Ro­man­tic gar­dens

Dis­cover the most en­chant­ing, evoca­tive spa­ces to visit in Bri­tain, and ways to add ro­mance to your home plot

Period Living - - Contents - Fea­ture Stephanie Ma­hon

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.

End­sleigh, Devon

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)

Siss­inghurst, Kent

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, Hamp­shire

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.

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