ISSUE 48  |  Anglophilia

Garden Travel: An Insider’s 9 Favorite English Gardens to Visit

December 02, 2015 10:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Our UK correspondent Kendra Wilson has a collector’s eye for gardens. Crisscrossing the country with camera in hand, she visits English gardens both grand and intimate. Her favorites list is eclectic and includes both world-famous and under-the-radar locations. What they all have in common is that they’re worth a visit. 

Join us for a grand tour of nine must-see English gardens:

Sissinghurst

Above: Photograph by Jonathan Buckley.

Why: One of the most famous gardens in the world, it was semi-derilect when Sir Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West purchased it, castle tower included, in 1930. “Fortunately, that was just what the romantic Vita Sackville-West was looking for,” says Kendra.

Insider’s Tip: Before you go, read Vita Sackville West’s Sissinghurst: The Creation of a Garden written by garden designer Sarah Raven (who also happens to be Sackville-West’s granddaughter-in-law.

When: The busiest month is May; the famous Rose and White Gardens are at their peaks in June, and in winter you can take a trail walk (without the deciduous leaves, the garden’s structure is front and center).

Where: Biddenden Rd, Cranbrook, Kent; approximately an hour and a half’s drive southeast of London.

Admission: £11.70 per adult; half price in winter.

More Reading: 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Sissinghurst Castle.

Scampston Hall

Above: Photograph by Alexandre Bailhache.

Why: Built in the 17th century, Scampston Hall has an enormous walled garden built that dates to the 18th–and was transformed in the 21st into a remarkable, modern landscape with drifts of perennials, grasses, and hazy expanses of color

Insider’s Tip: Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf designed the walled garden, and it remains his largest private commission in the UK. “This was pre-Chelsea-Best-in-Show-Oudolf,” says Kendra. “His work at Scampston crystallizes his ideas from the years before international acclaim.”

When: Open from late March through October, the garden is colorful and vibrant well into autumn.

Where: Sited five miles from Malton, a market town in North Yorkshire, Scampston Hall is a little more than a four-hours’ drive north from London.

Admission: £9.50 per adult (includes admission to both the walled garden and the grounds).

More Reading: See Garden Visit: Dutch Master Piet Oudolf in Yorkshire.

Chatsworth House

Above: Photograph by Kendra Wilson.

Why: The family home of the Cavendishes since the 16th century, Chatsworth is the quintessential English country house. Situated on 105 acres of garden and park that have been tinkered with and improved upon for nearly five centuries, “the gardens at Chatsworth were built as pleasure gardens; the marvel of the place taking precedence over individual flower beds,” says Kendra.

Insider’s Tip: In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen is thought to have used Chatsworth as the moderl for Mr. Darcy’s fictional Pemberley, of which Elizabeth Bennett was enamored at first sight: “She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.”

When: Chatsworth is open every day (except during Christmas week) and attracts crowds, having earned the designation of “England’s favorite country house.” Early spring (April) and late autumn (October) are seasons with fewer crowds.

Where: Located in Bakewell, Derbyshire, Chatsworth House is 3 hours and 10 minutes north of London (by car).

Admission: £20.00 per adult (includes garden and house)

More Reading: A Dowager Duchess’s Glorious Masterpiece.

Easton Walled Gardens

Above: The swirl of the White Space Garden “explores ideas of the universe and our place within it,” says Kendra. Photograph by Jim Powell.

Why: After Easton Hall was razed in the mid 1950s, the gardens were neglected–until 12 years ago when Fred and Ursula Cholmeley began reviving them. Today, “ambitious and decadent gardens thrive around a ruined house,” says Kendra.

Insider’s Tip: “The stables, gatehouse, and a few remaining outbuildings offer a tantalizing hint of what the (originally Elizabethan) house had to offer,” says Kendra. “These buildings were only saved because the machine with the wrecking ball ran out of gas.”

When: Snowdrop season (from February 13 to 21 in 2016) is a high point, with Easton’s grounds covered in a white flowering carpet. Otherwise, the walled gardens are open to the public from March through October.

Where: In Grantham, Lincolnshire, nearly three hours north of London by car.

Admission: £6.95 per adult.

More Reading: See Lady Cholmeley’s Modern White Landscape.

Anglesey Abbey

Above: A Tibetan cherry tree stands guard over a path. Photograph by Kendra Wilson.

Why: Nearly 100 acres of grounds landscaped with flowers, unusual shrubs, topiaries, and statues. Spectacular rose and dahlia gardens attract enthusiasts at the height of the season. 

Insider’s Tip: The Winter Garden, stripped of  its leaves and flowers, is proof that year-round gardening requires “more imagination than effort,” Kendra says. She says a wintertime visit is the best way to appreciate the orange branches of Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Orange’ against the “ghost bramble” Rubus cockburnianus.

When: In winter months, the house is closed but the colorful stems and structure of the Winter Garden are at their best. Plus, no crowds.

Where: In Lode near Cambridge, two hours north of London by car or train.

Admission: £11.60 per adult.

More Reading: See Garden Visit: The Glow of Anglesey Abbey.

The Manor, Hemingford Grey

Above: Photograph by Jim Powell.

Why: England’s oldest continuously inhabited house, the 12-century manor (largely intact) is surrounded by both a moat and a modern garden “laid out in semi-formal beds at the front and side of the house, and planted in a relaxed cottage style,” says Kendra.

Insider’s Tip: Novelist Lucy Boston, who lived in the manor for more than 50 years until her death in 1990, designed the gardens (and immortalized them  in her Green Knowe children’s book series, illustrated by her son). “Old roses abound, and running parallel to the moat at the front are ranks of irises, interplanted with Verbena bonariensis and veronicastrum,” Kendra says.

When: Open until dusk year-round, the garden is in a relaxed, blowsy state in early autumn with floppy perennials still in full flower.

Where: In the village of Hemingford Grey, Huntingdon, two hours north of London by car.

Admission: £4 per adult (garden only; when the house is open seasonally,  may be toured in conjunction with the garden for £7 per adult).

More Reading: Garden Visit: Lucy Boston’s Storybook English Home.

Sezincote

Above: Photograph by Kendra Wilson.

Why: “Facing squarely to the east, Sezincote is like a fabulous dream,” says Kendra. Looking as if it had been airlifted from India, the early 19th century neo-Mughal manor house has gardens designed by Humphry Repton (the self-taught successor to Capability Brown).

Insider’s Tip: “The house was billeted by the army during the Second World War and was sold in a sorry state in 1944. The new owners, Sir Cyril and Lady Kleinwort, remade the South Garden (Above) as a Persian Paradise Garden,” says Kendra. “This style, in which crossing canals symbolize the meeting of humanity and God, is famously seen at the Taj Mahal in India, a leftover from the Mogul dynasty.”

When: Open from January through November from 2 to 6 pm on Thursdays and Fridays (and bank holiday Mondays), the landscape is particularly lovely in summer when the wildflower meadow is in bloom.

Where: In Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds, about two hours from London by car or train.

Admission: £5 per adult (gardens only or  £10 to also tour the house when it is open seasonally).

More Reading: See Garden Visit: Sezincote in Gloucestershire.

Coton Manor

Above: Photograph by Kendra Wilson.

Why: A 10-acre garden surrounding a 17th century manor house is landscaped on different levels, with “a series of distinctive smaller gardens, providing variety and interest throughout the season, and enhanced by flowing streams, fountains and ponds.” 

Insider’s Tip: “The garden is open to the public for the annual viewing of snowdrops and hellebores (as well as aconites) for two weeks in late February and early March,” says Kendra. “The relentless rain is of some concern however (not to the plants but to the paths), so it would be best to check before planning a visit.”

When: The garden is open seasonally, from late March through the end of September (closed on Sundays and Mondays). 

Where: In Coton near Northampton, an hour and 45 minutes’ drive northwest from London.

Admission: £7 per adult.

More Reading: See A Peak Inside the Potting Shed at Coton Manor.

Rousham

Above: Photograph by Kendra Wilson.

Why: The house, built in the 17th century, has been owned only by one family. “Peacocks roam freely at Rousham, in Oxfordshire. It is a mini republic with its cottages, farm, and church, still lived in by the family who built it almost 400 years ago,” says Kendra.

Insider’s Tip: “The intensely individual atmosphere of the garden has made it a favorite with garden designers such as Arne Maynard, for whom it is a touchstone for inspiration,” says Kendra.

When: Open every day of the year (the garden closes at dusk and the last admission is at 4:30 pm)

Where: About 12 miles from Oxford, it’s an hour and a half’s drive northwest from London.

Admission: £5.

More Reading: See An Insider’s Favorite: The Bliss of Visiting Rousham in the Cotswolds.