UK in bloom: five brilliant British gardens

Britain's garden designers just keep getting better as this year's Chelsea Flower Show proved. And as Jeff Holman discovered, there’s plenty more where that came from

From Diarmuid Gavin’s floating garden to Stockton Drilling’s ‘Winds of Change’, this year’s Chelsea Flower Show has shown that British garden designers are among the best in the world. But if you didn’t make it to Chelsea, there’s still a world of horticultural inspiration available at the UK’s many public gardens. Whether it’s an ornamental rose garden like the one at Castle Howard that takes your fancy or one of the National Gardens Scheme’s little hidden gems, somewhere in the UK is a garden that will bring out your inner Alan Titchmarsh. Here’s five to get you started.

Holcombe Court, Devon
An elegant garden in the shadow of historic Tudor manor, Holcombe Court, it’s only open once a year (Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th of June) but if you’ve got a spare afternoon, it’s well worth checking out. There’s a beautiful wall garden adjacent to the house, which includes four ancient trout ponds. Inside the walls you’ll find a faithfully restored Tudor ‘parterre’ garden to explore. Elsewhere, the Victorian rockery and the expansive, shady woodland garden are highlights.
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Penshurst Place, Kent
Just 26 miles outside of London, Penshurst Place in Tonbridge is another National Garden Scheme property, with a garden that dates as far back as 1346. Covering a whopping 11 acres, the garden contains over a mile of yew hedges, which are used as walls to separate the various sections. Seasonal highlights include the brilliantly coloured 100-metre peony border section, which will come into bloom during the next couple of weeks.
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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
An iconic British institution containing thousands of rare species, Kew has set up themed mini gardens, featuring plant species from across the world, for the summer season. Installations include an Africa garden, one inspired by the Amazon rainforest and another featuring California’s magnificent giant redwoods. Until the 25th September, Kew will also host the ‘Hard Rain’ photography exhibition, which was inspired by the Bob Dylan song, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. The exhibition chronicles the effects of climate change, including habitat erosion and the extinction of plant and animal species
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Conishead Priory, Cumbria
The grounds of the 12th century Conishead Priory are home to a Buddhist retreat and some wonderful gardens. A combination of natural woodland and formal gardens, the 70 acre site is situated on the shores of Morecambe Bay and is full of picturesque paths leading down to the beach. The woodland includes rare broadleaf species such the cedar of Lebanon and Ginko, and is a riot of bluebells in the spring.
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Crarae Garden, Argyll
The Crarae Garden is a 100-acre woodland garden, which according to garden enthusiast, Nigel Price, features a ‘Himalayan blend of naturalistic planting.’ Translated, that means a motley collection of temperate plants and trees from around the world, including some particularly striking azaleas and rhododendrons. Thanks to the presence of Crarae Burn, the garden is home to a veritable zoo of river species including otters, voles and kingfishers. Other species include the endangered red squirrel and the pine marten.
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