12 Most Beautiful Gardens to Visit in England
There’s something nerdy (and kind of adorable) about England’s centuries-old fascination with—and subsequent mastery of—gardening. “It’s certainly true to say that we love plants,” admits Mike Calnan, the Head of Gardens at the National Trust, which maintains over 300 historically significant houses and gardens throughout England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
American horticulture enthusiasts are catching on, with many making it a primary reason for traveling to the U.K. In fact, gardens have become so popular that 2016 was officially declared the Year of the English Garden. If you’re wondering exactly where to go to experience the country’s brightest flower borders, most eye-catching topiary, and stateliest 18th-century gardens, then you’re in luck. Read on for our top picks.
Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire
This unique garden was the brainchild of wealthy British landowner—and avid traveler—James Bateman, who attempted to recreate some of the faraway landscapes he visited in the 19th-century. Today, you can still pass through a series of exotic displays, like an Egyptian tomb-inspired passage guarded by a pair of sphinx. In the intimate China Garden, a red pagoda looms over the pond with carved wooden bridges, bamboo, and the oldest surviving golden larch in Britain (a type of conifer tree, brought from China in the 1850s).
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire
How does a green patch of land get promoted from humble garden to coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site? By also being home to spectacular monastic ruins, a medieval deer park, and views across neighboring River Skell. This Georgian-era water garden amazes visitors with its beautiful serene lakes, neo-classical temples, and stone statuary.
Hidcote Manor Garden, Gloucestershire
Step back in time at this 17th-century manor house, where doorways reveal a succession of intricate and distinctive mini gardens. The effect is a bit like walking through the maze in Alice in Wonderland—meandering stone paths, bright pockets of flowers, deep green lawns, a glasshouse, and an orchard all call out for exploration. You never know quite what you’ll stumble on next—and that’s part of its allure.
Located on the edge of England’s pastoral Lake District, this medieval fortified home opens onto 1,600 acres that are perfect for road tripping families: there’s a 1.5-mile long “Wild Trail” with obstacles, rope swings, and hidden animal sculptures. Along with the surrounding orchards and formal Dutch gardens, the castle is best known for its limestone rock garden, a moss-covered paradise fed by trickling streams and pools, containing over 200 species of conifer and fern.
Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire
Wimpole is the height of English country pomp and splendor, a turreted red brick mansion surrounded by meticulously cultivated grounds, with rolling farmland, sweeping gravel walkways and vibrant flowerbeds. Beyond the farm itself (where youngsters can get acquainted with baby pigs, and even try milking a cow), the 12-acres burst to life each summer with floral displays—think tulips, daisies and foxtail lilies—in the thousands. There’s also a separate 18th-century walled garden that supplies veggies to the on-site restaurant.
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall
This once-abandoned garden was restored in the 1990s after decades of overgrowth and is now one of the premiere botanical destinations in England. The 200-acre plot is filled with enchanting grottoes, jungle walks (which feature tropical plants not normally associated with this part of the world, like banana and palm trees), a collection of lakes, and a farm full of cows, sheep, ducks, and geese.
Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire
Thousands of visitors show up annually to this historic estate, but it’s big enough—over 3,800 acres, to be exact—that its wooded trails and grassy meadows never really feel crowded. Near the entrance, a majestic avenue of lime trees claims to be the longest in all of Europe, and at the park’s center, a winding lake that spans four miles is a prime spot for picnics and bird watching. A four-acre walled garden, bursting with California poppies, a large greenhouse, and a variety of fruits and vegetables (many of which are used at the adjacent café) is another highlight.
Leeds Castle, Kent
This 1,000-year-old Norman castle (and former palace of Henry VIII) includes the Culpepper Garden, where the original occupants grew squash and tomatoes back in the 1600s. There’s also the Wood Garden, where daffodils and narcissi bloom along the river.
Sheffield Park, East Sussex
If you’re en route to Brighton from London, consider a stop at this peaceful, 18th-century estate garden. The exotic and rare trees make it a top pick for families, who spend entire afternoons wandering the Ringwood Toll, which offers sights of burly Giant Sequoias, Great Oaks, and other (less giant) branches for climbing. Painters and photographers, plan on visiting in late summer and fall when an explosion of color transforms the five foliage-rimmed lakes into great rings of fire.
Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent
This acclaimed garden is the legacy of 20th century poet Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicholson. Anchored by the dramatic tower of Sissinghurst Castle, the property consists of a series of small enclosures, the most popular being the White Garden, which contains bleeding hearts (a pink, heart-shaped flower), star jasmine, robust echinacea, and tulips (among others).
RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey
A flagship of England’s Royal Horticultural Society, this world-renowned spot maintains a staff of 90 groundskeepers to keep things looking fresh. Exploring its long, polished lawns and delicately planted flowerbeds is like a crash course in high-style English gardening. Take a walk through its dense wooded trails, listen to songbirds, and admire the garden’s architectural accents, which include a giant glass house the size of 10 tennis courts.
Stillingfleet Lodge Garden, York
Flanked by 18th-century farm buildings, this private garden—though tiny—is one of the dreamiest in England. There’s a walled courtyard with a picket gate and stone archways, a meadow brimming with wildflowers, and a small pond featuring water lilies, marigolds and ferns. Tall beech trees hang over the grounds with gnarled branches. There’s an explanation for the all-natural, cottage-y look: Stillingfleet, unlike other grand estates throughout England, is carefully tended by the same family who’s lived here since the 1970s.