Blooming in Britain

By Olwen Woodier

Britain is endowed with a climate that almost guarantees green-fingered success; subsequently, a wide variety of gardens almost defies selection. The British Tourist Authority has a free pocket-sized map folder called "Britain’s Gardens"; get it from their website. ( You could spend weeks here. Many provincial cities put on garden shows; for example, the Harrogate Garden Show put on in late summer is unarguably one of the best garden shows in Britain. I also recommend one my most enjoyable garden tour experiences: book a trip with a walking tour group that walks on average 10 miles a day from garden to garden and town to town or village to village.

But there are stand-outs. Don't miss:
Go south from Inverewe into Argyll, and you will find yourself in a fairyland of gardens. So many so close to each other you can plot a course and visit at least seven in one week. A stand-out is Inverewe Garden in Poolewe. One of many beautiful gardens on the West Coast, Inverewe is located on the shores of Loch Ewe in a sheltered microclimate, the collection of exotic plants: rhododendrons, azaleas, eucalyptus, blue Himalayan poppies, and many shrubs and other plantings from Chile and South Africa survive here year-round.

Erddig House and Gardens have received major restoration under the National Trust scheme. The gardens are quite unique—their formal design dates from early 18th century with later additions, which include Victorian flowerbeds and parterre, Irish Yew Walk, and an unusual Canal Walk. The herbaceous borders provide interest throughout the year, with plantings of daffodils and other spring bulbs, flowering perennials, summer annuals, roses, and various climbers. The large walled garden contains heirloom fruit trees grown more than 300 years ago; in autumn, their laden branches add a glorious touch of color to the changing landscape. Erddig houses the National Collection of Ivies and has an exceptional collection of narcissus. It's just a short hop over the border from the Roman and Medieval Cathedral City of Chester, England.

Bodnant Garden, in Colywn Bay, occupies a southwest position above the River Conwy, with spectacular views across to the Snowdonia Mountains. Its 80-acre gardens contain world-class collections; magnificent rhododendrons, magnolias, and camellias bloom in April and May, when the famous laburnum archway is also peaking. Herbaceous borders, roses, many unusual wall climbers, hydrangea, Eucryphia, and berry bearing trees and shrubs adorn the terraced gardens in summer and autumn. Special features include a canal terrace, and a 148-foot tall redwood (Sequoia sempervirens).

Hidcote Manor, in Gloucestershire, is one of the earliest and best examples of garden room styles of the 20th century. Started in 1907 and developed over a 50-year period by the American, Major Lawrence Johnson, the 26 gardens combine formal structure created by hedges of yew, holly, and hornbeam, with luxuriously haphazard flowerbeds containing seasonal displays of bulbs, summer annuals, perennials, and shrubs. The most famous room is The Red Borders—mixed double borders planted in all shades of red. Peak blooming times for perennials, roses and peonies are in June and July. The Theatre Garden, which rolls upward to a raised stage, is used for summer concerts and plays.

Sissinghurst Castle, in Tenterden, is considered the most artfully designed garden in England. It's famous for its garden rooms, the cleverly composed color themes of the flowering borders, and also for its romantic connection to its creators. Vita Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicolson bought 16th-century Sissinghurst Castle in 1930, and spent 30 years developing garden rooms by planting hedges and using existing remnants of walls. The famous White Garden, centered with a gazebo covered in white roses, has geometric flower beds containing plants bearing white blooms and gray or whitish foliage. Other gardens of note include the South Cottage Garden, and the Rondel Rose Garden. But get there early; admissions are limited.

Olwen Woodier, an advanced master gardener living in Virginia, has written several books on the subject and numerous magazine and newspaper articles, including chapters for the Time-Life series on gardening. She combined her love of plants with a passion for cooking in her award-winning Apple Cookbook and teaches adults in both endeavors.

Published: 21 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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