11 of the most beautiful gardens you can visit in Britain
1. Blenheim Palace and Gardens, Cotswolds, England
Explore the parklands designed by Capability Brown at Blenheim Palace, both the birthplace of Winston Churchill and a UNESCO World Heritage site. There’s plenty to see – wander around the water terraces, italian garden, secret garden, rose garden, Churchill memorial garden and the award-winning formal gardens.
2. Down House, London, England
The former home of Charles Darwin, Down House was where the English naturalist worked on his theories of evolution and natural selection. Visitors can nose around the study where he penned his opus magnum, On the Origin of Species, though it’s outside where his work really comes to life: The garden doubled as Darwin’s laboratory and several of his experiments have been recreated in the historic landscape by English Heritage.
3. RHS Wisley, Surrey, England
The second most visited garden in Britain was established in 1878 by Victorian businessman George Ferguson Wisley, who had a penchant for hard-to-grow plants. This passion inspired the green-fingered entrepreneur to establish Oakwood Experimental Garden on a 60-acre site in Surrey, which has subsequently blossomed into a 240-acre oasis named in honour of Wisley. Visitors are encouraged to seek inspiration in the Model Gardens, which shows what can be achieved in small spaces.
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4. Botanic Gardens, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast’s beautiful Botanic Gardens are a popular lunchtime spot for the city’s office workers. Spread over 28 acres, its most noteworthy feature is the Palm House conservatory, which is one of the earliest examples of curvilinear cast iron glasshouses anywhere in the world. Tropical Ravine House and the extensive rose gardens are some of the other highlights.
5. Stourhead Gardens, Wiltshire, England
‘A living work of art’, cooed one commentator when Stourhead was unveiled in the 18th century. Fast forward a few hundred years and the 2,650-acre estate continues to woo visitors; they come in their droves to marvel at the magnificent neo-classical gardens, which were laid out around a vast manmade lake and contain grottos, temples and a Palladian house. Stourhead is a famous garden thanks to it being home to rare trees and the source of the River Stour (also known as the Dorset Stour).
6. Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh, Scotland
As well as offering views of Edinburgh’s skyline, the Royal Botanic Garden shares with visitors some 300 years of horticultural expertise. A particular highlight is wandering through its 10 glasshouses, which each replicate different climates: The tropical glasshouse is particularly welcome on a wet and windy day. That said, it’s worth getting rained on to peer up at the giant redwoods in the Woodland Garden.
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7. Levens Hall, Cumbria, England
This Elizabethan mansion in Cumbria is the oldest and most extensive topiary garden in the world. Established by Guillaume Beaumont, King James II’s gardener, the estate contains more than 100 examples of topiary – including what looks like giant chess pieces – and is said to be haunted by a black dog. Be warned: The pooch purportedly chases visitors around the mansion, which, incidentally, is festooned with Jacobean furniture and many fine paintings.
8. Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, England
Occupying 92 acres of bucolic Bedfordshire, Wrest Park takes visitors on a journey through three centuries of landscape design and chronicles the evolution of the English garden. French, Dutch and Italian styles are also showcased, but venture beyond the pretty parterres and perfumed borders to discover woodland walks, sculptures, and ornate buildings such as Bowling Green House and the Archer Pavilion.
9. Heythrop Park, Oxfordshire, England
Oxfordshire is bursting with blooms. Head to Prince Charles’s Highgrove Gardens to take the serene Thyme Walk or escape to Painswick Rococo Garden, filled with a maze and leafy woodland walks.
10. Kew Gardens, London, England
Tracing its roots back to 1759, UNESCO-listed Kew pulls in almost two million visitors annually, making it one of Britain’s most popular attractions. Spread over 330 glorious acres of southwest London, the gardens lay claim to the world’s largest botanical and mycological collections – a vast trove (more than 30,000 plant species at last count) that is closely guarded by Kew’s very own police force, one of the smallest constabularies in the world.
11. Bodnant Gardens, Conwy, Wales
The Snowdonia Range provides a stunning backdrop to Bodnant Gardens, but even its towering peaks can’t distract visitors from the beauty of this Grade I-listed estate. Spanning 80 acres of hillside in North Wales, the garden is best known for its luscious Laburnum arch – the longest in the UK – which flowers in May and June. Other highlights include the wildflower meadows, water features and Italianate terraces.