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Best gardens to visit in spring

Val Bourne / 25 February 2022

Gardens are bursting into life with spring bulbs and blossom. Find out some of the best spring gardens to visit across the UK.

Arundel Castle tulips
Labyrinth of tulips and narcissi at Arundel Castle in spring. Photo: Val Bourne

The days are stretching out so this is the perfect time to go garden visiting once again. Spring has sprung and it creeps across the country, beginning in the south and western half of Britain and then stretching eastwards and northwards across the country. Spring blossom, sheets of colour on the ground and the reappearance of fresh foliage blow the cobwebs away and you feel the energy of a year reborn. Opening times vary – so do check the websites.

Gardens in the South-West
Gardens in Southern England
Gardens in East England
Gardens in Northern England
Gardens in Central England
Gardens in Wales
Gardens in Scotland

Good spring gardens in the South-West

Most of Cornwall’s and Devon’s gardens are at their best in spring and the acid soil in this part of Britain is perfect for magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas. Their blooms are rarely troubled by frost, due to balmy Atlantic air, and exotic plants also thrive. Many were planted in the early years of the 20th Century, so there’s atmosphere and spectacle, and there are lots of spring gardens west of the River Tamar.

Chygurno, Lamorna, Cornwall

Head west for an early taste of spring and visit this three-acre cliffside garden overlooking Lamorna Cove in Southern Cornwall. The camellias and rhododendrons are in full swing and exotic plants and hardy ferns are bursting into life once again. There are plenty of benches, where you can enjoy the wonderful views, and this garden also opens in July.

Weekend opening for the NGS on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th April 2022.

More information: ngs.org.uk/view-garden/18633 / TR19 6XH

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Trelissick, Cornwall

The National Trust 

Enjoy panoramic views over the Fal estuary while you meander through apple blossom in the orchards in this dog-friendly garden. Camellias and rhododendrons pepper the woodland walk and hydrangeas take over in summer. There are lots of spring bulbs and the soft climate Cornish climate is perfect for sub-tropical plants. Lots of amenities on offer too, for a perfect day out.

More information: www.nationaltrust.org.uk / 01872862090, TR3 6QL

Antony Woodland Garden, Cornwall

Next to National Trust's Anthony House

This is one of finest gardens for spring-flowering camellias, because it’s home to over six hundred different varieties. It’s also one of only five gardens rated as an International Camellia Garden of Excellence and it also holds the Plant Heritage collection of Camellia japonica. There are also two hundred and fifty different magnolias, many of them mature, as well as many other ornamental woody plants including hydrangeas and rhododendrons. The bluebells are quite something too and the setting, close to River Lynher, is really dreamy.

More information: www.antonywoodlandgarden.com 01752 815303 / PL11 2QA

Trewithen, Cornwall

Privately owned and open from March until October 

Trewithen is said to have the largest magnolias in the UK and some of them are officially recorded as champion trees. It’s also one of five International Gardens of Excellence for camellias. There are thirty acres of woodland garden to explore and about 200 acres of surrounding parkland. It’s a haven for wildlife too, because it’s surrounded by organic farmland and red squirrels have been re-introduced. The bird life is terrific, because Head Gardener Gary Long is dedicated to encouraging flora and fauna.

More information: www.trewithengardens.co.uk / 01726 883647, TR2 4DD

Spring gardens in to visit in Southern England

Spring comes early in the south of England, so many of the gardens open in March, when the daffodils are in full sway. Magnolias usually manage to miss the frost too, and many of the larger gardens have attractions to keep the gardeners and the less-keen members of the family happy.

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Exbury Gardens.

Exbury Gardens, Hampshire

Privately owned – open daily from March 12th until 14th November

This is a garden for every season and it makes a great fun-day out for the whole family, whenever you visit. Although this New Forest garden is renowned for its world-famous Rothschild’s collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, which are at their best in May, there is plenty to see earlier in the year. The Daffodil Meadow and River of Gold peak in April and there’s a new River Walk to the coast, through native trees. They’ll be plenty of bird life to admire through newly emerging leaves, with coastal and river views over Poole Harbour.

More information: www.exbury.co.uk / 023 8089 1203, SO45 1AZ

Borde Hill, West Sussex

Privately owned and open daily between February 19th – November 13th

The Sussex Weald is within striking distance of the capital, and there are several good gardens in this area so you could do a grand tour. Borde Hill has seventeen acres of formal garden surrounding a Tudor mansion. However, when spring’s here, there are woodland and lakeside walks where you can enjoy the magnolias, rhododendrons, azaleas and bluebells. Whatever you do though, don’t miss the Garden of Allah with its historic magnolias.

More information: www.bordehill.co.uk / 01444 450326, RH16 1XP

Savill and Valley Gardens, Surrey

The Crown Estate – open throughout the year

Windsor Great Park is open all year and you can stroll through the Valley Garden free of charge. However, the jewel in the crown is the Savill Garden in the heart of the park. Commissioned by George V and created by Sir Eric Savill, it spans 35 acres and includes the Hidden Gardens, Spring Wood, the Summer Gardens, the New Zealand Garden, Summer Wood, The Glades, Autumn Wood and the Winter Beds. It never disappoints and there’s a relatively new visitor centre too.

More information: www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk / 01753 860222, TW20 0UJ

Arundel Castle
The tulips at Arundel Castle and Gardens.

Arundel Castle and Gardens, West Sussex

Privately owned - opening from April 1st

Arundel’s Head Gardener, Martin Duncan, has planted 1.2 million bulbs since his arrival twelve years ago. In the wilder places, primroses and wild-looking daffodils carpet the grassy banks, before the tulips and camassias appear. The Tulip Festival starts on April 14th this year, and sixty thousand new bulbs get planted every year. Many others return year on year, particularly the Darwin tulips. Favourites Darwins include the rose-pink ‘Pink Impression’ and the red ‘Oxford’. An Allium Festival follows in May, but this garden is shines in every season.

More information: www.arundelcastle.org / 01903 882173, BN18 9AB

Visit our Home and Garden section for gardening guides, home improvement tips and much more.

Spring gardens in Eastern England

The drier climate and easterly winds often mean that spring comes later to eastern England, although many of the best gardens are close to the coast. The larger gardens are often attached to large estates and that, and the level landscape, help to create a special light and a big-sky effect.

Ulting Wick, Essex

Open for the NGS on Sunday 24th and Friday 29th April 2pm - 5pm

In 2021 this Essex garden won the title of The Nations Favourite Garden from NGS visitors and it does open by appointment. Listed black barns provide a stylish backdrop for vibrant and exuberant planting in this 8-acre garden. Thousands of colourful tulips, flowing innovative spring planting, herbaceous borders, pond, mature weeping willows, kitchen garden, dramatic late summer beds with zingy, tender, exotic plant combinations. Drought tolerant perennial and mini annual wildflower meadows. Woodland. Lots of unusual plants for sale, mostly propagated here. Beth Chatto’s nursery and RHS Hyde Hall are not far away.

More information: ngs.org.uk/view-garden/18468 or www.ultingwickgarden.co.uk 01245 380216, CM9 6QX

Blickling Estate, Norfolk

National Trust open 363 days a year

A breath-taking Jacobean mansion and ancient yew hedges sit at the heart of this magnificent garden and historic park in the beautiful Bure meadows. Surrounding the house, the formal garden is the result of three centuries of inspired planting, and the gently undulating historic parkland is great for exploring on foot or by bike. There’s a multi-use trail with an all-weather surface which is perfect for walkers, pushchairs, adapted wheelchair-users and cyclists. Bluebells carpet the Great Wood in spring.

More information: www.nationaltrust.org / 01263 738030, NR11 6NF

Old Vicarage East Ruston, Norfolk

Privately owned – open Wed – Sun & Bank Holidays (12.00 to 5.30pm) from 2nd March until October 30th

This Norfolk garden lies very close to the North Sea and the maritime climate, helped along by lots of hedges, allows them to use a huge range of tender and exotic plants. The exuberant containers, planted close to the house, are superb throughout the year (especially in August) and the owners are constantly pushing back the boundaries with their ambitious planting schemes. Lots to see in this 32 acre garden.

More information: www.eastrustonoldvicarage.co.uk / 01692 650432, NR12 9HN

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The view from Holehird.

Good spring gardens in Northern England

Holehird Gardens, Cumbria

The Lakeland Horticultural Society - open every day dawn to dusk

This ten-acre garden in the Lake District has sweeping views over Lake Windermere. It’s beautifully maintained by volunteer members of the Lakeland Horticultural Society. Wordsworth would have admired the host of wild daffodils in the upper meadow and tulips, alliums and martagon lilies follow. There are hellebores and many specimen trees and the microclimate and soil are perfect for the Plant Heritage collection of blue poppies.

More information: www.holehirdgardens.org.uk / 015394 46008, LA23 1NP

Newby Hall, North Yorkshire

Privately owned – open Tuesday to Sunday from April 1st 2022 – please check website

Another great family venue for a day out. The gardens, close to the Yorkshire Dales, will please the keenest garden, but there are plenty of other things too. Head for the informal Woodland Garden, admire the many daffodils and then enter the water Garden to admire the shot-silk primulas – a testament to the exuberance of spring – although this is a garden for every season.

More information: www.newbyhall.com / 01423 322583, HG4 5AJ

Gardens to visit in spring in Central England

The heart of England contains some fine gardens, but frost and cold weather can linger into spring, so visit form April onwards, unless there are snowdrops too.

Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire

Run by a Conservation and Educational Trust – open throughout the year- please check website

This Cotswold garden, very close to Moreton-in-Marsh, was once home to the Mitford sisters. It has an oriental feel, with a Chinese bridge etc, but it also has choice trees, including many magnolias, and one of the best collections of flowering cherries and they are at their best in April. The sloping site allows frost to roll down into the valley.

More information: www.batsarb.co.uk / 01386 701441, GL56 9AT

Evenley Woodland Garden, Northamptonshire

Privately owned and widely open for most of the year

Created by the late plantsman Timmy Whitely, over the last 30 years this informal 60 acre woodland garden in Northamptonshire has wide paths and drifts of bulbs, including snowdrops, a meandering scilla stream and a hundred or so magnolias. Dogs are welcome on leads and there are downloadable plant lists and several events throughout the year. Accessible for wheelchairs and mobility scooters in many areas and lilies and roses follow.

More information: www.evenleywoodgarden.co.uk / 07788 207, 428 NN13 5SH

Spring gardens in Wales

The mild and damp climate in parts of Wales encourages ferns, bluebells and daffodils to flourish, so there is always a feel of spring racing away, except in the Welsh mountains. Coastal gardens escape the frost entirely.

Colby’s Woodland Garden, Pembrokeshire

National Trust

Often missed by garden visitors, this woodland garden, on the site of an old Pembrokeshire coalfield, has a woodland garden full of rhododendrons and spring-flowering shrubs. Stroll down to the sea, or through hilly woodland plantations, or visit the walled garden. The facilities re-open in early April and this is a very child-friendly garden for explorers young or old.

More information: www.nationaltrust.org.uk / 01834 811885, SA67 8PP

Good spring gardens in Scotland

Spring usually comes later in Scotland, but the cooler climate means that Scottish gardens rarely flag in summer. Day length is longer and trees are often larger in size and this gives a cathedral-like air. Storm Arwen (December 2021) has affected some gardens – please check the website carefully for the latest advice.

Ardkinglas, Argyll

Privately owned and open all year round, dawn to dusk

This arboretum has many Champion Trees and a renowned collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, at their best in May or June. There are dramatic views over Loch Fyne and the River Fyne runs. The garden is on several levels, with various terrains, to suit a variety of abilities and preferences. There is a Gruffalo Trail – which children adore.

More information: www.ardkinglas.com / 01499 600261, PA26 8BH

Threave Garden and Estate, Dumfries and Galloway

Scottish National Trust - open from March 26th 2022 10.00am-5.00pm

Threave’s wonderful garden has been created over the years by students of the Trust’s School of Heritage Gardening – and is a fine example of landscaped beauty. Don’t miss Threave’s famous daffodil bank, with over 360 varieties of daffodil first planted in 1872, and then enter Keltonhill Wood, which is carpeted with snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells. There are views over the Galloway coast or you will probably see red squirrels at the purpose-built feeding station.

More information: www.nts.org.uk / 01556 502575, DG7 1RX

Greenbank Garden, Lanarkshire

Scottish National Trust – open from 1st April

It’s hard to believe that this garden is just a mile from the suburbs of Glasgow, because you can lose yourself among the bluebells and daffodils. This urban oasis, would be a perfect escape for those on a City Break. Glasgow Botanic Garden is 2 miles away.

More information: www.nts.org.uk / 0141 6393281, G76 8RB

Inverewe Garden, Ross and Cromarty

Scottish National Trust – open from 1st April

One of those wonderful gardens where the Gulf Stream meet the Highlands, so this garden is full of rarities from across the globe, including huge Californian redwoods. Rhododendrons from China, Nepal and India thrive here and it’s possible to find a rhododendron in flower every day of the year. You’ll also be able to spot Scotland’s Big 5 creatures, the red squirrel, red deer, otter, seal and golden eagle. You may even see the sea eagle!

More information: www.nts.org.uk / 01445 712952, IV22 2LG

Branklyn Garden, Perthsire

Scottish National Trust – open from 1st April – but there are also snowdrop openings in February

Described as small but magnificent by Great British Gardens (www.greatbritishgardens.co.uk), because it’s a two-acre hillside garden in Perthshire. It was created in the 1920s using seeds collected by plant hunters, and there are many alpine flowers, dog’s tooth violets and Himalayan blue poppies in spring. Magnolias and other acid-loving plants follow on.

More information: www.nts.org.uk / 01738 625535, PH2 7BB

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.