Gar­dens for all sea­sons and rea­sons

THE GREEN TOURIST It’s a tan­gle of grasses and corn­flower, poppy and clover

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - TIGGY SALT THE SPEC­TA­TOR

VIS­IT­ING win­ter gar­dens in Eng­land is a soli­tary pas­time, lend­ing it­self to the mis­an­thrope, but is highly rec­om­mended. When it’s so cold not even your dog wants to come with you, seize the mo­ment, spurred on by the smug prom­ise of self-im­prove­ment.

Un­for­tu­nately, many of the best gar­den gates are closed and can only be imag­ined or glimpsed by chance, such as Hert­ford­shire’s Hat­field, in the film Or­lando, star­ring Tilda Swin­ton; her blanched an­drog­yny is ma­jes­ti­cally am­pli­fied by the frosted maze and stan­dard­ised Quer­cus ilex of this great gar­den through which he/she runs.

There are other pos­si­bil­i­ties, how­ever. Pain­swick Ro­coco Gar­den in Glouces­ter­shire is a gem, cham­pi­oned for its rare and abun­dant snow­drops. Hamp­ton Court Palace has an em­bar­rass­ment of at­trac­tions; the old­est hedge-planted maze in Bri­tain and the Baroque Privy Gar­den of Wil­liam III of­fer struc­ture and form while their her­ba­ceous bed­fel­lows rest.

If the weather is too foul, go in­side; see the Great Vine, neatly and cor­rectly pruned since 1768, it is the old­est known ex­am­ple of viti­cul­ture in the world. Gar­dens in spring are a bit more fun and oth­ers can be bribed to come with you if you’ve tired of your own com­pany or no­body has con­grat­u­lated you on your ear­lier lone­some zeal.

Caer­hays in Corn­wall was de­scribed to me by a teenage boy, the most re­luc­tantly en­thu­si­as­tic mem­ber of that species ever met, as ‘‘quite cool’’.

Why? The win­ning com­bi­na­tion of cli­mate and eri­ca­ceous soil cause rhodo­den­dron, mag­no­lia and camel­lia to flour­ish in psychedelic colour and as­ton­ish­ing scale. Go not for the gaudy riot of Jelly Tots-coloured tulips and other low-grow­ing spring bulbs (though I love those, too), but for the big-scale stuff.

Sum­mer gar­dens abound, the choice over­whelms. Most of us know all the prizewin­ners so, for a change, try Sticky Wicket in Dorset, a 2ha wild­flower gar­den left to its own de­vices, due to the re­fresh­ingly hon­est con­fes­sion of ‘‘ex­haus­tion’’ by Pam Lewis, its founder.

It stands for ev­ery­thing we are meant to be do­ing in our gar­dens th­ese days: no fer­tilis­ers or pes­ti­cides and min­i­mal hu­man in­ter­ven­tion. It’s a tan­gle of grasses and corn­flower, poppy and clover — heaven.

For au­tumn view­ing, try any of the well-es­tab­lished ar­bore­tums, such as that of north York­shire’s Cas­tle Howard, ‘‘ Kew at Cas­tle Howard’’, which de­serves loud men­tion. Planted over 50ha, it has been en­riched since its foun­da­tion in 1975, and is home to an im­por­tant col­lec­tion of spec­i­men trees.

The en­tire grounds of the es­tate run to about 400ha. There are won­der­ful build­ings to be seen, set beau­ti­fully in their land­scape: the Mau­soleum, the Tem­ple of the Four Winds and the At­las Foun­tain of 1853, not to men­tion Van­burgh’s master­piece, the house it­self, in­side and out, make it a desti­na­tion killing at least five birds with one stone.

As with Hat­field, it can be en­joyed from the sofa — see Brideshead Re­vis­ited, the 1981 orig­i­nal se­ries, that is, not the re­gur­gi­ta­tion of the re­make.

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