Gardens at our historic homes have been inspired by Versailles, China and India. Best of all, they’re still open, so why not… let the world come to you
- ‘A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted,’ Sir Winston Churchill said of his country home in Westerham
- Faversham, Kent’s oldest market town, is home to Belmont House, where gardens stretch across 14 acres
- Wander Kentwell Hall’s grounds and you’ll have one of England’s finest moated Tudor houses as a backdrop
Wake up and smell the roses.
There’s a beautiful world of gardens at Britain’s ravishing historic homes waiting to be explored, from wisteria-covered walls to wonderful water features and bewitching woods where you’ll lose all sense of time. Here’s our pick of the best.
‘A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted,’ Sir Winston Churchill said of his country home in Westerham, Kent. The stunning estate was his refuge from the political world from 1922 until his death in 1965. The gardens inspired him to paint, plan and even build – he did much of the brickwork for its Walled Garden.
‘A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted,’ Sir Winston Churchill said of his country home in Westerham, Kent (pictured)
There are lakes with black swans, beds of tender sweet williams and extravagantly lofty alliums. Evidence of the joy of family life is everywhere – from the Golden Rose Avenue, planted by the Churchills’ children for their parents’ golden wedding anniversary, to the Marycot, a sweet little playhouse built for his youngest daughter, Mary (nationaltrust.org.uk).
Check in: Immerse yourself in another period of English history by checking in to Hever Castle, where you can stay in the Astor or Anne Boleyn wings. B&B from £135 a night (hevercastle.co.uk).
This strong sense of being well cared for and loved by a family is evident in spades at Arley Hall & Gardens in Cheshire, the family home of Lord and Lady Ashbrook since the 15th Century.
Arley Hall & Gardens, the family home of Lord and Lady Ashbrook since the 15th Century, has gardens with a fantastical feel
Its double herbaceous border is the star attraction and is thought to have been the first planted in England.
From the woodland walk to the topiary, the walled garden, with its fountain centrepiece, to the tea cottage set in a rose garden, each area has its own fantastical feel (arleyhallandgardens.com).
Check in: In the leafy village of Mobberley, the Roebuck Inn has a Provencal decor – think French antique beds and copper bathtubs. B&B from £115 a night (roebuckinnmobberley.co.uk).
The Roebuck Inn has a Provencal decor – think French antique beds and copper bathtubs
Faversham, the oldest market town in Kent, is also home to Belmont House, where gardens stretch across 14 acres encompassing orchards, parkland and formal spaces. It’s a ravishing setting for the distinctive Georgian manor house, designed by architect Samuel Wyatt, and there’s something to discover no matter what time of year you visit.
Found behind a clock tower, the walled garden has a magical feel, with wisteria-covered walls, a hidden grotto and fragrant rose borders. The kitchen garden is bursting with vegetables, fruit trees and nodding blooms. Look out for the sundial, which dates from 1790 (belmont-house.org).
Check in: The cosy 14th Century Sun Inn has exposed beams and inglenook fireplaces, while Sunday lunch does a roaring trade. B&B from £81 a night (sunfaversham.co.uk).
To take a stroll in the grounds of Kentwell Hall in Sudbury, Suffolk, is to have one of England’s finest moated Tudor houses as a backdrop. This pretty redbrick stately home is set in more than 30 acres of parkland, which have evolved over the centuries to offer year-round beauty. There are bridges, romantic formal gardens and a wildlife pond, a dreamy maze of lavender, a large herb garden and magnificent giant cedars.
Mind your step and watch out for the ha-ha on the front lawn – a boundary where the ground falls away in a small cliff edge (kentwell.co.uk).
Check in: One of England’s prettiest villages, Long Melford is home to Long Melford Swan, a classic restaurant-with-rooms offering a delicious seasonal menu and cheerful bedrooms. B&B from £100 a night (longmelfordswan.co.uk).
Expect a radically different theme in another Suffolk beauty – Ickworth House in Bury St Edmunds. With its Neo-Classical rotunda, towering cypress trees and manicured hedges, Ickworth’s Italianate garden – the earliest surviving example of its kind in England – is like finding a little slice of Italy in the UK.
Ickworth House in Bury St Edmunds has a Neo-Classical rotunda, towering cypress trees and manicured hedges
On returning from the Grand Tour in Europe, the 1st Marquess of Ickworth wanted to recreate an aristocratic version of Italy, and this Mediterranean feel lingers on. Surrounded by 1,800 acres of parkland, there are also wildflower meadows, a new all-weather trail and a walled garden bursting with life. Seek out the reflective Temple Garden, with its mix of herbs and grasses set against a classic summerhouse – a modern take on the Italian theme (nationaltrust.org.uk/ickworth).
Check in: The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa, which dates from the 15th Century, is wonderfully cocooning with oak beams, open fires, individually designed rooms and galleried restaurant. B&B from £145 a night (theswanatlavenham.co.uk).
If you prefer your gardens to have a French design, then Wrest Park in Silsoe, Bedfordshire, should appeal to your sensibilities. Inspired by the 17th Century Palace of Versailles, these dazzling gardens are often cited as among the most spectacular outdoor spaces in England.
If you prefer your gardens to have a French design, then Wrest Park i n Silsoe, Bedfordshire, should appeal to your sensibilities
Spread across 90 acres, the formal areas were created more than 150 years ago and there’s a surprise around every corner.
Expect low-level planting and pathways of classic French parterres, ornate Italianate marble fountains and a Chinese bridge and temple. Recent restoration work means the fabulous baroque pleasure pavilion is looking resplendent again (english-heritage.org.uk).
Check in: The White Hart in Ampthill, an 18th Century coaching inn, is now a pub and boutique hotel offering cosy restaurant dining. Don’t miss the mural above the bar fireplace, which dates from 1646. B&B from £83 a night (thewhitehartampthill.co.uk).
In the 1930s, socialite Maude Russell made 18th Century Mottisfont her home. Her passion for the arts meant the mansion in the market town of Romsey, Hampshire, complete with medieval abbey, became a draw for writers and artists such as Rex Whistler and Ian Fleming.
In the 1930s, socialite Maude Russell made 18th Century Mottisfont her home, where the largest London plane tree in the country thrives
She also let her artistic flair loose in the gardens, and today lavender walks, a circle of beeches and the largest London plane tree in the country thrive here.
Mottisfont is famous for roses, which are at their best in June when blooms tumble from pergolas, nod over archways and adorn walls. For now, the enchanting winter garden with flowering shrubs and perennials, chosen for colour and scent, will lift spirits (nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont).
Check in: Expect laid-back luxury at The Pig hotel in Brockenhurst, where you can feast on kitchen-garden produce and book a massage in the Potting Shed. B&B from £185 a night (thepighotel.com).
An equally alluring experience awaits at Stourhead in Stourton, Wiltshire, where Henry Hoare II created one of the finest examples of English landscape gardening with his take on Arcadian paradise. Surrounding the Palladian mansion, the scenic lake is the focal point, with temples, grottos and follies adding to the sense of grandeur. There’s even a pantheon based on the original in Rome.
At Stourhead in Stourton, Wiltshire, Henry Hoare II created one of the finest examples of English landscape gardening with his take on Arcadian paradise
Ramble among the trees – many of which are rare – and linger over the five-arch bridge and you’ll lose all sense of time (nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead).
Check in: You’ll find The Grosvenor Arms on the High Street in the hilltop town of Shaftesbury offering chic rooms, a buzzy bar and restaurant. B&B from £135 a night (grosvenorarms.co.ukgrosvenorarms.co.uk).
For escapism at its very best, head to the unlikely location of Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire. The family-run estate of Sezincote, with its copper dome and minarets, will transport you to the Indian city of Agra.
The house, built in 1805, is a rare example in the UK of Neo-Mughal architecture, and the gardens are a stunning reflection of this Indian aesthetic. Covering some 3,500 acres of Cotswolds countryside, the designs were influenced by renowned landscape designer Humphry Repton and are home to a 200-year-old Mogul Indian palace, complete with elephant statues, grottos, waterfalls and canals reminiscent of the Taj Mahal (sezincote.co.uk).
Pure escapism: Elephant sculptures in the 3,500 acres of India-inspired Sezincote in Gloucestershire
Check in: The Wild Rabbit, in Kingham, is a gorgeous, honey-stone shrine to country living. Expect organic cuisine, beautifully designed rooms and a rustic-chic vibe. B&B from £140 a night (thewildrabbit.co.uk).
There’s more extravagance on display at Biddulph Grange Gardens in Staffordshire, where a playful Victorian garden takes you on a journey across the globe.
Created by horticulturist James Bateman to display his collection of plants from his travels, there’s a re-creation of a Himalayan glen, an extraordinary Egyptian garden – with sphinxes, a grand temple doorway and topiary obelisks – and a Chinese garden with pagodas and towers.
Oriental style: The view from a pagoda in the China Garden at Biddulph Grange, run by the National Trust
The garden is also famous for its dahlia walk, magnificent rhododendrons and the oldest surviving golden larch in Britain (nationaltrust.org.uk/biddulph-grange-garden).
Check in: The ten-room Duncombe Arms in Ellastone is an idyllic pub offering a modern British menu. B&B from £170 a night (duncombearms.co.uk).
With a line-up of iconic names behind its gardens, it’s no wonder Hestercombe in Taunton is so theatrical. Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll are responsible for the Edwardian formal garden, with its precise geometric shapes and vivacious plants, while the Georgian Landscape Garden was designed in the 1750s by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde and has lakes and follies to explore.
There’s also a Victorian Shrubbery, which has a delightful yew tunnel. Wherever you roam, you’ll catch sublime views over the lush Somerset countryside (hestercombe.com).
Hestercombe in Taunton has an Edwardian formal garden, a Georgian Landscape Garden and a Victorian Shrubbery
Check in: Bed down at The Lord Poulett Arms in Hinton-St-George. This thatched pub oozes character with its exposed beams, flagstone floors and country-chic decor. B&B from £90 a night (lordpoulettarms.com).
If the equally iconic name of Capability Brown is not enough to lure you to Temple Newsam in Leeds, perhaps the mix of specialised plant collections and vibrant rose displays alongside a working rare-breed farm will.
The splendid Tudor-Jacobean mansion has parkland designed by our most famous landscape architect, plus a Georgian walled garden and formal south garden with beech and box hedges, and an Instagram-ready, sunshine-yellow laburnum archway (museumsandgalleries.leeds.gov.uk/temple-newsam).
If the iconic name of Capability Brown is not enough to lure you to Temple Newsam in Leeds, perhaps the mix of specialised plant collections and vibrant rose displays alongside a working rare-breed farm will
Check in: In the farming village of Harome, the thatched-roof Star Inn has quaint rooms and a Michelin-starred restaurant. B&B from £150 a night (thestaratharome.co.uk).
Keep cameras at the ready at another stunning Jacobean estate, Stanway House, set in the heart of the Cotswolds and home to some of the most impressive water gardens in the country and the tallest gravity fountain in the world – which shoots water up to 300ft.
Created in the 1720s, it features ponds, waterfalls, a grand canal and a dramatic cascade of water running from a pyramid folly. Wide lawn avenues, framed with ancient trees, are made even more peaceful with the soundtrack of trickling water.
Stanway House in the Cotswolds is home to the tallest gravity fountain in the world – which shoots water up to 300ft
Look out for the recently restored 13th Century watermill, which once again produces flour from wheat grown in the grounds (stanwayfountain.co.uk).
Check in: The chocolate-box-pretty The Swan, set on the banks of the River Coln in Bibury, has rooms carved out of weavers’ cottages. B&B from £136 a night (cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk/the-swan-hotel/).
- Check online to see if advance booking is required. For more information, see Hudson’s Guide 2020, priced £17.99 and available at visitheritage.co.uk.
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