Make this a summer to remember and visit a few stunning gardens. Matt Biggs visits gardens all of the time and has selected five of his favourite summer gardens just for you.
Bishops Palace Garden, Wells, Somerset
There is evidence that a garden existed on the site, even before Bishop Jocelyn began his Palace around 1206. Over the years the gardens have changed under successive bishops and are now Grade II listed. There are fourteen acres of immaculately maintained, wonderfully romantic gardens interwoven with wells, streams and ancient ruins, all punctuated by surprise glimpses of the cathedral. Then add the colourful herbaceous borders, rose filled parterres, ancient trees and it truly is a magical place to stroll. Few gardens boast such diverse delights as a community garden, cultivated since Medieval times, an arboretum designed by Sir Harold Hillier and an imaginative play space for children, as creative as The Dragon’s Lair, but its heady mixture of style, romance and fun make this a ‘must visit’ garden this summer.
Arley Hall, Northwich, Cheshire
The highlight of this glorious garden is the double herbaceous border, about ninety yards long which was the first of its kind in Britain, and one of the longest, too. One border is backed by an old brick wall, the other by a dark yew hedge, both divided into five bays by giant yew buttresses. In the height of summer, the flowers, a riot of colour are complimented by the subtle green tones and textures of the leaves, it is a perfect painting with plants. You may not be able to garden on a grand scale but there are plenty of plant associations that can be comfortably translated to smaller gardens, plus fine examples of topiary, ancient trees a kitchen garden to covet and fabulous shrub borders but the double herbaceous border exceeds them all.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-upon-Avon
The great playwright William Shakespeare was a keen botanist and observer of plants, mentioning over 170 different kinds in his poems and plays. Summer is a wonderful time to wander around the childhood garden of cottage (actually a 12 roomed farmhouse) which belonged to the family of his wife, Anne Hathaway. Covering nine acres there is a cosy mix of lawns, richly coloured herbaceous borders and herbs; many of them common garden plants in Shakespeare’s day. Away from the more formal gardens there is a meadow, woodlands and an apple orchard containing 300 year old trees. Buy a copy of Botanical Shakespeare by Gerit Quealey and you’ll be able to identify all of the ‘Shakespeare’ plants and where they are quoted, to add to the fun.
Packwood House, Lapworth, Solihull
This gorgeous garden is known primarily for its yew garden said to represent the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ with twelve apostles and a crowd of listeners. This and the fabulous kitchen garden, its 300-year old meadow dotted with daffodils in spring, a rose walk and yellow border are always worth a visit. However, the late summer, ‘mixed borders’ are a real treat. Those on the terrace are almost forty metres long and filled with an astonishing mix of around fifteen hundred sub-shrubs, tender perennials and annuals to create a ‘hot’ border. It’s the continuing evolution of the early nineteenth century ‘mingled’ planting style proposed by the great garden writer John Claudius Loudon. The most mind blowing fact of all is that the borders are only one and a half metres deep at their widest point, it’s like a narrow corridor wallpapered in plants from ground level to well above head height. It is a wonderful opportunity to experience the rarely used ‘mingled style’ in a British garden and something that should not be missed.
Claremont Landscape Gardens, Esher
This beautiful pleasure grounds is the perfect location for a picnic in a well-chosen spot on a sunny day where you can relax and submerge yourself in the surroundings. It is one of the earliest examples of the English Landscape Garden, specifically designed for strolling and enjoying the ‘natural’ views; each designed to stir up different emotions from joy to melancholy. Started before the great garden at Stourhead, it has been touched by the collective genius of Charles Bridgeman, ‘Capability’ Brown, William Kent and John Vanburgh. One of the most impressive features is the turfed amphitheatre, covering three acres, the only surviving example in Europe. A grotto, perfectly placed groves of trees, an ornamental cottage and a camellia terrace simply add to its elegant charm. Queen Victoria used to play there as a child; confirmation that it is a wonderful place to spend a relaxing afternoon.