by Penny Walker, The Telegraph, May 21, 2019
We’ve all seen the well-heeled, suitably famous and downright Royal attendees parading through the carefully crafted gardens of the RHS Chelsea flower show. Although there are 28 gardens to enjoy there this year, the children’s garden co-designed by Duchess of Cambridge promises to be a firm favourite.
The annual event opened its doors earlier this week, with around 168,000 visitors expected to tour the grounds. Over the years, the show has become a Society event; the place to see and be seen, but it doesn't come cheap – non-members can expect to pay £107 for an all day ticket ( rhschelsea.seetickets.com ).
So if your passion is simply for the beauty of nature assembled in an orderly fashion – and the peace and tranquility that you would normally expect to find therein – there are plenty of beautiful country gardens to be found across the UK that don’t cost the earth, won't involve you dusting off your Sunday best, or require hours of queueing. Here are some of the best.
St Dunstan in the East, London
London is packed with little, green, hidden delights. If you’re exploring the city centre, it’s hard to find anywhere with more character than St Dunstan in the East. This medieval church near Cannon Street was reduced to a shell by bombing during the Second World War but today it is a quiet garden characterised by creeping plants and benches (free; cityoflondon.gov.uk ).
Westminster Abbey, London
Another favourite in the English capital’s centre are the gardens of Westminster Abbey . While they may not be overly secret, they aren’t as widely visited as you would imagine. College Garden within the Abbey walls has been tended for over 900 years, while Little Cloister Garden, with its scented plants and fountain, was initially intended as a place for recuperation after illness, and Garth was used as a space for quiet contemplation by the monks (free; westminster-abbey.org ).
Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park, London
If you’re looking for something a little further out from the urban sprawl of the city centre, head for Richmond Park. Although the Royal park is far from secret, with picnickers spotting deer a common sight at the weekend, the 40-acre woodland garden of Isabella Plantation is less well known. Run on organic principles, these gardens are home to both native and exotic plants and are designed to provide a sanctuary for wildlife. Guided walks of the Plantation take place each month (free; royalparks.org.uk ).
Dunbars Close, Edinburgh
Dunbars Close is one of Edinburgh's best-kept secrets according to Linda Macdonald, Telegraph Travel’s Edinburgh expert: "It is easy to miss the entrance to this drowsily peaceful hidden garden, a few steps off The Royal Mile just past Canongate Kirk.
"Created by the visionary Sir Patrick Geddes as one of a network of Old Town gardens, it was immaculately restored in the late 1970s. A beautifully kept recreation of a 17th-century garden, it is a series of small, delightfully private rooms,” (free; edinburgh.gov.uk ).
Rodmarton Manor, Gloucestershire
This is the grand-daddy of under-appreciated gardens in England according to the Telegraph’s Tim Richardson, “a classic first-wave Cotswolds Arts & Crafts house and garden designed by Edward Barnsley which ought always to be mentioned in the same breath as Hidcote and Sissinghurst."
"Rodmarton is outwardly more austere than either of its fellows," he says, "with topiary in yew and box dominating the terrace. But explore further and you will find an exuberant double border.” (£7.50; rodmarton-manor.co.uk ).
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall
The Eden Project is far the best known garden in England’s south-west corner and can get incredibly busy in the summer months. Instead, Gill Charlton, Telegraph Travel’s Cornwall expert, recommends that you head for the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Tim Smit’s first project.
“It covers 200 acres, so it’s possible to find peace here even in high summer,” she explains. “Beyond the flamboyant Himalayan spring garden are superb restored Edwardian fruit, flower and vegetable gardens. Deeper into the valley there are shady bowers and pools where dragon and damselflies dance.” (£15; heligan.com ).
Tresco Abbey Gardens, Isles of Scilly
While it’s not unlikely that you’ll have heard of these gardens, their location on the isolated Isles of Scilly mean that they remain quiet for much of the year. Sometimes referred to as “Kew’s Temperate House with the lid off” for its mild climate and draining granitic soil, the mixture of plants found here are unlike any others in the UK (£15; tresco.co.uk ).
Rydal Hall, Cumbria
Rydal Hall is a favourite of Telegraph Travel’s Lucy Aspden. Set in the Lakes, “it has a lovely garden, with a natural waterfall and a cafe – and it's free!” The estate has formal gardens and woodlands to explore that have been evolving since the 1600s, as well as the Grot – a grotto built in 1668 by Sir Daniel Fleming (free; rydalhall.org ). “Across the road on the way down to Rydal Water, Dora's Field is also worth a look,” says Lucy. “It is adorable, especially in bluebell season,” ( nationaltrust.org.uk ).
The Walled Garden of Morton, Dorset
This Dorset garden is a firm favourite of Telegraph Travel’s Ben Parker. “Perennial plants styled to reflect original Victorian and Georgian designs can be found among the borders of The Walled Garden in Moreton, Dorset – a tiny village better known for its association with TE Lawrence,” he says.
“The dog-friendly green space rambles over five acres, split between more than 10 distinct areas, such as the Chilean arboretum offering vibrant pops of South American species and the kitchen garden, from where the Dovecote Café sources its produce. There’s equal measure of wild and manicured to be wandered,” (free; walledgardenmoreton.co.uk ).
The Veddw, Monmouthshire
Found just inside the Welsh border above Tintern, Veddw is made up of four acres – two given over to manicured ornamental gardens and two to woodland. Originally developed on ancient grassland, work has been done on some of the garden in the form of the meadow in an attempt to return it to its original state. The hedges alone are worth a visit (£8; veddw.com ).
The best exotic garden tours The Walled Garden of Gordon Castle, Morayshire
Restored to its former glory, this walled kitchen garden in the grounds of Gordon Castle Estate in Morayshire is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in Britain. As well as plenty of rare plant species and espaliered trees, there’s a play area which makes it a good spot for families. As a working walled garden, the landscape, herbs and other produce change with the season, the ingredients making their way into the on-site cafe ( gordoncastle.co.uk ).
Houghton Hall, Norfolk
If you’re a fan of a walled garden, then Houghton Hall has to be one of the country’s finest. Constructed in 1991 by the present Lord Cholmondeley as a memorial to his grandmother, the space is divided into several ornamental gardens including a formal rose parterre, Italian garden and contemporary sculptures including Jeppe Hein’s “Waterflame” (£12; houghtonhall.com ).
Inspiration for your inbox | Sign up to the weekly Telegraph Travel newsletter Sezincote, Cotswolds
What sets this beautiful Cotswolds garden apart is the 200-year-old Mogul Indian palace that can be found at its heart. Drawing inspiration from this unusual structure, the surrounding garden has been created with temples, grottoes, waterfalls and canals reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. Spring-fed pools sit alongside the curving orangery and the Repton landscape has remained relatively unchanged since the mid-19th century (£5; sezincote.co.uk ).