Travel Notebook

OTUK Gardens

Spring has sprung and with the warmer weather come thoughts of leisurely afternoons spent in the garden. My mind always returns to my mum’s meticulous gardens when we were growing up and so I thought a bit of insight into favorite gardens in England and Scotland might be welcome by those traveling this spring and summer. I’ve asked garden guru Caroline Charnock of Original Travel UK to be our guest blogger this week. Here’s a list of her “can’t-miss” greeneries, many of which are a bit off-the-beaten-path and less touristy.

Midlands Gardens

Coughton Court in Warwickshire (North Cotswolds): This stunning house has been home to the Throckmorton family since 1409. It was gifted to the National Trust in 1946 but the family still live there. If you love roses come, in June or July; the Rose Labyrinth at Coughton boasts over 75 different varieties of roses and has won prestigious awards from the World Federation of Rose Societies. The walled garden here is also very special, comprised of a series of “garden rooms.” It’s well worth visiting the house as well as it holds many treasures. The famous Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was hatched and conceived by a member of the Catholic Throckmorton family and you can find out much more about this at Coughton Court.

I love stopping off at David Austin Roses in Shropshire on my way from London to Manchester to visit my son at university there. Their show gardens in Albrighton, where their nurseries are, are really worth a visit if you are in the Midlands (near Birmingham, Chester or Manchester). Over 700 varieties of roses are at their peak in June and July. They are beautifully laid out in a series of gardens. David Austin even offers a free design service of which I’ve recently made good use.

Stone House Cottage Garden and Nursery

Stone House Cottage Garden and Nursery in Worcestershire: The owners have created a really unusual garden featuring some very rare and interesting plants. They have built themselves a series of walled gardens and unique brick follies that create microclimates for one of the largest collections of rare plants in the country. Stop into the nursery to purchase some of these extraordinary plants.

Southern England

Shute House in Dorset: This private house with stunning gardens was designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. The house opens by appointment only, and it is a stunning example of Jellicoe’s landscaping with a famous “rill” and water feature. 

If you love “rills,” then check out Hestercombe Gardens to view beautifully laid-out formal terraces designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens with planting design by Gertrude Jekyll. The gardens are much larger beyond the formal terraces designed by Lutyens and Jekyll; you have a Victorian shrubbery, Georgian landscape gardens and woodland walks — great for a family visit.

While I was on my South of England travels, I also visited:

Mapperton House in Dorset, a jewel set seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the beautiful Dorset countryside and the country home of the Earls of Sandwich. The house and grounds have been used for location filming, notably Far from the Madding Crowd with Carey Mulligan. The romantic valley garden was laid out in the 1920s, complete with grottoes, ornamental birds, animals and fountains. You can visit the house as well on open days.

East Lambrook Manor Gardens in Somerset: Margery Fish created this, the original “cottage” garden, in the 1930s when she and her husband escaped the dangers of central London during the onset of WWII. This is a charming, relatively small garden — a garden that was created on a more domestic scale, requiring less maintenance and which made gardening a much more accessible pastime, not only meant for the wealthy who could afford gardeners and staff. Margery was a journalist and wrote many articles and books about the creation of the garden at East Lambrook.  

After your visit to the garden, pop over the road to the Rose and Crown for a pint and a pub lunch — a quintessentially English country pub set in its own charming gardens.

West Coast of Scotland

Achamore on the island of Gigha is one of the more accessible island gardens and boasts expansive views over to the islands of Islay and Jura. The pond area offers many chances to glimpse wildlife and the Bamboo Maze is fun for all ages.

An Cala on the Isle of Seil – there’s a bridge! – was designed in the 1930s and is one of the best privately owned west coast gardens even now as it approaches historical status. Look for Japanese ornamental cherry trees, azaleas and the owners’ great love, roses, including one border of thriving Betty Prior.

Arduaine, near Oban is one of the finest of the west coast’s many woodland gardens. Rhododendron aficionados adore this headland garden for its vast collection of species and hybrids – April and May are the best time for viewing the rhoddies.

Glenarn is another privately owned woodland garden, celebrating 75 years this year. Again, this garden is known for its rhododendron collection; there are a few remaining on property from the 19th century.

And Inveraray Castle, headquarters of Clan Campbell and the notorious Dukes of Argyll, with a spectacular setting on the edge of a loch and buckets of history in the Castle as well as stunning gardens.

Thank you to Caroline for her garden insights. For more information on these or other gardens in the UK, email me and I’ll put you in touch with the lovely and knowledgeable team at Original Travel UK.