The United Kingdom is a country of passionate gardeners, with hundreds of open gardens every year.
Gardens to see and visit in the United Kingdom range from large estate and castle gardens, to small town gardens, public allotment gardens and superb botanical gardens, including the world renown Kew Gardens in London and the Edinburgh Botanics. The Royal Horticultural Society has several large gardens open throughout the year and also manages hundreds of private residential garden openings around England and Wales.
Local guide in this country
Garden Travel Guide to the United Kingdom
From Scotland’s woodland gardens to the formal and perennial gardens of southern England, historic castle gardens, picturesque vista gardens and quirky contemporary gardens the United Kingdom has something to enthrall every garden lover in every season. In spring you can see colourful spring bulb gardens and, in summer there are gardens filled with showy high summer perennials to stroll through. Come autumn/fall, vibrant tree colours are reflected across lakes and ornamental ponds and winter’s open gardens reveal elegant clipped conifer and box parterres.
Garden History in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom’s long love-affair with gardening begins with new plant introductions like the periwinkle even before Roman times, however the first evidence of purpose-built gardens dates from the medieval era, with monastic gardens of herbs, and contemplative cloister gardens. By the early 16th century, Henry VIII and his court were spending large sums on pleasure gardens around their huge country estates. The gardens at Richmond and Hampton Court date from this period and were laid out in formal French and Italian style.
By the mid 17th century, exploration through Africa and Asia, and to the New World saw an explosion of plant collecting and importing of new plants into Britain which were used in the intricate and formal Italianate gardens that were popular during this time, with grottos, parterres, elaborate fountains and many statues.
However by the early 18th century, there was a quintessentially English backlash against the huge scale and strict formality of these gardens, with new designers such as Kent, Rousham, the famous ‘Capability’ Brown and, later Repton ushering in a new era of natural style landscapes, with picturesque vistas across lakes, copses of trees, romantic follies and rolling lawns.
By the 19th century, garden fashions had turned again and the new ‘gardenesque’ style of Loudon, with its specimen plantings, shrubberies, unusual plant combinations and patterns of colourful bedding plants took hold.
A new naturalistic movement was an inevitable result with many of the England’s most famous Arts and Crafts gardens by Jekyll, Sackville-West and Johnston dating from the early 20th century, with their flower meadows and long, mixed-perennial borders kept more orderly in ‘garden rooms’ by dividing hedges and clipped topiary. In northern Scotland, the garden at Crathes Castle is another famous Arts and Crafts garden.
By the late 20th century, in residential gardens, the practical gardens of vegetables and herbs were overtaken by the cottage garden style, with mixed planting of perennials, roses and flowering climbers. However a growing awareness of working with the soil and climate rather than always seeking to improve them saw new gardening styles championed by gardeners such Beth Chatto in her dry gravel garden in Essex. And at Great Dixter, Christopher Lloyd turned all the tried-and-true plant combinations that gardeners thought they knew on their heads.
In much of the cooler and wetter parts of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, woodland gardens with large collections of rhododendrons and flowering shrubs, conifers, naturalised bulbs and ferns were developed, and are still popular today.
In Ireland and the south-west coast of England and north-west Scotland, the warmer and wetter climate meant that gardeners could experiment with collections of exotic plants from places like Australia, Africa and even tropical climates, such as in the Inverewe garden in north-west Scotland.
Garden styles in the United Kingdom
Perhaps as a response to its many days of dull, overcast skies, gardens throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland are still dominated by flowers, with laburnum walks, wisteria arches, rose gardens, perennial borders, and pots of colourful annuals.
However it is also a place of great garden design experimentation, as seen in the show gardens of Chelsea and Hampton Court and the 21st century gardens of The Garden of Cosmic Speculation and Little Sparta in Scotland.
British designers like Dan Pearson, Christopher Bradley-Hole, Tom Stuart-Smith and Andy Sturgeon are strongly influencing garden design around the world with new naturalistic plantings of delicate native plants and pared-back hardscapes featuring natural stone.
Gardens to visit in the United Kingdom
Gardens to visit in England
See Garden Guide to England (under construction)
Gardens to visit in Scotland
Garden to visit in Wales
Powis Castle and Gardens, Welshpool (National Trust garden)
Bodnant Garden, Conwy (National Trust garden)
Bodysgallen Hall, Conwy
Erddig Garden, Wrexham (National Trust garden)
Plas Newydd Country House, Anglesey (National Trust garden)
Plas Yn Rhiw, Pwllheli, Gwynedd
The Dingle Garden, Welshpool
Veddw House, Devauden
Penpergwm Lodge Gardens, Abergavenny
Colby Woodland Garden, Amroth (National Trust garden)
National Botanic Garden of Wales, Llanartheney
Tredegar House and Park (National Trust garden)
Diffryn Botanic Garden
Parc Taf Bargoed, Trelewis
Aberglasney Gardens, Carmarthen
Llanerchaeron (National Trust garden)
Singleton Park and Swansea Botanic Gardens
Clyne Gardens, Swansea
Gardens to visit in Northern Ireland
Belfast and eastern Northern Ireland
Bellfast Botanic Gardens
Antrim Castle Gardens
Ballyrobert Gardens and Nursery – March to October
Glenarm Castle Walled Gardens
Rowallane Garden (National Trust garden)
Castlewellan Forest Park and Peace Maze
Bangor Castle Walled Garden
Joymount Presbyterian Church Jacobean Knot Garden, Carrickfergus
Londonderry and north-west Northern Ireland
Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple
Brook Hall Estate and Arboretum
Amargh, Enniskillen and southern Northern Ireland
The Argory (National Trust garden)
Northern Ireland private open gardens: see the National Trust Ulster Gardens Scheme
United Kingdom garden shows, festival and fairs
RHS Chelsea Flower Show – late May
Chelsea Fringe Festival – May-June
RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – early July
RHS Tatton Park Flower Show – late July
BBC Gardeners’ World, Birmingham- late June
London’s Open Garden Squares – mid June
RHS Malvern Spring and Autumn Shows
Blenheim Palace Flower Show, Oxfordshire – mid June
Essex Flower Show – early June
Suffolk Flower Show – late March
Newbury Flower Show, Berkshire – early April
Newark Flower Show, Nottinghamshire – late April
National Flower Show, Hylands House, Essex – late May
Gardening Scotland – early June
Ayr Flower Show, Ayrshire – early August
RHS Flower Show Cardiff
Royal Welsh Spring Festival, Powys – late May
Garden Show Ireland, Antrim – early May
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Some things you see when you’re travelling are amusing or thought provoking, and it’s nice to have a blog like this to share them. I’m very lucky to lead a garden tour to Europe each year, taking in the Chelsea Flower Show and visiting great and small gardens in different countries. On a loose theme […]
Well at last I’m really ‘talking plants’. As regular readers know, Talking Plants (http://talkingplants.blogspot.com) is a blog devoted to plants and gardens, with an eye for the quirky or scientific, or both. Its first home was the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia, but early this year Talking Plants migrated with my wife Lynda (who adds […]
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