Historic Gardens

Top 10 Gardens for Gardeners

From rolling parkland and stunning vistas to elegant parterres and working kitchen gardens, we look after some of the most magnificent gardens in the country.

Here are just some of our favourites.

1. Wrest Park

Anyone who has ever wondered about the evolution of the English garden should visit Wrest Park. The vast gardens are a dramatic showcase of three centuries of landscape design and, until recently, remained suprisingly secret from the public.

As you wander around the 90 acres witness the French, Dutch, Italian and English landscaping styles side by side which, despite the scale, gives visitors an historical insight into influences which might even be seen in their own gardens.

Highlights include the views down the Long Water to the beautiful Pavilion created by Thomas Archer, the recently replanted formal parterres, and Ladies Lake, which has been refilled with water overlooked by a rare statue of Diana (goddess of hunting), which has returned to its original home at Wrest for the first time since the 1930s.

Visit Wrest Park

2. The Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth Castle

Originally created for Queen Elizabeth I by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, at a time when he still hoped to marry her, this was a garden designed to seduce and beguile its visitors.

For over 400 years the garden was lost to the world, until 2009 when it was recreated by a pioneering team of historians, archaeologists, gardeners and craftsmen.

You can now walk in the footsteps of Elizabeth I under magnificent carved arbours, to admire the bejewelled aviary, and take in the sights and smells that would have greeted the queen on her visit in 1575. Highlights also include an 18-foot high fountain carved from dazzling Carrara marble from Tuscany.

As originally designed, the planting here is at its best in July, the month of the famous Queen's visit in 1575.

Visit Kenilworth Castle

3. Audley End House and Gardens

The house and gardens at Audley End were among the largest and most opulent in Jacobean England. Today Audley End is set in a tranquil landscape with stunning views across the unspoilt Essex countryside.

Walk across rolling pastoral parkland designed by the famous 'Capability' Brown to the Elysian Garden, with its elegant 'Tea House' bridge designed by Robert Adam.

Another highlight is the elegant parterre garden, recreated to look as it would have done in the 1830s, with a tapestry of flowers at their best in spring and summer.

The still operational Organic Kitchen garden is a sight to behold, nurturing a variety of fruit and vegetables, including 120 apple trees and 40 to 50 pear and plum varieties, as well as herbs, flowers and grasses in keeping with those grown and used in the house around 1880.

Visit Audley End

4. Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens

A true plantsman's dream, the Grade-I listed garden at Belsay Hall is one of the most extraordinary picturesque garden landscapes in England.

Based on the ancient quarries of Sicily, the dramatic series of ravines and corridors that contribute to the unique microclimate of the Quarry Garden provide solace for a number of rare and unusual plants.

The wild flower meadow houses exotic wild flowers alongside native species including cowslips, orchids and the aptly-named snake's-head fritillaries. During the summer months a blaze of colour can be seen in the rhododendron garden which can be viewed from the Grecian-esque house and terrace.

Visit Belsay Hall

5. Brodsworth Hall and Gardens

A sleeping beauty for the majority of the 20th century, the gardens at Brodsworth Hall have now come back to life, a stunning 15 acre garden connected by tunnels, bridges and meandering pathways which provide visitors with beautiful visual surprises at every turn.

One of the highlights is the Rose Garden, with its 45-metre pergola draped in authentic Victorian scented roses, honeysuckle and vines intertwining to form a lovely walkway through the garden.

The unusual Fern Dell is filled with terraces and rock alcoves built by the original owner in the 1860s. This incredible variety of ferns gives the garden an almost prehistoric feel, with 30 foot strawberry trees, ornamental flower beds and Italian statues and water features harking back to Brodsworth's Victorian heyday.

Visit Brodsworth Hall

6. Witley Court and Gardens

One hundred years ago, Witley Court was one of England's great country houses, surrounded by magnificent landscaped gardens. Then in 1937, disaster struck with a terrible fire, and the house and gardens fell into long decline.

Happily, Witley's fortunes have now turned, and the spectacular ruin sits once more within beautiful restored gardens. Visitors are transported back to the garden's Victorian heyday, with elegant parterres, immaculate lawns and ornate, colourful designs.

One of the highlights of a trip to Witley is seeing the great 26ft Perseus and Andromeda fountain in action, which fires at various points throughout the day from April to October.

Visit Witley Court

7. Walmer Castle and Gardens

Originally built by Henry VIII, over time Walmer has played host to the Duke of Wellington, William Pitt the Younger and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The 10-acre gardens reflect this long history and the castle's transformation from fortress to elegant royal residence.

Visitors can walk up the yew-lined Broad Walk from the castle to the croquet lawn, enjoy a spring woodland walk amongst the snowdrops, aconites and hellebores, and take in the sweeping views out to sea.

Created in celebration of Her Majesty's 95th birthday, the Queen Mother's Garden with its 95ft pool, pavilion, ornate topiary and exuberant borders is another highlight.

The Kitchen Garden with espalier trained fruit trees, vegetables and flowers for cutting, is run on organic principles and produce can be sampled in the tearoom and visitor shop.

Visit Walmer Castle

8.Eltham Palace and Gardens

A former medieval palace, Eltham was in a sorry state before millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld transformed it into a stunning Art Deco home in the 1930s. Now the gardens are a rare and very fine example of a 1930s Arts and Crafts garden, with an intriguing mix of medieval features woven into the landscape.

Highlights include the Sunken Rose Garden planted with scented hybrid musk roses, and several 'garden rooms' created by the Courtaulds in up-to-the-minute 1930s fashion. The Rock Garden is also another fashionable 1930s addition, which offers a fine view over the moat and lawns to the house.

Visit Eltham Palace

9. The Home of Charles Darwin (Down House)

On first glance the gardens at Down House appear unremarkable, with a relaxed atmosphere of a family garden. First impressions are deceptive however, as for many scientists across the world, this is hallowed ground.

The gardens were used by Darwin as an outdoor laboratory for his ideas and experiments. From the kitchen garden where 54 different varieties of gooseberry grew to the proof of his theory of natural selection in the weed garden, every aspect of these magnificently varied gardens can still be seen today.

Take a stroll on Darwin's 'Sand Walk' where the great man did most of his thinking surrounded by native trees, or explore the famous greenhouses packed with orchids and carnivorous plants where the ideas for plant growth and pollination sprouted. Don't miss the incomparable Mulberry Tree, still standing and bearing fruit after over 250 years (with a little added help!).

Visit Down House

10. Princess Beatrice Garden at Carisbrooke Castle

The pretty Edwardian-inspired garden at Carisbrooke is the work of award-winning Chris Beardshaw, created in 2009 within the former 'privy' gardens of Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Beatrice.

The garden is full of charming period features, from the formal clipped hedges surrounding the fountain centrepiece, to the colourful herbaceous borders. The design also takes inspiration from its surroundings, with the castle's stained glass windows reflected in ribbon planting in the borders.

An orchard of fruit trees provides a canopy of blossom in spring and adds to the visual feast this delightful garden serves up.

Visit Carisbrooke Castle
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