Western Europe and the United Kingdom are home to many of the world's oldest and most famous gardens and also its best known garden festivals. It's the first place many garden tourists think of when they dream of going on a garden-based holiday.
Gardens to see and visit in Western Europe and the UK include the show gardens of London's Chelsea Flower Show, artists' garden like Monet's garden in France, the historic Moorish splendour of La Alhambra in Spain, Holland's fields of tulips, or one of Italy's huge formal gardens like Villa d'Este. But it also has many less well-known garden attractions like Scotland's quirky Little Sparta, the massive gardens of Austria's Schönbrunn Palace, Northern Ireland's Mount Stewart and the breath-taking Sichtungsgarten Hermannshof in Germany.
Country garden guides in this region:
Regional Garden Travel Guide to Western Europe and UK
Getting there, and around
In Garden Tour Hub’s guides, Western Europe and the UK includes:
Ireland, Iceland, United Kingdom (Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales), Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, France, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg, and the micro-states of Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra, San Marino and Monaco.
All Western Europe’s cities are easy to fly to and from most destinations worldwide. For those flying from Asia, Australia and Oceania, using a change point like Dubai gives direct access to dozens of Western European and UK cities. From USA’s west coast, flights to London and Paris are a long-haul flight of nearly 11 hours, and 11:15 hours to Munich.
Within Europe there are many cheap flights between major cities on budget carriers such as Ryanair or easyJet for only $20USD however be warned that they have very strict and much lower luggage limits than trans-Atlantic and other international flights, so if you bring 25-30kg of luggage with you, be prepared to pay a fortune in excess baggage!
Western Europe and the UK’s climate is dominated by the warming currents of the Gulf Stream and the warming effect of the relatively shallow Mediterranean Sea. These prevent the winters of most Western European countries from being nearly as cold or snowy as North America, even though most of them are at a higher latitude.
The wettest parts of Europe are those that receive rain from the prevailing westerly winds during the winter months, such as Ireland, western UK, northwest Spain, and western Norway and also in early summer, referred to as the ‘European Monsoon’. Other areas of Europe also have a winter maximum rainfall. The mildest areas of Europe are along the Mediterranean Spanish Costa del Sol and the hottest summers in inland Spain and Italy.
Topography and vegetation
The four defining physical features of Western Europe and the UK are Western Uplands, the North European Plain, the Central Uplands and the Alpine Mountains.
The Western Uplands are areas shaped by glaciers such as Britain, Denmark, Scandinavia and Iceland, and they still have many fiords, lakes and marshlands. The North European Plain is mostly flat land less than 150 metres (500 feet) in elevation bordering the Atlantic Ocean and home to Europe’s most productive farmlands and the bulk of its population, such as southern UK, north-west France, Belgium, The Netherlands, northern Germany, and southern Denmark. The Central Uplands is an elevated plateau through central France, southern Germany and northern Switzerland much of which is heavily wooded. The Alpine Mountains zone include the Alps and Pyrenees and active volcanoes in Italy.
Mixed conifer and deciduous tree forests once covered most of the more elevated areas of Western Europe and grasslands on the Plain, but most has been cleared for farming and an increasingly urban population. The Mediterranean basin has a distinct flora of highly drought-resistant plants.
Europe has been gardened since Roman times, so there are layers of history in its gardens, many of which have been redesigned and replanted dozens of times through the centuries reflecting the waxing and waning of empires, changes in garden design fashions, and the arrival of newly discovered and collected plants from other continents.
Medieval gardens were mostly productive monastic gardens. The first well-known large landscape gardens emerged during the 15th century Italian Renaissance and were modelled on ideas of Roman symmetry and order. Several Renaissance gardens are still maintained in that style such as Villa d’Este and the Boboli gardens in Italy.
André Le Nôtre revolutionised garden design in France during the 17th century, creating the French classical style of long axes crossing a flattened landscape with canals, orangeries, fountains and grottos as can still be seen at Versailles.
The 18th century saw the rise of the English Picturesque gardens designed by masters such as Capability Brown and William Kent, which pushed back against the formal Classical style with naturalistic park-like grounds featuring woodlands, lakes and follies. French Rococo gardens of the same period also started to incorporate international influences from China and Japan and Turkey.
From the early 19th century, the Victorian/Gardenesque/collector’s style garden began to evolve, where each plant is displayed to its best advantage, fuelled by the new and interesting plants being brought back by plant hunters in far-off places. Island beds, strange plant juxtapositions and detailed features were scattered about the garden, often linked by a winding path.
By the turn of the 20th century, this gave way to the cottage garden and herbaceous border style popularised by Gertrude Jekyll, Vita Sackville-West and Margery Fish which persisted for many decades and was further revived in the 1980-1990s.
In the middle 20th century, contemporary gardens with simpler and less fussy layouts emerged, inspired by similar the art and architecture movement of ‘from follows function’ and also modernist gardens of patterns and foliage rather than flowers.
In recent years a naturalistic planting style of natural-style meadow gardens and seasonal perennials has been inspired by American designers such as James van Sweden and Wolfgang Oehme.
Western Europe and UK regularly open gardens
See individual country entries listed at the top of this guide
Western Europe and UK garden festivals and shows
Flower Parade – Nice, France, mid February
Giardina Zürich – Zürich, Switzerland, late March
Keukenhof Gardens – Lisse, The Netherlands, March-May
RHS London Spring Plant Extravaganza – London, UK
Festa da Flor – Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, mid April
RHS Flower Show Cardiff – Cardiff, Wales, UK, mid April
Nordic Gardens – Stockholm, Sweden, late April
International Garden Festival – Chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire, France, late April-end October
Floralia – Brussels April-May
Girona Temps de Flors – Girona, Spain, early May
RHS Malvern Spring Festival – Malvern, Worcestershire, UK, early May
Córdoba Patios Festival – Córdoba, Spain, early May
D’Aywiers Plant and Gardens Festival – Jardins D’Aywiers gardens, Lasne, Belgium, early May
Garden Festival Herrenhausen – Herrenhausen Palace, Hannover, Germany, mid May
Chelsea Flower Show – London, UK, late May
Perugia Flower Show – Perugia, Italy , late May
Northwest Garden Show – Castlefinn, Donegal, Ireland, late May (next show 2017?)
Jardins, Jardin – Tuileries, Paris, France, early June
Garden Show Ireland – Antrim Castle Gardens, Northern Ireland UK, early June
Gardening Scotland – Edinburgh, Scotland UK, early June
Bloom – Dublin, Ireland (Eire), early June
RHS Hampton Court Flower Show – London UK, early July
RHS Flower Show Tatton Park – Knutsford, Cheshire, UK, late July
Brussel’s Flower Carpet – Grand-Place, a biennial event, next in August 2016
Paris Garden Festival – Paris, France, late September
Malvern Autumn Show – Malvern, Worcestershire, late September
RHS Chatsworth Flower Show – Chatsworth, Derbyshire, early June 2017
IGA – International Garden Exhibition – Berlin, Germany, April – September 2017
Best time to visit gardens
April-October – early spring for bulbs; spring-summer for flowering trees, shrubs and perennials; autumn foliage. There are also some UK gardens open throughout the winter.
Ballintubbert Gardens in Co. Laois are a complete revelation to the first time visitor. On entering through what must be one of the most humble and unassuming garden entrances, and then a short distance further there’s a fine Georgian Manor House around which are an astonishing 14 acres of gardens.
In Spain’s capital Madrid, two impressive garden works caught my eye and enhanced my ‘art experience’: the Caixa greenwall and cloud pruning in Retiro Park, with both of these outdoor living works offer their own distinctive appeal and artistry.
While holidaying in Florence I visited the famous and historic Villa Gamberaia. Yes there are great views and engaging statuary but also non-working fountains, dead hedges and poor maintenance.
It was at a meeting of heritage rose lovers that I first heard about Ninfa, a romantic, rambling, Italian garden built in the ruins of a medieval town. I put it on my garden ‘bucket list’ and in May, on a journey from Rome to Sorrento, I got the opportunity to see if the anticipation lived up to the experience.
It is so completely entrancing; we have stumbled into an enchanted forest threaded with sunny meadows of daisy-strewn lawns, tiny cottages & bright gardens
This enchanting “cold greenhouse” is located at the end of the Parque Eduardo VII in Lisbon, Portugal, in a protected and sheltered area of an abandoned former quarry. Walking within this park becomes a sensory experience that is fantastic for both adults and children.
I’ve offered to write a review of this book, simply because I enjoyed it. Such books don’t always live up their hype but this is one I’m happy to add to my collection. And whenever I can get to London again I have a new list of gardens to see.
The handful of varieties on a supermarket shelf is a fraction of those grown around the world, as you can see with the hundreds of different pumpkins displayed at the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival.
I contacted Catherine Stewart with a challenge: find me a garden to visit on my Normandy driving holiday. She said “It will cost you a shiraz”. My summer visit to the Jardins du Bois du Puits was well worth the red!
Garden travel starts with desire…you want ALL the beautiful gardens, exotic locations and intriguing local cultures. But I know that this desire is best satisfied when its balanced by restraint, as that’s what will give you the most holiday pleasure.
Have you ever seen a piece of art and imagined it as a garden? I am not a horticulturalist, garden designer or landscape architect. My only design experience comes from moving seventeen times in thirty four years and always having to cram my stuff into a new house
Welcome to the Masone Labyrinth (Labirinto della Masone) of Franco Maria Ricci in Fontanellato, near Parma, Italy. Covering 7 hectares (17 acres), it is the largest labyrinth in the world. Will you ever get out?
Nice may be the playground of the rich and famous but, frankly, few Australians will be impressed by its most famous open space: a small, crowded, pebbly beach, oppressively hot on the day we visited. For me, the real attraction lay within the city.
Sometimes I just need to take a quick look at a garden to understand the personality of its owner. I don’t think it’s because I am particularly intuitive; it’s more that for some gardens the aim of the design is so clear and easy to interpret.
I have long been fascinated by the work of the late British garden designer Christopher Lloyd. So it was with great anticipation that I recently visited his Great Dixter garden in Sussex to the south of London. And I must say I was not disappointed by the extravagant use of interesting plant material throughout the landscape […]
Wordsworth is of course familiar to all as one of the greatest of English poets, founder of the Romantic movement and Poet Laureate. What is less well known is that he was also a brilliant landscape gardener and his home Rydal Mount is testament to this genius.
I am about to jump on a plane and head off to France to lead a tour of gardens and châteaux of Normandy and the Loire Valley and if you haven’t booked it’s a bit late now! But the idea of travelling across the world to see gardens and gardening that I may well have […]
The first plants that Rudyard Kipling ever knew were exotic ones. He was born in India in 1865 and spent his first years surrounded by palms, mango and banana trees, and lush growth everywhere he looked. But all that changed very dramatically! When Rudyard was five years old, his parents took him to England.
It was May and I was travelling through Italy enjoying a feast of gardens from Sorrento in the south to Lake Como on the north. That’s late spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but the weather was still chilly and, surprisingly for that time of the year in the Mediterranean, it was also wet. But rain […]
The list of 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die includes the Giverny garden of Claude Monet and it is truly one for the bucket list. For gardeners who love a profusion of flowers, visiting artist Claude Monet’s garden outside Paris is like stepping straight into one of his own paintings. Although when I went […]
Like any good narrative, the best walks also have a certain rhythm and structure. There’s a gradual introduction, rising to a climax, followed by a resolution. This is obvious when hiking in mountains or high country, where you ascend to a breathtaking lookout at the summit, before descending back to more gentle landscapes. For this […]
Geoff and I recently returned from a month in Italy, including two weeks hiking in the Dolomites, the uniquely spectacular mountains along the Austrian border. It was our first time in the Northern Hemisphere and we were both captivated by Italy’s people, food, history and, especially, natural landscapes (albeit re ‘landscape’, our knees were not […]
I have a friend who lives in France and she and her husband owned a beautiful, old, stone house in the Lot in south west France which they have just sold. I visited twice and each time the house, the plants and the countryside left me enchanted. It is, of course, in a very good […]
As a first time visitor to the Chelsea Flower Show in late May, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. So much to see in such a short time. The standard of horticulture, the level of presentation of plants and the sheer variety was even better than I had expected. With so much […]
Twice a year, a unique barge community of barge gardens floating on the Thames is opened to the public to raise money for charity. Known as the Downings Road Moorings or Garden Barge Square, the gardens can be viewed from the shore or river anytime but for a close-up view, you’ll need to visit on […]
I was very fortunate to visit La Louve in early June this year when taking a Ross Tour to Paris and Provence. How lucky we were with a glorious sunny day and just our group to be guided around this fascinating garden by the owner, Judith Pillsbury. La Louve meaning ‘she wolf’ was created by […]
My partner and I decided to celebrate 35 years together by holidaying in Europe, mainly France. We had always wanted to see and smell the lavender fields of Provence during the heat of summer, so we rented a house in a hamlet near the village of Roussillon. The hamlet was not especially charming, but the […]
Louisa Jones fell in love with France and Provence as a student in the late 1960s and lives there to this day. English friends said there were no important gardens in Provence but she soon realised they were thinking of flower gardens and that vernacular gardens which had evolved over millennia were not appreciated.
On a day when all manner of people turned out to publicly and conspicuously commemorate ANZAC Day, marching, singing, praying, dressing up in uniform, waving flags, wearing medals, beating drums, playing trumpets, bagpipes and horns, then gathering noisily with family and regiment mates in watering-holes from Gallipoli to Goondiwindi to Greymouth, I dug deep to […]
As we can read in this forum or elsewhere, gardening from a distance is far from easy, if not mad; awkward to plan and yet full of surprises. Last week I travelled to Germany for not entirely gardening related reasons but thought I might as well take some rare English bare-rooted fruit trees with me […]
Every year in north western Germany the worlds biggest plant show takes place. Essen, the 9th largest German city, plays host to over 1500 exhibitors from 40 different countries. They are all there to promote new plants as well as horticultural technologies, products and services. Essen 2013 just closed its doors, leaving its 60,000 visitors […]
No I haven’t been to Madeira. But according to Greg Redwood, one of my colleagues here at Kew, I should go there rather than to (mainland) Portugal. This was in response to me listing the places in Europe Lynda and I had hoped to visit while on this side of the world. Oh, well. Next […]
At 10 metres above the ground, maybe 10 metres wide, nearly 5 kilometres long, and packed with trees, shrubs and views of Parisian streets, the Promenade plantée is a trend setter and worth a look next time you are in town. OK, so it’s ranked 180th in Lonely Planet’s list of 1524 things to do […]
Having returned from a whirlwind tour of the UK, few places could have left a more lasting impression than the wondrous colourful transition of the leaves and progression into a deep winter’s sleep than that of the trees at Westonbirt Arboretum, on the west coast of England.
I recently popped over to Plant Postings to read about the amazing garden tour of Italy Beth is planning for herself and other bloggers. I just returned from a garden tour to England and eagerly wish I could join Beth’s group. As with most things I do, my tour was a bit unconventional.
Back home again after two weeks in France’s beautiful Loire Valley, its sights and sounds are still singing in my mind. Most of all I remember the ducks quacking gleefully as they zoomed in to land on the still green waters of the River Cher, then the soft splashing as they sailed off to go about […]
Sometimes it is hard to crystallise your thoughts about an event especially when there is so much visual white noise around. I found that after visiting Chelsea 2012. I have attended three Chelseas now, each separated by a period of 2 years and each time I try to distil the essence of the show in […]
Well it seems vegetables are hot. And, if they are colourful and ornamental, well they’re even hotter. If you want to see vegetables used to ornamental perfection, then I recommend a quick trip to France. Failing that, enjoy some photographs instead.
Trebah Garden is in the far west corner of Cornwall, half an hour or so by hedge-row lined roads from Falmouth (i.e. a couple of miles). ‘Trebah’ means house by the bay and indeed the family home looks over the garden down to a gorgeous bay.
The British really do take their love of gardening with them when they move to other parts of the world. I’ve just come back from a short stay in the Haut-Languedoc region of southern France. It turned out that our self-catering apartment was half of a house, and that in the other half lived the […]
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 […]
Having heard so much about Floriade in the Netherlands, I was keen to experience this world famous European garden event held every ten years and looking forward to two days soaking up the atmosphere in Venlo, a magnet for horticulturists and gardeners alike. Admittedly, I was anticipating a flower-fest of grand proportions with a strong eco […]
I’ve returned from my visit to Ionia, or at least the island of Chios, home of Homer and Mastic and once part of that Ancient Greek empire on the Aegean Sea. I learned many things including why the island has few trees. You will read about the pine forests (Pinus brutia) being susceptible to fire. That’s half the story. […]
The International Garden Festival at Chateau de Chaumont in France's Loire valley should be on the 'bucket list'…
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 […]
When I came across that familiar name in the obituary pages of the paper, Loulou de la Falaise I knew who she was. It’s not the sort of name that you could forget easily! It was quite a brief entry. It mentioned that in the 1960s she was a wild child and fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar and […]
When: June 03, 2020 to June 23, 2020
Countries: Belgium and the Rhine Valley
Highlights: This tour led by horticulturalist Sandra McMahon is a feast of splendid classic & contemporary private gardens, great museums and...
When: Available on demand/by appointment
Countries: France - Paris and the Ile de France
Highlights: Andre Le Nôtre, was the visionary landscape designer who created the legendary gardens at Versailles for Louis XIV. His classical...