Winning tip: Amber drifts, North Yorkshire
The Walled Garden of Scampston, near Malton, offers so much: it’s a series of contemporary garden rooms within the walls of the 18th-century kitchen garden, and has a beautifully restored conservatory, a garden cafe and a plant shop. In 2003, Dutch designer Piet Oudolf (who co-designed New York City’s High Line) created contrasts in structure and form: from yew pillars, box squares and pleached limes through amber drifts of molinia grasses to the perennial flower meadow. Scampston Hall is the Legard family home and in its grounds you can explore trails through the 18th-century Capability Brown landscape, passing mature trees, follies and an ornamental lake.
Gardens-only ticket adult £9, child £5, scampston.co.uk
Whisper in awe, Cromarty, near Inverness
Miller’s Yard: Garden of Wonders is little more than a back yard, but it’s a secret, silent space, packed full of the wonders of its title – a visual and sensory microcosm of art, geology and nature. Admire okra-green ferns, candy-headed geraniums and pink-spiked persicaria, each artfully peeping out where they will, swaying in the breeze, as do swallows and dragonflies. Gulp at a huge ammonite sculpture in etched brass and copper scrap metal, patina’d orange and maroon. Step on fossil fish shapes indented in the bleached-grey flagstones. A quiet remote place where visitors whisper in awe.
Adult £6.50, nts.org.uk
The Secret Garden in the market town of Louth is a tropical paradise, packed with a fascinating array of plants including 15 varieties of bananas. The path winds around a pond and an exotic island, with several seating areas, the air spiced with evocative fragrances. The owners, as plant collectors, continually seek new delights. This private garden is open for the NGS throughout July and August.
£3, booking essential, findagarden.ngs.org.uk
Hilldrop, in Horndon-on-the-Hill, is an experimental garden using industrial waste as its soil, a dry garden, a recycling garden – and it’s an experiment that has worked, because it’s the most beautiful garden we have visited, teeming with insects and birdlife. It’s hard to believe that this breathtaking beauty was created from materials used to widen the A13, among other unlikely substrates. It’s a living, organic example of how our gardens can thrive through climate change. The website doesn’t quite express how amazing it is.
Roman roots, West Sussex
My favourite garden to visit in is at Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex. Not only is this perhaps the oldest known formal garden in the UK, but it is set within the courtyard of the largest Roman residence north of the Alps, which was started in AD75, only 30 years after the invasion of Britain. The plants used in the reconstructed garden, based around archaeological bedding trenches, are species known to have been grown in antiquity. It is an oasis of Roman civilisation in what was the remote north-west frontier of Britannia. Hail Pomona, goddess of gardens, fruit trees and orchards.
Adult £12, child £6, sussexpast.co.uk
David Russell Rudling
Arts and Crafts principles, Leeds
York Gate Garden covers just an acre, but feels much larger. The garden forms themed rooms. You are led to discover herbaceous borders, a kitchen garden, a rill garden, a loggia, dells and follies. The ingenious layout gives glimpses of what is to come, space also created by planting at various levels. Inspired by the 19th-century Arts and Crafts movement, artisan workmanship is everywhere in this 1950s-1990s designed space and none of the numerous benches are identical. Paths weave in and out, alternative routes avoid steps. You are welcome to walk around a second time, enabling you to see every colourful cranny.
Charming refuge, south London
There are community gardens dotted around London, often overlooked by people heading to the famous parks. Walworth Garden is my favourite. A stone’s throw from Kennington station, this is a nature hub that reaches well beyond its borders. Education programmes train professional gardeners who work across south London. Meanwhile free workshops draw people into the charming refuge. The plants pack a punch too: bananas, extensive herbs and veg, and gorgeous espaliered apple trees. It’s beautiful, expertly cared for and truly community minded. Perfect.
Salvia sensation, Kent
Iridescent rhododendron blooms pass the baton on to hundreds of pink and indigo salvias in early June in the hidden idyll of Great Comp Garden between Sevenoaks and Maidstone. Once home to a prominent suffragette and pioneering female English cricketer, Great Comp is now known as the site of one of the most important salvia collections in Europe. Mexican hardy salvias, blooms from Argentina, an Italian garden and swaying grasses make this three-hectare (seven acre) garden a horticultural honeypot within easy reach of south-east London. A perfect place to put away the phone and make time only for tranquillity within its walls.
Adult £8.50, child £3, greatcompgarden.co.uk
Herbaceous highs, Snowdonia
Caerau Gardens near Bala claims that, at 304 metres, it is the highest public garden in north Wales. There are certainly gorgeous views, lots of examples of well-considered planting and an eclectic mix of former show garden elements. The owners, Toby and Stephanie Hickish, have made sure there’s entertainment for children with a sunken trampoline and a zipwire among the attractions – it’s not a garden that takes itself too seriously. Tasty offerings from the cafe and a small selection of plants for sale complete the offering. We had a really friendly welcome from Stephanie – it’s not everywhere you get to have a chat with the garden designer. caerau-gardens.co.uk
Bursting with colour, Cotswolds
Hidcote is an Arts and Crafts-inspired garden with intricately designed outdoor spaces. It was created by horticulturist and Boer war veteran Lawrence Johnston – he developed a keen interest in African flora during the conflict – and is characterised by colourful outdoor “rooms” that are full of surprises. It was donated to the National Trust in 1947 when Johnston decided to focus his attention on his garden at Serre de la Madone in Provence, France. Visitors with an eye for design will adore the maze of narrow paved pathways and secret gardens with plants bursting with colour. Many of the species that grow here were collected from Johnston’s plant-hunting trips in faraway places. It’s the perfect place to visit if you’re after gardening inspiration. Among the garden’s visitors and residents are green woodpeckers and hummingbird-hawk moths.
Adult £15, child £7.50 nationaltrust.org.uk
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