After much deliberation, the winner of this year’s Outstanding Contribution to Tourism in the 2012 VisitEngland Awards for Excellence has been announced as: The English Garden. Part of the very fabric of the country, the English Garden is a perennial favourite, both for visitors from home and away. Our green and pleasant land offer horticulturalists a perfect blank canvas on to which they can create their art, whether that’s within a walled cottage garden or the expanse of stately home grounds.
In celebration VisitEngland, handpicks some of the best lawns, serene lakes and wild flowers from across this green and pleasant land – get your green fingers at the ready!
Private Gardens Open to the Public
Each year, thousands of privately owned gardens open to the public through the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) – some just a few days in a year, or even once; others on a more regular basis. These offer visitors a unique opportunity to enjoy people’s normally private creations. 2012 marks the 85th anniversary of the NGS’ efforts to raise money for charity and, to celebrate the milestone, more than 120 of the first gardens that opened back in 1927 will be opening again this year. Two of those are Sandringham Estate and Hatfield House, whose famous Old Palace garden, childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I, and adjoining woodland garden continue to attract visitors from far and wide.
Flower Shows & Exhibitions
This week sees the return of the ever popular RHS Chelsea Flower Show (22nd – 26th May 2012). The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is one of the most famous gardening shows in the world, a celebration of the highest quality horticulture and a feast for the imagination. The event is run by the Royal Horticultural Society and takes place on the large grounds (of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, London. Popular features include the show gardens designed by leading names and the centrepiece of the floral marquee.
As part of the London2012 Festival, The English Flower Garden (25th April – 17th September 2012) is a series of six installations with a total of 15,000 individually hand-thrown ceramic blooms mounted on metal rods. It is a celebration of the quintessential English love of flowers at Chiswick House and Gardens in London by artist Paul Cummins. Paul is a Midlands-based ceramic fine artist with a fast-developing reputation. He is known for his distinctive landscape installations and traditional earthenware pans.
Additionally, this July the UK’s largest gardening event will, for the first time, feature A World of Gardens. The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (3rd–8th July 2012) will have an area dedicated to international gardens from countries and regions of across the world. Every summer the flower show features gardens specially created for the event. This year there will also be a combined rose and floral design marquee under the theme Romance and Roses. Fruit, vegetable and herb growing will feature in a special Grow Your Own area. As well as admiring the displays, visitors can shop for thousands of plants as well as picnic in the grounds or eat at the different restaurants set up for the event.
Jubilee Bank Holiday Weekend, 2nd–5th June 2012
Enjoy Diamond Jubilee celebrations at RHS gardens around the country including: RHS Garden Rosemoor – Diamond Jubilee Tea Party, 5 June, 3pm-5pm, where there will be live music and family entertainment with tea and cake available in the Winter Garden. RHS Garden Hyde Hall – The Music for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations on Tuesday 5th June 2012 from 2pm-4pm are a chance to enjoy music and cream teas to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee. Meanwhile the Jubilee celebrations planned at RHS Garden Harlow Carr for 5th June include local group the Harrogate Brass Band playing live music in the garden.
Each summer Buckingham Palace opens its grand walkways to the public, the air scented by 350 types of wild flower. Check out the enormous 19th Century lake and tennis court – where King George VI once took on Fred Perry in the 1930s. Another must-see is the Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park, recognised as the most famous ornamental garden in England. England’s gardens are not just there to look pretty – they have a brain too! The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew are an important centre for scientific research and conservation. Using temperature-controlled greenhouses, experts have created 10 different climates, housing some of its whopping collection of 30,000 plant species.
Greener than Green
Home to the largest indoor rainforest in the world – complete with waterfall, mangrove swamps and rubber trees - The Eden Project is a wonderland for keen gardeners. Its second dome, the Mediterranean biome, is a riot of colour, amongst which are mosaics and sculptures. However, it’s not just for the green-fingered: The Core is an area for art installations and interactive displays, there’s a play area for kids of all ages, a jam-packed events calendar with music and comedy and The Eden Bakery, which serves delicious sweet and savoury treats.
Cosy Cottage Gardens
For visitors who prefer something slightly less formal, a trip to the Bide-A-Wee Cottage Gardens in Northumberland is in order. This former sandstone quarry has been lovingly restored with rough grasses, perennials and ferns, creating quiet, secluded alcoves where visitors can escape the modern world. Also, for those who want to stay somewhere with rolling lawns, Treewidden House, Cornwall (from £120 per person) has gardens originally planted by T.B. Bolitho in the late 19th Century. The 15-acre gardens sit on an ancient tin mine settled amongst one of the country’s finest collections of camellias and magnolias. Furthermore, The Eyrie at Brantwood, Cumbria (£250 for two nights) is the former home of John Ruskin and lies on the shores of Coniston Water in the Lake District. The 250-acre renowned gardens are particularly celebrated for their azalea collection.
Garden-loving visitors to London this summer can join small escorted tours of private gardens that rarely open to the public with a NGS Garden Tour. The former editor of English Garden magazine Jane Wookey is leading the tours to raise awareness of the National Gardens Scheme charity. They include a walking day exploring London’s four inns of court (Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple) where barristers train, live and work, with the gardens of the Maughan Library and lunch in the 16th Century Elizabethan hall of the Middle Temple. Outside of the capital, English Heritage has been reviving one of Britain’s largest and most important ‘secret gardens’. Wrest Park in Bedfordshire is a 90-acre historic landscape and French-style mansion and the Italian and Rose Gardens have been recently restored.
Quintessentially English Gardens
As mentioned, perhaps the most ‘typically English’ gardens are Capability Brown’s creations – with their expansive lawns, isolated coppices and ubiquitous water features – and a great place to check out his handiwork is Chatsworth House, where visitors have been strolling on the five-and-a-half-acre Salisbury Lawn for centuries (along with the odd resident deer). “England’s Greatest Gardener” had a hand in designing the landscape of Audley End House, too, but it’s the Organic Kitchen Garden that many visitors come here to see. You’ll find several varieties of pears, plums, peaches and nectarines grown here (albeit with some help from greenhouses), too, which are guaranteed to get your mouth watering. There is perhaps nothing more quintessentially English than Hidcote, one of Britain’s most popular gardens, located in the Cotswolds, and notable for its miles of sculptured hedges, as well as its formal outdoor “rooms”. Created in the early 20th Century by the American Lawrence Johnston, it is in an area full of great gardens – including one just across the road, Kiftsgate.
As traditional as the English Garden can be, there are always new and inventive gardens coming on the scene. For a garden with a more contemporary feel, head up north to The Alnwick Garden. Even on a warm day, it’s worth taking a raincoat here; one of the main attractions is the Grand Cascade – a tumbling mass of waterfalls that shoots out jets every half hour.