Joanna Moorhead, The Guardian, May 2, 2013
Kew Gardens, London
The rock garden is one of the places to head for at Kew right now – according to horticulturalist Richard Wilford it will be at its peak in the days ahead. The garden has waterfalls and streams over an acre of land, and the alpine plants, bulbs and Mediterranean shrubs are all at their best, with a carpet of alpine flowers in pink , purple and white. Equally unmissable are the flowering cherry trees – especially on the avenue from the palm house to the temperate house – the woodland garden, packed with dog's tooth violet and trilliums, and the newly emerging bluebells in the conservation area.
• kew.org. Open daily 9.30am-6.30pm, adults £16, children free; guided walking tours of native woodland 1-24 May
Lanhydrock, near Bodmin, Cornwall
Magnolias are having a bumper year everywhere this spring, and especially at Lanhydrock. "Our yellow flowering varieties – yellow fever and yellow lantern – are especially splendid," says head gardener Nigel Teagle. The formal garden, meanwhile, is awash with tulips: 3,500 of them, in a range of whites, reds, pinks and yellows. In the woodland garden the bluebells are already giving the ground an azure hue, and don't miss the bank of rhododendrons behind the main house – they're Cornish red, up to 12m high, and currently at their magnificent best.
• nationaltrust.org.uk/lanhydrock. Open daily 10am-6pm, adults £6.50, children £3.60
Westonbirt Arboretum, near Tetbury Gloucestershire
It has the tallest magnolia sprengeri "Diva" tree in Britain, and on a sunny day with the blue spring sky behind it, it looks beautiful. The camellias are late this year, as are the corylopsis, rounded shrubs with delicate, bright yellow flowers. For the best views head for the old arboretum and follow the circular drive – that's where you'll find the greatest concentration of spring flowers, including, looking especially good this year, the white trumpet-like osmanthus and halesia carolina, also known as silver bells. Westonbirt also has one of the country's best collections of Japanese cherry blossoms, and from next week the bluebells should be in bloom in the area known as Silkwood.
• forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt. Open daily 9am-8pm, adults £8, children £3, guided walks Sat, Sun and bank holidays at 2pm and on Weds at 11am
Doddington Hall, Doddington, Lincolnshire
The wild garden at Doddington is especially lush in springtime, and this year it's a riot of colour and variety. Cow parsley, forget-me-nots and cowslips litter the long grass, and especially pretty are the bell-shaped reddish purple flowers of the snake's head fritillaries, with their unusual checked markings. In the orchard alongside, the apple trees are on the point of blossoming, as are the bluebells in the nearby wood. Owner Claire Birch says: "Also unmissable is the walled west garden, where there's a really unusual display of yellow and orange crown imperials – they're notoriously difficult to grow, but they seem to have taken here."
• doddingtonhall.com. Open Wed, Sun and bank holiday Monday 11am-4pm, adults £5, children £2.75, family £14
Picton Castle, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire
As in other gardens the camellias, usually over by this time of year, are still in their prime here. "They're brushing up against the rhododendrons and that's making for lots of colour," says director Dai Evans. "May is traditionally the peak time in this garden, and this year it's going to look incredible. We've got the azaleas just coming into bloom, and the flowering cherries are looking amazing on the main drive." Don't miss Peepin Walk, a circular path that takes you through an area of ancient woodland with lots more wild flowers.
• pictoncastle.co.uk. Open daily 10.30am-5pm, garden entrance adults £6.50, children £4, family £24.50. There's an annual plant and craft fair with advice from specialist growers on spring plants on Sunday 5 May
Cliveden, near Maidenhead Buckinghamshire
"Everything here is between two and three weeks late, and it means we're now on the cusp of a real crescendo of colour," says head gardener Andrew Mudge. Cliveden's spring pièce de resistance is its 200m Long Garden, where 20,000 tulips have been planted in four beds. This year, the colour scheme is yellow – and the view from the house, looking down at the beds, topiary and statues, is stunning. On the five-acre parterre are 16 further triangular beds filled with more tulips, daffodils, forget-me-nots and pansies; and in the 10-acre water garden the magnolias and cherry trees are in full bloom.
• 01628 605069, nationaltrust.org.uk/cliveden. Open daily 10am-5.30pm, adults £8.60, children £4.30, spring walk 5 May, £7 – booking essential
Logan Botanic Garden, Stranraer, Dumfries & Galloway
"This garden is about to resemble a blaze of fireworks," says curator Richard Baines. The magnolias are at their best – the variety at Logan has flowers the size of dinner plates – and the camellia walkway is in full bloom, with a profusion of pinks, reds and whites. "We're on a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides," says Baines. "We've got a very similar climate to Cornwall, with lots of exotic plants from New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa." The Tasmanian Creek has eucalyptus trees and newly emerging fern leaves that look like snakes unravelling from giant bags.
• scotlands-garden.org.uk/logan.html. Open daily 10am-5pm, adults £5.50, children £1, family £11; spring garden tour Tuesday 14 May
Wentworth Castle Gardens, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire
A yellow carpet surrounds Wentworth Castle at the moment, as the daffodils are still in full bloom. Another highlight is the Victorian flower garden, created from an old bowling green in the 19th century, with primulas and old varieties of hyacinths and tulips – it's a sea of oranges and blues, says estate manager Michael Klemperer. Next to bloom will be the tulips in the John Arnold garden, and in the Union Jack garden the first lily of the valley are starting to appear.
• wentworthcastle.org. Open daily 10am-5pm, adults £5.50, children £2.95, family £15.50; garden tours 18-19 May, rhododendron festival 26-27 May
Harlow Carr, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
The earlier bad weather means many daffodil varieties were extremely late, and at Harlow Carr that means a feast of the plants at the moment, with a greater wealth of varieties than would usually be out at one time. The garden also has one of the longest streamside plantings in the country and that's looking particularly colourful – the bright yellow skunk cabbage, each flower the size of a hand, is magnificent. Another area not to miss is the heather garden – usually it's all but over by this time, but instead it's at its peak, a blaze of white, pink and intense magenta.
• rhs.org.uk/gardens/harlow-carr. Open daily 9.30am-6pm, adults £8.50, children £4.25; family £20.70, rhododendron competition 4-5 May, spring plant fair 5 May
Mount Stewart, Newtownards, County Down
There are great smells as well as great sights at Mount Stewart: Lady Londonderry, who created the garden in the 1920s and 1930s, loved scented plants. So make a beeline for rhododendron hill – it's often overlooked by visitors but, says head gardener Neil Porteous, it's one of the best places on the estate right now as many of the rhododendrons are scented varieties. There's lots of colour, too, around the lake, and in the formal gardens the sophora and yellow banksia marginata are looking especially beautiful.
• nationaltrust.org.uk/mount-stewart. Open daily 10am-6pm, adults £6.63, children £3.31; spring garden walk 6 May (adults £10, children £5)
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk