21 Lovely Gardens To Visit This Summer

If last month’s Chelsea Flower Show has inspired you, a summer’s day is the ideal time to explore the country’s best open gardens. From a Japanese garden in the capital to a recently reopened 240-acre estate in Sussex, here are some of the loveliest places to visit.
Charleston House & Gardens, Sussex
PENELOPE FEWSTER

Charleston House & Gardens, Sussex

Much of Sussex is associated with the Bloomsbury group. Charleston in the pretty village of Firle is the former home of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and is now a museum and art gallery in the South Downs National Park. Its annual Festival of the Garden, being held this year from 14th to 17th July, is a great time to visit. Across the event, expect four days of live talks bringing together pioneering gardeners, designers, writers, artists, horticulturists and activists. This year’s theme explores the human connection with land, and the line between wilderness and cultivation, landscapes and gardens. 

Visit Charleston.org.uk

Great Dixter, Sussex

Great Dixter is an historic house, garden and a place of pilgrimage for horticulturists from across the world. It was originally the family home of gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd. Apart from a couple of mixed orchards and a scattering of trees, there were no gardens here when his family arrived in 1910. Once he returned from WWII, Great Dixter was the focus of his energy and enthusiasm, which fuelled over 40 years of books and articles. It’s now open to visitors, who can make their way around the 19 gardens that lie around the house. Our favourites are the Peacock Garden, Lower Moat and Long Border alongside the main house.

Visit GreatDixter.co.uk

Barbican Conservatory, London

With more than 2,000 species of exotic plants and trees, the Barbican Conservatory is a great way to spend an afternoon among plants in the centre of London – especially if the weather isn’t up to scratch. As well as tree ferns, date palms, and banana and ginger plants, there’s also a large collection of succulents and cacti to see. Don’t miss the koi carp and terrapins in the ponds. You can also stop by the Barbican Centre to see an exhibition, a number of which are free to view every month.

Visit Barbican.org.uk

Kew Gardens, Richmond

When the sun comes out, a trip to Kew Gardens is always a good idea. Once you’ve paid entry to the grounds, head to the main botanical gardens where there are over 500 acres of woodland to explore. The Rose Garden, currently home to 170 different species of rose, is a great place to lay your blanket for a picnic, as is The Arboretum which has plenty of shady spots. Next, make a beeline for the Mediterranean Garden where you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the landscapes of southern Europe. If you’re peckish in the afternoon, head to The Botanical restaurant to enjoy light plates or a traditional afternoon tea.

Visit Kew.org 

Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, Kent

This beautiful and historic 12-acre garden offers expansive views across the Weald of Kent. With five different gardens to choose from, you’re guaranteed some peace and quiet. If you’re looking to make a day of it, take advantage of the picnic benches and tables dotted around the gardens, or borrow a rug from the café, which serves lunches, hot drinks, ice-cream and homemade cakes. 

Visit RiverhillGardens.co.uk

Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey

Winkworth Arboretum was created in the 1930s by Dr Wilfred Fox, a local doctor, who wanted to preserve the wooded hillside near his home. Since bequeathing it to the National Trust, the estate has grown over 1,000 different species of trees and shrubs, many of which are extremely rare. The property has recently reopened its tearoom, which serves a range of snacks and hot drinks, although there are many ideal spots for an al fresco lunch. Winkworth Arboretum usually holds special events for children during the school holidays.

Visit NationalTrust.org.uk

Hatfield House & Grounds, Hertfordshire

Once the home of Henry VIII, Hatfield House is a Jacobean manor complete with five immaculately kept gardens, a private park and forestland. The gardens date from the early 17th century, when Robert Cecil employed John Tradescant the Elder to collect plants from all over Europe for his new home. The trees, bulbs, plants and fruit trees, which had never been grown before in England, form the basis of the fragrant gardens that visitors can explore today. Left your hamper at home? The Coach House Kitchen offers a deli-style menu which can be eaten in the grounds.

Visit Hatfield-House.co.uk

Wanstead Park, London

At over 6,000 acres, this former royal forest – which straddles the border between the capital and neighbouring Essex – is the largest open space in the London area. Wanstead Park is one of the forest’s prettiest spots, with a bluebell wood, three ponds and a child-friendly cycling trail. Easily reached from central London, the park also has a lovely café that sells sandwiches, ice-cream and hot drinks. Follow the signposts to Strawberry Hill in Loughton for a scenic walking route.

Visit CityofLondon.gov.uk

Basildon Park, Berkshire
NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES, HUGH MOTHERSOLE
Hughenden Manor Gardens, Buckinghamshire
NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES, HUGH MOTHERSOLE

Kyoto Garden at Holland Park, London

Holland Park is home to a beautiful 55-acre Japanese garden. This is one of the few spaces in London where you can see a range of native Japanese plants and flowers in an authentic setting. The garden was a gift from the city of Kyoto in 1991 to commemorate the long friendship between Japan and Great Britain. As well as a huge collection of koi carp, there are striking waterfalls, stone lanterns, beautiful maple trees, and peacocks wandering the grounds.

Visit RBKC.gov.uk

Basildon Park, Berkshire

Basildon Park is comprised of 400 acres of historic parkland and gardens in Reading. During the early summer months, the woodland becomes awash with bluebells, while the landscaped gardens can be appreciated year round. Little ones can search for wildlife deep in the woods, while adults can enjoy the views from the seated area on the outdoor terrace. If you don’t want to bring food from home, the on-site tearoom serve a range of sandwiches, drinks and light snacks. 

Visit NationalTrust.org.uk

Hughenden Manor Gardens, Buckinghamshire

National Trust-owned Hughenden Manor was once home to Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the vast parkland and forest surrounding the manor is a lovely setting for a walk or picnic – especially as such activities aren't permitted in the formal gardens. There are over 680 acres to explore, but some of the best spots can be found along the Boundary walking route which has beautiful views of the Chiltern Hills.

Visit NationalTrust.org.uk

The Newt in Somerset, Somerset
The Newt in Somerset, Somerset

The Newt in Somerset, Somerset

For a special day out, head to The Newt in Somerset. A direct train from London Paddington to Castle Cary followed by an eight-minute drive will transport you to one of the most stylish hotels in the country. The Georgian country house is surrounded by beautiful woodlands and gardens, which are accessible to those not staying at the hotel. A collection of garden restaurants serve seasonal fare, led by what is growing in the estate’s gardens and orchard. If you’ve got a head for heights, take an aerial walk through boughs of noble ash, then get hands on with soil, scents, botany and design at The Story of Gardening exhibition.

Visit TheNewtInSomerset.com

Osterley Park And House, London

Catch the train from central London to Isleworth to visit Osterley. As one of the last surviving estates in the capital, a trip here really feels like an escape to the countryside. The property dates to the 18th century and much of the house remains the same today. The gardens – recently restored to their former beauty as part of a six-year project – are the real star of the show, and a lovely afternoon can be spent rambling through the roses, vegetables beds and ancient meadows. Stop for takeaway refreshments at Osterley’s stable café after exploring the impressive estate. 

Visit NationalTrust.org.uk

Cliveden Estate, Berkshire 

Just over an hour’s drive from London, Cliveden Estate has some of the most beautiful views of the River Thames and Berkshire countryside. The National Trust site, which dates to the 17th century, is open most of the year where visitors can explore the woodlands and stunning landscaped gardens. During the summer, you can hire a boat on the lake – the inspiration behind Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic, The Wind in the Willows – while the winter months are best spent exploring the walking trails around the beautiful grounds. 

Visit NationalTrust.org.uk

Emmetts Garden, Kent

This Edwardian estate is home to an extensive range of exotic plants and tropical trees from around the world. Located on one of the highest spots in Kent, the gardens offer panoramic views over the Weald, and there are plenty of activities for families to enjoy. Find a quiet spot in the picnic grounds at lunchtime, then walk through the Fairy Kingdom where grandchildren can head on an adventure to meet the Fairy Queen, before exploring the wild play area.

Visit NationalTrust.org.uk

Verulamium Park, Hertfordshire

Commuter city St Albans sits right on the London border, so this particular garden is an easy one to visit in an afternoon. Once a Roman settlement, the city’s Verlanium Park is a large open space which circles a vast lake. Home to more than 100 acres of greenery, the park is split into three areas, with plenty of space for grandchildren to run around. Make sure to wander around the Roman ruins and visit the beach courts.

Visit EnjoyStAlbans.com

Sissinghurst Castle, Kent

Although Sissinghurst was once a prison in the 1700s, it’s now one of the most beautiful National Trust properties in the south-east. For an interesting day out, make the 90-minute drive from London to the Weald of Kent to walk around the 450-acre estate and climb to the top of the castle for panoramic countryside views. There’s a lovely walking trail around the castle, which can be completed in 90 minutes, passing a medieval moat and a beautiful lake. Pick up a coffee or sandwich at the Granary café on the estate or book an afternoon tea for a special treat. 

Visit NationalTrust.org.uk

Wakehurst, Sussex

The sister site to Kew Gardens, this house and botanical garden is now run by the National Trust. Home to the Millennium Seed Bank and over 500 acres of the world’s plants, this is a great place to visit with families: in Woodlands of the World, visitors can walk beneath the sweet gum trees of North America or search for the Wollemi pine, a 'living fossil' as old as dinosaurs, in Coates Wood; there are natural play spaces, a labyrinth and a series of talking totem poles. Away from children’s activities, there’s a 150-acre nature reserve, the Elizabethan Mansion – which houses an impressive collection of paintings – and a number of decent cafés and restaurants. Located in Ardingly, this is an ideal place to head for lunch and a walk after a morning at the famous antiques fair.

Visit Kew.org

Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, Sussex

Leonardslee House – home to Michelin-starred restaurant Interlude – has just added ten ensuite bedrooms, making it the perfect spot for a weekend away. All individually designed, each has interiors with designer wallpaper from Penny Morrison, scalloped headboards on king-sized beds, vintage furniture, and marble bathrooms with freestanding baths. Outdoors, you’ll find a three-acre vineyard and a 240-acre Grade I-listed garden that reopened in 2019 following a complete restoration, alongside parkland, lawns and forest areas. Look out for the rare colony of wallabies, which were introduced in 1889.

Visit LeonardsleeGardens.co.uk

UNSPLASH/EVIE FJORD

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