Discover the most enchanting, evocative spaces to visit in Britain, and ways to add romance to your home plot
Discover the most enchanting, evocative spaces to visit in Britain
Charming and idyllic, romantic gardens have a sense of timelessness and nostalgia – restorative retreats from the modern world, and places where we find delight, hope and succour. They come in many different forms – from dreamy courtyards bursting with blooms, to rolling parklands – but they all appeal to something essential in us. They have the qualities to, for a brief moment at least, place us somewhere that we can rediscover our sense of wonder, and indulge our imaginations.
There are many elements that create romance in a garden, from wildflower meadows, hidden grottoes and dreamy ruins, intimate corners in which to carry out passionate clinches, to rosestrewn bowers. Here we reveal the stories behind a selection of some of the most romantic gardens to visit in the UK, and their wonders to enjoy.
Described by Alan Titchmarsh as ‘a fairytale cottage set in an Arcadian landscape’, Hotel Endsleigh is a Grade I-listed historic house with views over the River Tamar and across to Cornwall. The 100-acre grounds were laid out by famous landscape designer Humphry Repton 200 years ago, and feature woodland walks with grottoes and follies, as well as formal areas and an arboretum. The gardens are open every day, free to guests and, for a small fee, for non-guests. To discover more, tours with the head gardener are also available. (Tel: 01822 870000; hotelendsleigh.com/garden)
One of the most famous gardens in the world, and thought by many to be the most romantic, Sissinghurst Castle was home to Vita Sackvillewest and her husband Harold Nicolson. They both indulged in affairs, including Vita’s dalliance with Virginia Woolf, but the marriage lasted and they combined their skills to create this garden of rooms together; Harold laying out the structural design, and Vita creating the colourful and full effervescent plantings, which became a cornerstone of the English garden style. For a truly special experience, stay the night in the Priest’s House, and enjoy having the gardens all to yourself.
(Tel: 01580 710700; nationaltrust.org.uk/ sissinghurst-castle-garden)
Alfriston Clergy House, Sussex
Alfriston Clergy House is a quintessential cottage garden laid out in the 1920s; a wistful space of charming disorder, full to the brim with colourful blooms. The National Trust took it on as the organisation’s first ever property in 1896, with founder Octavia Hill describing the medieval thatched Alfriston as the ‘epitome of old England’. With its enchanting riverside location, the garden features a raised herbaceous border, a bountiful kitchen plot and an orchard. (Tel: 01323 871961; nationaltrust.org.uk/alfriston-clergy-house)
Painswick Rococo Gardens, Gloucestershire
A unique garden, created in the 18th century in flamboyant style by a striving middle-class gentleman, Painswick is a fantasy of dramatic and decorative follies. It is the only surviving Rococo garden in the country, following its restoration in the 1980s. Take a stroll through the woods and discover the different fanciful buildings, such as the Red House, the Eagle House and the Bothy; or get lost with your lover in the maze. The famous snowdrops display in February makes it the perfect location for a Valentine’s Day proposal. (Tel: 01452 813204; rococogarden.org.uk) ➤
Shepherd House, Scotland
Sir Charles and Lady Ann Fraser have created this intimate one-acre garden together over the past 35 years. A botanical artist, Ann paints watercolour portraits of her garden plants. The walled garden is divided by a formal rill, lined with catmint and framed by arches of roses, ending in a pool reflecting one of the garden’s many sculptures. Also to enjoy are a herb parterre and potager, along with mosaic work and a Shell House.
(Tel: 0131 665 2570; shepherdhousegarden.co.uk)
Forde Abbey, Somerset
Originally a Cistercian monastery dating from the 12th century, Forde Abbey now boasts 30 acres of award-winning gardens with interest all through the year, from spring bulbs to summer borders, an arboretum for autumn and a new winter garden. Having taken in the spectacle of the most powerful fountain in the country, follow meandering pathways to the bog or rock gardens, canal and lakes. (Tel: 01460 221290; fordeabbey.co.uk)
Hever Castle, Kent
The 125-acre gardens are the perfect backdrop for this 13th-century castle – the childhood home of Ann Boleyn – which was restored and extended at the turn of the last century by William Waldorf Astor. The magical Italian Garden, with its antiquities, statuary and romantic pergola, ends in a magnificent Loggia with views over the lake. There is also a rose garden, woodland walks and topiary chess set to enjoy, as well as a secret Sunken Garden. (Tel: 01732 865224; hevercastle.co.uk)
Lyme Park, Cheshire
Famous as the location for Mr Darcy’s Pemberley lake swim in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Lyme Park was previously home to explorer Thomas Legh, a Regency-era Indiana Jones who travelled the world and was known to have wrestled crocodiles. Back home, he helped rescue a young heiress who had been abducted, only to marry her later. They made their home at Lyme Park, where modern-day visitors can enjoy the rose garden and games on the lawn. (Tel: 01663 762023; nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme)
Whatley Manor, Gloucestershire
With 12 acres of elegant modern country gardens, Whatley Manor, now a hotel, has much to admire. Immaculately kept, the different areas include the Loggia Garden with water sculpture, often used as the backdrop for wedding ceremonies, as well as a hot garden, gazebo, rose garden, wildflower meadows, knot garden and borders brimming with seasonal blooms. Patrons of the hotel are free to wander, including river and woodland walks, while guided tours with the head gardener can be arranged for groups, including lunch or afternoon tea.
(Tel: 01666 822888; whatleymanor.com)
Dunham Massey, Cheshire
In Victorian times, Dunham Massey’s Earl George Harry Grey was snubbed by society, including the Queen, because he chose his true love, Catherine Cox, as his wife – she was previously a bareback horse rider doing stunts in the circus. The captivating environs of their affair include the garden’s orangery and bark house. Visitors can also enjoy seasonal planting year round with spring bulbs, summer roses and a wonderful winter garden – Britain’s largest. (Tel: 01619 411025; nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey)
Gravetye Manor, Sussex
Treat your other half to a special weekend break at Gravetye Manor, best known as the former home of William Robinson, who pioneered the English gardening style in the late 1800s with his visionary book The Wild Garden. Come for the tulips in spring, and the dynamic flower garden in summer, when vibrant perennials mix with tender exotics and annuals in the stunning borders. Take a walk in the meadows and orchards, and enjoy a game of croquet on the lawn. (Tel: 01342 810567; gravetyemanor.co.uk)
Claremont Garden, Surrey
Claremont is one of the earliest surviving English Landscape Gardens, and features work by Charles Bridgeman, ‘Capability’ Brown and William Kent. It was once home to Princess Charlotte, heir to the throne, and her husband Prince Leopold. A true love match, they liked to walk together in the scenic grounds and enjoy the belvedere, grotto and lake. Sadly her story was cut short when she died in childbirth, leaving a nation in grief and leading to the accession of Queen Victoria. (Tel: 01372 467806; nationaltrust.org.uk/claremont) ➤
Kennilworth Castle, Warwickshire
The Elizabethan Garden at Kennilworth has been painstakingly recreated from eyewitness accounts of a visit by Elizabeth I, 400 years ago. A last-ditch attempt by Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, to impress the Queen and win her hand and heart, the garden features a marble fountain, obelisks, bowers and an intricate aviary. Split into four sections, with two geometric parterres in each, the planting comprises plants typical to Tudor gardens including scented plants, herbs and gillyflowers. (Tel: 0370 333 1181; english-heritage.org.uk)
Mottisfont has a multitude of features to recommend it, from a parterre by famous garden designer Nora Lindsay, perennial borders by Graham Stuart Thomas, a winter garden and new kitchen garden. But it is the walled garden bursting with roses in summer that really draws people, to witness the scented blooms ramble, climb and drape themselves in luxurious splendour around effervescent summer planting. (Tel: 01794 340757; nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont)
Creating a romantic garden
If you long for a dreamy and fanciful retreat of your own, take heed of these tips for adding some enchantment to your outdoor space:
● Choose pastel colours such as pink, purple and blue for your planting palette. These tones complement each other and most architecture, and offer a restful environment.
● Rose-strewn bowers and walls are the height of romance, and you can keep the feeling all summer long with repeat-flowering, scented varieties.
● Find reclaimed and wonderfully aged garden furniture, pots, pot stands, sculpture and features to evoke the nostalgia of days gone by.
● A little wilderness is good for the soul, as well as for butterflies and bees, so consider adding a small wildflower patch, or letting the grass grow long.
● You don’t want to see everything in a garden all at once, so create different areas, found along meandering pathways, to add mystery.
● Create secret spaces or hidden nooks in the garden, combining the excitement of discovery with a sense of privacy.