Whether you want to travel by train, bicycle or bus, there are wildflower meadows, ancient forests, nature-filled gardens and fantastic cafés awaiting your discovery. So grab some friends and try something different this summer.
Hidden away in Sevenoaks lies the enormous 600-year-old house complex of Knole, one of the nation's largest country houses. The approach is through beautiful rolling medieval parkland. Huge herds of deer, descendants of those hunted by Henry III, bask in the sun among foxgloves and bracken. The site is designated an SSSI for its acidic grassland, rare dung beetles and fungi. In the garden, native orchids thrive in meadows alongside the miles of mown paths that meander through the trees.
For such a grand house full of so many treasures, the wilderness gardens are a peaceful escape. Heading towards the ponds, the planting gets more colourful and combines wild bog-loving flowers with complementary perennials. In Lord Sackville's private walled gardens, open only at certain times, you will find the longest wisteria in the country. Almost 200 years old, it is a perfumed delight in May.
High Street, Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 0RP 01732 462100 nationaltrust.org.uk/knole
London Wetland Centre
When it comes to biodiversity in the capital, the Wetland Centre probably takes the lead – a remarkable feat when you consider that just 15 years ago the site was a mass of concrete reservoirs. Once drained, the concrete was crushed for paths, and lakes now fill the clay membranes. The open marshes, reedbeds and wet fenland meadows now offer habitat to a vast array of wildlife. Sir Peter Scott's vision of a wetland centre in the heart of the city has been joyously realised.
Ignore the constant sound of planes overhead and and explore miles of paths against a shifting backdrop of wild gardens and marshy banks of native plants. The spring display in the fritillary meadow is the result of hundreds of native bulbs, including southern marsh orchids, all planted by hand. There is also a collection of sustainable gardens including a rain garden by Nigel Dunnett, whose planting designs integrate ecology and aesthetics.
Bus Hammersmith tube or 15 min walk from Barnes Station. Queen Elizabeth's Walk, Barnes SW13 9WT 0208 4094400 wwt.org.uk
Godinton House, Kent
Godinton is a handsome house surrounded by bountiful gardens that feel a world away from nearby Ashford. The walled kitchen garden in summer offers row upon row of sweet peas, vegetables and cottage garden herbs and the magnificent Delphinium Society collection is housed here, adding to the drama.
Doves and chickens wander in and out of their charming homes and, combined with the productive glasshouses, it is a scene of abundant productivity. Heading out into the wild garden the contrast is immediate. Here, among the lyrical bird chatter, martagon lilies naturalise in long grass alongside the often-elusive bee orchid. Near the pond, roses tumble with carefree abandon into the grass and seem much happier than their showy neighbours trapped in the formal rose garden.
Godinton Lane, Ashford, Kent TN23 3BP 01233 643854 godintonhouse.co.uk Mar–Oct daily 1–6pm
Waltham Place, Berkshire
I have never been so challenged in my thoughts around gardening as I was when I had the privilege of a walk around the acclaimed gardens of Waltham Place with its head gardener Beatrice Krehl. With a mantra of ‘working with nature’, the garden and 88-acre working farm is run on biodynamic and organic principles.
Under the vision of Strilli Oppenheimer, the original planting designs of the late Henk Gerritsen are honoured and expanded upon. Here they combine forces with nature and explore the boundaries between it and a garden. Any visit is an educational one and there are many inspirational courses to sign up to. Don’t miss out on a delicious meal, cooked with home farm-raised produce, in the tea room. To visit the garden, you'll need to book in advance.
Church Hill, White Waltham, Berks SL6 3JH 01628 825517 walthamplace.com
Inveresk lodge, Scotland
Inveresk Lodge is a lovely little wild garden just seven miles east of Edinburgh (buses from the city stop right outside it). The garden hides behind high walls, getting wilder as it drops down to the pretty river Esk. Near the house, this typical Edwardian garden is full of hardy plants chosen specifically for these eastern climes.
The restored conservatory is heavy with peaches in summer while, in the aviary, the songs of canaries and parakeets can be heard. In the untamed meadow, paths sweep down to a wildlife-filled pond. There is often a ranger on site and when we were there, childrenwere given jars for pond-dipping. They took great delight in catching, identifying and releasing the pond's inhabitants.
24 Inveresk Village Road (A6124), Musselburgh EH21 7TE 0844 493 2126 nts.org.uk
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