The great outdoors is a fantastic place for children to play, explore and learn. A garden offers all this and more as a contained space full of botanical beauty and a variety of different environments. Not every garden is child friendly, but these days many are embracing the benefits of younger visitors and adding a range of delights to keep the little ones occupied. Kit them out with a sunhat, plenty to drink and a thick layer of suncream and enjoy the summer.
We pooled and plundered the expertise of some of our team, contributors and friends to find five great gardens to visit with children.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN3 9QG
Our well-travelled correspondent Matt Biggs has visited numerous gardens on his adventures and picked Groombridge as a great place for kids. It also comes highly recommended by Martyn Cox, who has guest presented with Richard on QVC.
An enchanted forest encapsulates the magical spirit of the world of Harry Potter and Lord of the rings. Designed by TV gardener and land artist Ivan Hicks, it’s a magnet for the kids with rope bridges, tree houses, look out posts and plenty of hidden surprises. It’s fantasy woodland that will delight all ages and is also richly seasoned with fallow deer, squirrels and other wildlife. Don’t miss the Secret Garden the Drunken Garden and the giant chess set.
Lowther Castle & Gardens
Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2HH
Our intrepid news hound Matt Appleby suggested a few gardens, but recommended Lowther in Cumbria. The stunning Lowther Castle is a dynamic and unusual place to visit with attractions for every age group. But it is the magnificent Lost Castle that keeps the children enthralled and captivated. Designed so that adults and children can enjoy playing together in the greet outdoors, it’s a huge adventure playground, set in a timber fairy tale castle that echoes the structure of Lowther Castle itself. Complete with turrets, zip wires, walkways and slides it’s the perfect place to make magical memories with your youngsters and have a great day out. And there are some fabulous gardens too for the adults and any little greenfingers.
Bowood House & Gardens
Calne, Wiltshire SN11 0LZ
Lisa Barrett helps keep Richard and the website team on the straight and narrow (no mean feat) and juggles family commitments with two young children. Lisa’s recommendation is Bowood House in Wiltshire (which is also recommended by Martyn Cox).
The surrounding estate is a Capability Brown landscape and there’s a private walled garden with kitchen garden, formal borders and glasshouses that is occasionally open for tours. But it is the activities for kids that set this place apart. Children of all ages can enjoy the fun and games generally or you can have a birthday party to remember in this idyllic setting. There’s soft play for the little ones.
And a huge adventure playground with high wires, scramble nets and an exciting ‘Space Dive’. There’s a pirate galleon equipped with rigging and a crow’s nest that’s just perfect for budding Jack Sparrows. For the animal lovers the Tractor Ted’s Little Farm gives the children the opportunity to get up close with some farm yard animals and learn about farming and the countryside.
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AE
020 8332 5655
Pippa Greenwood needs little introduction, her horticultural career has included decades of garden visiting. Pippa’s vote is for Kew Gardens. It’s where she was introduced to the fascinating world of plants and somewhere that she took her kids when they were small. One of the great things about Kew gardens is that it is huge, with plenty of diverse areas to explore. From the ‘wild and wooded’ areas complete with a carpet of leaves and cones with beetles and creepy crawlies to examine and admire, to the extraordinary treetop walkway and the walk-in badger sett. The site is seasoned with an eclectic collection of phenomenal glasshouses that never cease to be awesome, packed full of botanical wonders from insect eating plants that Pippa describes as ‘little boy heaven’ to cacti and succulents that are bound to attract and inspire even the most truculent teen. There’s plenty to enthrall young adults too and young and old, it’s a fantastic place for the whole family.
The Alnwick Garden
Denwick Lane, Alnwick, Northumberland, NE66 1YU
The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland gets my vote. It’s simply stunning for adults and children alike. Large formal lawns provide space for rough and tumble, but there’s plenty to inspire and educate all year round. There are magnificent water features, small and large, highlighting the fascinating movement of this life essential liquid and spectacular borders packed with flowering plants. Don’t miss the poison garden, accessed through a locked gate, to learn the darker secrets of some of nature’s most dangerous plants – some are growing in cages to protect the visitors, while others are quite surprising. There’s a bamboo labyrinth, a Treehouse restaurant and a fabulous ornamental garden at the top of the site.
But the castle next-door is also a winner, its starring role as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry in the Harry Potter films, makes it a thumbs up venue for a summers’ day out. The kids can dress up in medieval costume and join the Knight’s Quest, face the terrifying dragon in the Dragon’s Quest, get some broomstick training in.