Spring has definitely sprung this year and from 23 to 27 May, the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show will again be demonstrating the crème de la crème of all things horticultural. Make your way to the Royal Hospital Chelsea and, whether you’re a gardening guru or merely an interested browser, you’re sure to find a show-stopping array of exhibits to feast your eyes on.
However, in many ways, Chelsea is like a cat walk: all wow, but little to wear! You might prefer to amble your way through some of the UK’s more down-to-earth yet equally inspirational delights this spring in some of our nation’s greatest gardens.
Here are a few you just can’t miss:
There’s nothing quite as gorgeous as a carpet of bluebells or a bough of blossom set against an azure sky.
Evenley Wood Garden, Northamptonshire
The 30-year old Evenley Wood was created by Timothy Whiteley and encompasses magnificent woodland sensationally shrouded in snowdrops and blue scillas. Add to this a multitude of flowering magnolia, cherry and camellia trees and you’ll be in for a visual extravaganza.
Open until 29 October, 11am-4pm.
Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales
Overlooking the River Conwy, Bodnant Gardens provide stunning views as you gaze down the valley across the flowering magnolia treetops. The wild woodland walks host 40 champion trees, considered to be the best examples of their kind in all of Britain. And what’s a wood without a carpet of bluebells? From May, Bodnant radiates with drifts of these bright blue beauties.
Open daily, 10am-4pm.
Lord and Lady Heathcoat-Amory laid out this beautifully manicured woodland garden in the early 1940s, incorporating delicate woodland flora, particularly Erythronium ‘Knightshayes Pink’, which contrasts beautifully with Knightshayes’ garden’s more hardy ferns.
Open daily, 10am-5pm.
Pashley Manor, East Sussex
This quintessentially English manor house and garden are the perfect setting for the fountains, ponds, sculptures and prize tulips you’ll find here. In late April/early May, Pashley Manor’s spectacular Tulip Festival sees the garden carpeted with over 30,000 tulips and Bloms bulb specialists are on hand to share their knowledge of these Chelsea gold medal winning bulbs. Meanwhile, throughout the year, the works of many eminent and local sculptors are dotted about the gardens.
Open daily 1 April-30 September, 10am-5pm.
Rhododendrons and camellias in bloom
These strikingly bright blooms are the envy of most gardeners who don’t always have the right type of soil to grow them successfully.
The perfect place to explore a wonderland of purple, pink and red rhododendrons. Wander along the footpaths of Cragside’s beautiful Victorian gardens, containing one of the biggest rockeries ever built, plus a magnificent rhododendron maze to lose yourself in. Keep your eyes peeled and you might spy one of the rare red squirrels that roam the gardens.
Open Tuesday to Sunday until 30 October, 10am-6pm.
Exbury Gardens, Hampshire
Sitting on the edge of the New Forest, Exbury Gardens are world-famous for their Rothschild collection of azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, along with its various rare shrubs and trees. May brings a riot of colour as you explore its myriad of pathways running through the garden’s 200 acres. The 20-minute steam train trip through the gardens is sure to delight all the family.
Open daily until 6 November, 10am-6pm.
Caerhays Estate, Cornwall
Caerhays Castle and its 10-acre garden provide a natural coastal haven overflowing with unique flowers. Caerhays produced the very first x williamsii camellias and is home to the Plant Heritage National Collection of over 600 species of magnolias from around the world. If that’s not enough of a claim to fame, these world-class gardens also contain Chinese rarities introduced by eminent specialists Ernest Wilson and George Forrest.
Open daily until 19 June, 10am-5pm.
There’s a kitchen gardener inside all of us. These gardens turn productive gardening into an art.
West Dean, West Sussex
Tucked in the foothills of the South Downs, West Dean Gardens are some of the greatest restored gardens in the country. Walk around and you will find a good range of historic features in addition to unusual trees and a carefully restored walled garden. Inspired and created by kitchen gardeners, Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain, the garden is all the more interesting in spring when the vegetables are ripening and the apple blossom is in full bloom.
Open daily until 31 October, 10.30am-5pm.
Helmingham Hall, Suffolk
The spectacular Grade 1 Listed Gardens at Helmingham Hall are owned by the Tollemache family who’ve resided on the estate over the past 500 years. Avenues of pear and apple trees span the vegetable plots to create a hugely stylish garden which is surrounded by an ancient deer park. The blossom is out in May and glorious spring bulbs line the pathways.
Open until 18 September (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays and bank holiday Mondays), 12-5pm.
Tatton Park, Cheshire
Tatton Park’s walled garden was recently renovated and echoes the grandeur of an Edwardian kitchen garden. An array of bluebells, cherries, rhododendrons and azaleas were planted here 60 years ago by the last Lord Egerton.
Open daily until 29 October, 10-6pm.
Audley End, Essex
The organic kitchen garden of Jacobean Audley House contains an incredible 120 varieties of apple and 40 types of pear trees which are trained on espaliers, fans and single cordons. Blossom abounds, complemented by fields of glorious pink tulips.
Open daily until 30 September, 10am-6pm.
History and romance rolled into one
There’s something eternally charming about great houses in romantic settings. It’s easy to imagine former residents strolling in the gardens with romance and beauty at every turn.
Once home to earls, dukes, viscounts and even a prince, Cliveden has been a glowing hub of society, used to hosting exclusive parties and political gatherings, and was infamously associated with the Profumo Affair. Wonder like royalty through its immaculately manicured gardens which host an impressive collection of around 21,000 blue hyacinths. To the west of the house, acres of bluebells run along the woodland paths leading you down to the Thames.
Open daily, 10am-5.30pm.
Wrest Park, Bedfordshire
You can’t help but feel the glory as you wander your way through three centuries of landscape design in Wrest Park. There are no less than 40 statues for you to spot as well as a Chinese temple and bridge that inspired the original willow pattern imprinted on plates.
Open daily until 30 September, 10am-6pm.
Penshurst Place, Kent
Penshurst Place’s grand, formal gardens are some of the oldest in private ownership and date back to 1346. They are widely considered to be among the most beautiful in the nation so take a walk back to medieval times and relax in tranquillity surrounded by apple trees, daffodils and the nut garden with its primroses and bluebells.
Open daily until 30 October, 10.30am-6.30pm.