Britain's Finest Gardens

By Richard Moss
shows the Palm House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Photo: one of the most famous and extensive botanical gardens in the world, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew tops the list as Britain's finest garden. Picture © Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

No surprises here as the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in London tops the list of favourite gardens in the UK. The world famous site is one of the finest horticultural and landscaped havens in the entire world - a fact acknowledged in 2003 when Unesco decided to give the botanical gardens a well deserved World Heritage Site listing.

Visitors to Kew are treated to a living plant collection that reflects the full extent of plant diversity, providing a fascinating insight into the world's horticulture. It is also a valuable reference source, which serves all aspects of botanical and horticultural science.

But for the casual visitor it is a unique chance to enjoy the largest and most diverse living collection in the world: the variety of conditions available at the two sites allows the development of two differing but complementary collections.

The collections include carnivorous plants, cacti, arboreta, British natives, ferns, palms, grasses, and economic plants all set in acres of beautiful parkland, making Kew Gardens a worthy heir to the title of the UK's favourite garden.

shows a picture of the Lost Gardens Of Heligan

Photo: when you enter the Lost Gardens of Heligan you are really entering another world. Picture © David Hastilow

Nestling peacefully in the beautiful Cornish countryside, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are simply stunning.

Extending to some eighty acres, this series of spaces within spaces is actually a magnificent complex of walled flower gardens with a huge, productive vegetable garden. Having been lost for the best part of a century they are all fast returning to their former glory.

It's one of the most mysterious estates in England: the former seat of the Tremayne family is a fascinating time capsule - a lost Edwardian idyll that was cruelly interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War.

Now the site of the largest garden restoration project in Europe, Heligan is an extraordinary plant collection with a range of exotic glasshouses, working buildings, romantic structures and designed landscapes. The combination vividly recalls the past passions and interests of the Tremayne family whilst the mild Cornish climate has resulted in a garden that is still unique.

shows a spectacular waterfall at Chatsworth House

Photo: the spectacular waterfall built by the first Duke is just one of the many treats that await visitors to Chatsworth. Picture © Chatsworth House.

As well as being one of our favourite country houses Chatsworth also draws visitors from far and wide on the strength of its magnificent gardens.

Set within a beautiful Deer park designed by Capability Brown, the gardens of the house stretch to 105 acres. As well as the maze, rose, cottage and kitchen gardens, there are five miles of walks with rare trees, shrubs, fountains and ponds.

A particular favourite with visitors is the spectacular waterfall built by the first Duke; this cascade pours dramatically down steps and shoots from the branches of the willow tree fountain or 'squirting tree' as it is disarmingly known.

Chatsworth garden is also forever changing, with the latest addition a beautiful sensory garden designed to stimulate and delight the senses. 2003 also saw the bicentenary of renowned 19th century horticulturalist Joseph Paxton, the head gardener at Chatsworth for more than thirty years and creator of the giant rock garden, the Emperor fountain and famous glasshouses.

shows the garden of Hampton Court Palace

Photo: as well as a Royal Palace dripping in history, Hampton Court boasts one of the finest Elizabethan gardens in the world. Crown copyright © Historic Royal Palaces

Anyone who has visited Hampton Court Palace will be familiar with one of the most ornate and beautiful palace gardens in the UK.

Most famous of all is the trapezoidal maze; around 330,000 people go in and eventually find their way out of its winding half-mile of paths every year.

There are also the Privy Gardens - recently restored to their original 1702 condition, and the 'tender exotics,' a collection of plants from all over the world dating from the same era.

A firm favourite is the ancient grape vine (still yielding its grape harvest over two centuries later) inside one of the glasshouses - and the laburnum arch, great fountain and bedding gardens that reach down to the banks of the Thames.

shows a shot from across the lake at Stourhead

Photo: Stourhead is a timeless example of eighteenth century English Arcadia. Picture © NTPL/Nick Meers

At Stourhead, garden lovers can explore a classic example of the English landscape style that flourished in England in the eighteenth century. Designed by Henry Hoare II and laid out between 1741 and 1780, Stourhead's mixture of Arcadian classical temples, including the Pantheon and Temple of Apollo, is stunningly set around the central lake at the end of a series of vistas.

There seems to be a change of view at every turn as visitors encounter a myriad of garden paths.There is also magnificent mature woodland with its extensive collection of exotic trees.

But to get a good overall view of the garden's magnitude and breathtaking views of whole estate, visitors can climb King Alfred's Tower, an intriguing redbrick folly built in 1772 by Henry Flitcroft.

shows a shot of the terrace Gardens at Powis Castle

Photo: with it's cascading terrace gardens, Powis is one of the closest examples to a Tuscan paradise you'll encounter outside Italy. Picture © NTPL/Andrew Butler.

For the closest thing you'll find in the UK to a Tuscan Renaissance terrace garden, the gardens of Powis Castle are splendidly overhung with enormous clipped yews, shelters and rare and tender plants.

Laid out under the influence of Italian and French styles, the 24-acre garden even retains its original lead statues, an orangery and an aviary on the terrace - giving it an unparalleled authenticity.

Built in the seventeenth century (c1680) the valley floor has successively been a water garden, a landscape park by William Emes, a kitchen garden and, now, a flower garden.

With a breathtaking valley and ancient woodland walks thrown in for good measure, Powis a must for any garden lover with a yearning for Tuscany.

shows a shot of the Prospect Tower and Garden at Sissinghurst

Photo: the garden creation of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson has been preserved for all to enjoy at Sissinghurst. Picture © NTPL/David Sellman.

Beautiful and fascinating, the gardens at Sissinghurst are one of the world's most celebrated gardens. The creation of author Vita Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicholson, they were developed around the surviving parts of an Elizabethan mansion with a central redbrick prospect tower.

The garden itself is intimate in scale and romantic in atmosphere, and still bears the stamp of its designers - managing to provide outstanding design and colour throughout the season.

Separated by ancient redbrick walls and hedges, the the separate gardens of Sissinghurst offer visitors an all too rare chance for peace and seclusion - on a sunny day there is almost nowhere better to be.

shows manicured lawns and precisely cut topiary at Great Dixter in Kent

Photo: © Jonathan Buckley

A series of beautifully tended and created gardens surrounding the family home of Christopher Lloyd; Great Dixter is one of the most experimental, exciting and constantly changing gardens in the UK.

Originally restored by the architect Edwin Lutyens in 1910 the gardens surrounding the house complement each other, whilst incorporating several intriguing medieval buildings.

Visitors will find a selection of yew topiary, carpets of meadow flowers, colourful tapestries of mixed borders, natural ponds and a formal pool. You will also find a few surprises - testimony to the owner's commitment to experimentation and innovation, qualities that make Great Dixter a garden to be visited again and again.

shows a Topiary Arch at Levens Hall

Photo: the spectacular topiary gardens of Levens Hall have been preserved since the late seventeenth century. © Levens Hall.

For something a little more formal the topiary gardens at Levens Hall were designed by the French master gardener Monsieur Guillaume Beaumont, whose CV included work on the gardens at Versailles and Hampton Court.

Conceived in the early 1690's and largely preserved ever since, these majestic gardens offer visitors a unique chance to view a design that has remained largely unchanged for over 300 years.

Beneath the magnificent canopy of topiary, visitors will find colourful spring or summer bedding, a rose garden, a nuttery, fine herbaceous borders, and a beautiful fountain garden laid out with limes.

shows a landscape shot of Stowe Gardens

Photo: woodland walks, follies and temples await you in the gardens of Stowe in Buckinghamshire. Picture © NTPL/Andrew Butler.

If you want to view something a little more English, then the extensive gardens of Stowe in Buckinghamshire are the place to visit.

It's the quintessentially English landscaped garden of the Georgian period and visitors will find beautifully preserved follies and temples, (over thirty designed by some of the best architects of the day) as well as pleasing valleys and vistas as they explore the grounds of Stowe House and it's extensive Deer Park.

The gardens also boast impressive woodland walks that give way to Palladian bridges and grottos as classical statues vie with pleasantly appealing pavilions.

Many of the garden buildings have recently been restored and the addition of thousands of new trees and shrubs has restored the gardens into something representing its original glory - something like an English Arcadia.

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