From colourful cottage flowerbeds and lovingly tendered inner-city allotments to the serenely landscaped estates of grand English houses and botanical gardens that continue centuries-old traditions of research into the healing powers of plants, Britain’s gardens are legendary.
Great Britain and Ireland start to come into bloom as early as February, when the first aptly named, snowdrops appear in woods and gardens, to be followed soon after by bluebells, daffodils and early crocuses. Around the same time, the first sunny days bring out bumblebees and tortoiseshell butterflies that have overwintered under cottage eaves and in attics and greenhouses.
Myriad microclimates make it possible for imaginative gardeners to cultivate an array of exotic imports. Some of our grandest and most fascinating gardens date from Britain’s colonial heyday, when botanists searched the Himalayan foothills, Alpine meadows and the jungles of Brazil and Borneo for ever more exotic decorative, commercially useful or simply unusual plant species. The grand estates of Scotland and Ireland are splashed with the pink, white and purple blooms of azaleas and rhododendrons, originally imported from sub-tropical Asia, and it’s hard to imagine south-coats resorts, such as Torquay in Devon, without their decorative palms.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Southern Scotland
Britain’s tallest palm house, giant sequoias, a Highland heath garden and a world famous Alpine rock can be found here. www.rbge.org.uk
Mount Stewart House and Gardens, Northern Ireland
Thanks to the mid microclimate of the Ards Peninsula, spring comes early to these glorious gardens.
Blarney Castle and Gardens, Southern Ireland
Spring bluebells burst into flower in the beautiful gardens on the estate of this famous castle, where cattle graze in lush lakeside pastures.
Bodnant Garden, North Wales
Azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias put on a stunning show in spring in this garden, which has superb views of Mount Snowdon.
Wordsworth Daffodil Garden, Northwest England
In spring, this space between Grasmere’s church and the River Rothay is smothered in the daffodils that inspired William Wordsworth.
Harlow Carr, Northeast England
Bluebells and mixed primulas flourish in sun-dappled clearings in the woods of this Yorkshire garden, with its streams and rocky outcrops.
Biddulph Grange Garden, West Midlands
A Chinese garden, Egyptian courtyard, stumpery and “upside down tree” make this one of Britain’s quirkiest gardens.
Hidcote Manor Gardens, West Midlands
Gardens designed as “outdoor rooms” and enclosed by immaculately trimmed hedges are the keynote of this masterpiece of Arts and Crafts design.
Anglesey Abbey and Gardens, Eastern England
Outstanding gardens created in the 1930s by Lord Fairhaven as an ambitious, classical landscape of trees, sculptures and pretty borders.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London
One of the world’s most important centres for plant science and conservation, with palm houses, hothouses, landscaped lawns and shrubberies.
Chelsea Physic Garden, London
A sanctuary in the heart of London with beds of ferns, herbs and aromatics. Founded in 1673, it continues research into medicinal plants.
Wisley, Southeast England
The flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society is more than a century old and boasts lavishly planted borders, velvety lawns, lush rose gardens and glasshouses.
Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Southeast England
A charming complex of gardens and courtyards created by the writer Vita Sackville West and her husband, Harold Nicholson.
The Eden Project, Southwest England
In March, the beds are awash with daffodils in every shade of yellow. In April, it’s the turn of English wild flowers, such as campions and violets.
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Southwest England
Neglected for almost a century, the gardens of this Cornish estate have been lovingly restored; fruit, bamboo and banana plants flourish here.
Rosemoor Garden, Southwest England
A magnificent 260 hectare (65 acres) of gardens, including bluebells woods, two rose gardens, a formal garden, a French style potager and stream.
For more suggestions on some spectacular places to visit in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, check out Where To Go When: Great Britain & Ireland, Foreword by Julia Bradbury (DK Eyewitness Travel, £19.99).