Rare, Unusual and Exotic Plants

Magical ravines, unusual microclimates, avid collectors and the hard work of gardening teams mean that many rare and exotic plants thrive within our beautiful gardens. Here are just some of the most unusual species to look out for on your visit.

A Magical Quarry Garden at Belsay Hall

Lilium Regale

The 30 acres of magnificent grounds at Belsay Hall in the Northumberland countryside are a garden lover's dream, and a haven for rare and exotic plants.

With plants from as far afield as China, the Himalayas and South America, there are plenty of unusual species to look out for at Belsay.  

  • Rhododendrons from China and the Himalayas, scented magnolias and flowering dogwoods in the dramatic ravines of the Quarry Garden
  • The stunning 'Pocket Handkerchief Tree', which looks its best in summer
  • Ferns fringing the dark ponds of the Quarry Garden and the huge-leaved Gunnera manicata from South America
  • From mid May to September, the National Plant Collection of herbaceous irises and over 30 species of lily are in flower, including giant Himalayan lilies which grow to over 9 feet tall!

More unusual species at Belsay

A Hothouse for Ideas at Down House

Down House- Orchid in Greenhouse

Home to Darwin for 40 years and where he wrote the groundbreaking On the Origin of Species, the gardens of Down House proved ideal for study and experimentation.

From carnivorous plants to delicate comet orchids, there are plenty of interesting species to spot on a visit to Down House.

  • Carnivorous plants like the venus fly-trap and parasitic toothwort in the greenhouse, where Darwin studied plant growth, pollination and variation
  • The comet orchid, for which Darwin predicted the pollinator 40 years before its discovery, based on his theory of evolution through natural selection
  • In autumn, look for rare grassland fungi like the waxcap fungi on the lawns, several of which are Red Data Book Species

More unusual species at Down House

A Collector’s Life Work at Brodsworth

Brodsworth - The Rose Dell

A sleeping beauty for much of the last hundred years, the gardens at Brodsworth were once the proud showpiece of Victorian gentleman Charles Thellusson. The gardens and unusual collections here have gradually been restored in recent years.

Many flowers and plants at Brodsworth are impressive in their sheer volume, with different varieties thriving alongside each other.

  • In the summer, 100 varieties of historic rose are in flower in the Rose Garden, where scented climbers drape around the 45 metre long pergola
  • Over 70 species of wild rose from all over the world in the Rose Dell
  • The Fern Dell - said to remind many visitors of Jurassic Park - which Charles Thellusson constructed to show off his fern collection, an excellent example of a Victorian collector's rock garden

More on the gardens at Brodsworth

Osborne: Designed by Royalty

Osborne - Royal Myrtle

After buying the Osborne estate in 1845, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert set about designing the gardens to meet their own needs and tastes.

Much of the garden has been recreated to look as it would have appeared in the 19th century, using plants and flowers popular during Queen Victoria's reign.  

  • Trees chosen by Prince Albert or given as gifts from visiting dignitaries, like the King William pine from Tasmania planted by Princess Victoria of Prussia, and the memorial cork oaks by the house
  • The famous royal myrtle on the terraces, which has been included in the wedding bouquets of the royals since Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Victoria married in 1858
  • Purple anise in the shrub borders - a relative of star anise with citrus scented leaves and flowers that small of fresh fish!

More unusual species at Osborne

Top 10 Gardens


Explore some of the most glorious gardens in England, from sweeping parkland and wilderness gardens to elegant parterres and fabulous fountains.