a ravine that could be straight out of the Alps.

There’s also a farm – which is home to a tonne of rare breeds, including Highland cattle, Exmoor ponies and Cornwall longwool sheep - and a 60-acre woodland where hedgehogs and kingfishers can be spied resting on enigmatic statues wrapped in ivy.

There’s a café, serving delicious home-grown produce from the Heligan gardens. The estate also hosts an occasional Lost Supper, a 7-course tasting menu in a romantic conservatory setting festooned in fairy lights.

The gardens are open daily from 10am to 6pm – pre-booking online is advised. An adult ticket costs £22.50 while a family ticket for 2 adults and up to 3 children is £58.

https://www.heligan.com/

Savill Garden, Windsor

Windsor's secret hideaway – Savill Garden

Savill Garden is something of a hidden gem. Secreted within the 5,000-acre Windsor Great Park (itself an absolute must-visit), it is considered one of Britain’s best ornamental gardens.

There’s something for every season: a spring wood with sumptuous rhododendrons and magnolias, a summer wood with huge drifts of hydrangeas, an autumn wood with delicate Japanese maples and a winter garden with electric-red acers.

June is a particularly pleasant time to visit, when meandering through the rose garden is like browsing a perfume shop.

The entrance fee for the Savill Garden in summer is £13.95 for an adult when booked in advance (£14.95 on the day). Windsor Great Park is free to explore – keep an eye out for baby deer tentatively taking their first steps and the cascading waterfall. Savill Garden can be reached via a short bus ride from Egham train station.

https://www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk/en/experiences/the-savill-garden

Witley Court and Gardens, Worcestershire

Another romantic ruin, the fire-ravaged remains of Witley Court’s stately home provide a dramatic day out. It also has some incredible gardens, with a Grade I listed fountain depicting

Perseus and Andromeda which fires 50ft into the area. The fountain fires every day from April to the end of October. Another attraction on the estate is Great Witley Church, widely regarded as Britain’s finest Baroque church with 17th century ceiling paintings by Antonio Bellucci.

Entry is free for English Heritage members – otherwise £10 for an adult and £6 for a child.

Witley Court is a 20-minute drive north west of Worcester.

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/witley-court-and-gardens/

St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall

A subtropical paradise

Accessible only by foot at low tide, this tiny island is crowned by a Medieval fortress. Spiralling down to the water are terraced gardens, where exotic flora cling to the sheer 230ft slopes.

St Michael’s Mount benefits from a subtropical microclimate - meaning that plants and flowers that are difficult, if not impossible, to grow anywhere else in the country thrive here. Succulents peep out of the granite bedrock while palm trees and lilies sprout from the soil. There are abbey-style walled gardens and a wild flower meadow, popular with passing swallows.

The slopes are so sheer that part of the training for new gardeners is learning to abseil so they can move between terraces. It also means the sea views are spectacular.

The garden is open Monday to Friday until 8 July and will open on Thursday and Friday until the end of September 2022. Tickets must be pre-booked online (£24 for adult entry to the castle and gardens - free for National Trust members). There’s a café on the island and a hut where you can get a quick takeaway. When the tide is high, you can catch a boat over.

Penzance is a ten-minute drive away. Base yourself at Chapel House in town and start your day trip ambling to St Michael’s Mount along the South West Coast Path.

https://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/

The Bath Priory, Bath

A hidden gem in Bath

This 5* hotel is nestled within four acres of mature award-winning gardens and spacious terraces tended by Jane Moore, a Chelsea Flower Show 2003 winner. Some visitors come for the night to enjoy the gardens – others just for dinner/a drink.

Start by sniffing the intoxicating wisteria on the terrace while enjoying an equally delicious and intoxicating cocktail from the bar.

You can then follow the free garden guide (which can be downloaded from the hotel’s website) to explore Moore's unique take on a traditional English garden. Stalwarts like tulips, strawberry bushes and irises have been combined with international surprises - Chinese pink barked birches, Japanese cherries, an enormous Cedar of Lebanon that stretches out like parachute and spindly cypress trees sacred to Bhutan.

The pretty kitchen garden provides much of the produce for the hotel's restaurant, which is a local destination. There's also a croquet lawn and heated swimming pool for those less interested in plant life.

The Bath Botanical Gardens – with their replica Roman temple, rock pool and impressive Victorian plant collection – are a five-minute walk away.

https://www.thebathpriory.co.uk/