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Top 10 autumn gardens

04 October 2013 ( 02 October 2019 )

As the summer turns into autumn, many of Britain’s gardens transform into a riot of gold, orange and red. Vicky Sartain selects the 10 best gardens to see in the new season

Stourhead garden in Wiltshire
Stourhead in Wiltshire is one of the world’s finest classical 18th-century landscape gardens

Sheffield Park

Near Uckfield, East Sussex

This stunning landscaped garden was laid out in the 18th century by ‘Capability’ Brown and is resplendent all year. In autumn the vision of its 19th-century owner Arthur Soames is highlighted when towering specimen trees frame a necklace of lakes at the park’s heart. Best seen on a clear day, the flame red, orange and ochre shrubs and rare trees overhang the water’s edge, their reflection mirrored skyward. Further along the lakeside silver birch, majestic English oak and Scots pine jostle with exotics, while well-trodden paths meander through swathes of maple, tupelo and scarlet oak.

Pause to admire the neo-Gothic house, once home to the Earl of Sheffield, as you kick your way through fallen leaves.

Open all year except Christmas Day, from 10am.
01825 790 231

Wakehurst Place

Ardingly, Near Haywards Heath, West Sussex

Situated in High Weald, with its natural landscape of valleys, lakes and woodland, Wakehurst Place is known for its large collection of trees and shrubs. Comprising 465 acres in total, the estate is divided into gardens, woods and the Loder Valley Nature Reserve, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this autumn. The 170-acre garden was the creation of Gerald Loder, later Lord Wakehurst, who bought the estate in 1903. In 1963 the property was bequeathed to the National Trust, who, in turn, leased it to the Royal Botanic Gardens in 1965. The garden holds four national collections of woody plants, but the trees are the main draw, best seen during the ‘Autumn Colour’ weekends.

Open daily from 10am, except December 24-25.
01444 894 066

Drummond Gardens

Muthill, Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland

This terraced parterre garden is widely considered to be one of the finest formal gardens in Europe. Designed in the shape of the St Andrew’s Cross with an unusual sundial dating to 1630 at its heart, the parterre was constructed by garden designer Lewis Kennedy in the early 19th century.

The garden is rooted in Italianate style, with its fountains, urns and statuary, and has never lost its appeal despite changing fashions in horticulture. In autumn, when the sunlight hits the leaves of Drummond’s 14 different species of acer, and the russets and gold hues in the woodland regions, the garden radiates colour. Before leaving take a look at the 21 varieties of apple tree in the garden.

Open daily, Easter weekend and then May 1 - October 31, 1pm-6pm (11am-6pm during July and August)
01764 681 433

Chillingham Castle

Alnwick, Northumberland

This historic property has been the seat of the Earl Grey family since the 13th century. Originally laid out in 1684, the gardens were last shaped in 1828 by royal garden designer Jeffrey Wyatville. The famous herbaceous border is the longest in northern England. In autumn the delightful woodland and lakeside walks become the star attraction when deer and red squirrels can be spotted among trees of blazing colour including alder and birch, while the rhododendrons come into their own. For the most spectacular views try the walk that passes the lake on the far side of the dell, before returning along the burn and through the castle’s ancient woodlands.

Open May 1 to end of October, 12pm-5pm. Closed on Saturdays.
01668 215 359

Westonbirt Arboretum

Near Tetbury, Gloucestershire

Home to some of the nation’s oldest, tallest and largest trees, the arboretum hosts some 16,000 trees and shrubs. The gardens, pictured right (photo by Sarah Howard), never fail to amaze visitors with their intense colours in all seasons, but during autumn acer, beech and Japanese maple trees provide the most dramatic displays.

Head for the Maple Glades and the Link and Maple Loop in Silk Wood to enjoy the colour. From late September to early November, each species comes into its own; as one fades, another flourishes. Meanwhile the katsura tree emits a delightful scent as its foliage turns a buttery yellow. Pick up a copy of Westonbirt’s autumn seasonal trail leaflet on site to ensure you track down the best colour hot-spots.

Open every day except Christmas day, open 9am-8pm March - September and 9am-5pm October- February.
0300 067 4861

Painshill Park

Portsmouth Road, Cobham, Surrey

Since the garden’s conception in 1738 Painshill has captured the imagination of all who visit. Designer Charles Hamilton created the 158-acre park as a romantic landscape, dividing the property into ornamental pleasure grounds with a lake as a central feature and an adjoining crescent of open parkland left in a natural style. Sadly, Hamilton sold up when the coffers ran dry in 1773, leaving the property in the hands of a succession of private owners. Post-war the property fell into decline. In 1981 the Painshill Park Trust was formed, restoring the park to its former glory. In autumn, the fiery tones of the National Collection of North American trees and shrubs are at their peak.

Open daily all year except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, 10.30am-6pm (winter closing 4pm or dusk if earlier).
01932 868 113


Coniston, Cumbria

Brantwood was the former home of John Ruskin, the Victorian artist and critic, from 1872 until his death in 1900. The estate covers 250 acres in total, comprising woodland and mountainside gardens, which are resplendent in the autumn when the changing colours complement the already stunning views. 

Eight small gardens explore themes that fascinated the artist, such as the Hortus Inclusus, an enclosed garden of native herbs. Don’t miss the collection of British native ferns and take the High Walk which offers panoramic views across the Lakeland landscape. Down in the orchard, the apple boughs sag under the weight of the annual harvest.

Open daily March to November, 10:30am-5.00 pm;
Winter opening Wednesday to Sunday, 10:30am-4.00pm.
01539 441 396


Stourton, Warminster, Wiltshire

As one of the world’s finest classical 18th-century landscape gardens, Stourhead is arguably at its most beautiful in autumn when richly coloured foliage frames the ornamental lake at its centre. Stourhead’s design was created for Henry Hoare II between 1741 and 1780, and was inspired by the works of artists Claude Lorrain and Gaspard Dughet whose paintings focused on classic Italian landscapes.

The ‘Picturesque’ setting incorporates views of a grotto, Palladian bridge, and temples dotted throughout. At weekends and during half term, families can join the Stourhead raven to gather natural objects and make a special 'story wand' (£2 per wand). 

Open daily, all year, from 9am-5pm.
01747 841 152

Bodnant Garden

Tal-y-Cafn, Colwyn Bay, Conwy

This 80-acre formal garden, while famous for its Laburnum Arch which cascades with yellow blooms during late May and early June, is nevertheless outstanding during the autumn months.

Created over the course of five generations of the McLaren family, Bodnant Garden will surprise first-time visitors with its variety of planting set against the dramatic landscape of Snowdonia National Park. Planted to create superb displays from spring to autumn, the grounds comprise terraced gardens, informal lawns and a ‘wild’ area known as the Dell in the lower reaches. Walking through Bodnant’s network of paths in October will reward visitors with a riotous display of fiery reds overhead and underfoot.

Open daily February-November, 10am-5pm; winter closing 4pm.
01492 650 460

Crarae Garden

Minard, Inverary, Argyll, Scotland

Crarae is one of the finest gardens in Scotland for autumn colour. Set in a 126-acre Highland glen, it has gushing waterfalls and a wide variety of shrubs and trees.

First created in 1912, the garden was the idea of Grace, Lady Campbell, whose plant collector nephew Reginald Farrer influenced the early plantings. In 1925 Lady Campbell’s son George made additional changes, introducing eucalyptus and conifers. Eye-catching colours from the acer, sorbus, prunus, cotoneaster and berberis are a seasonal treat, and there are some 600 species of rhododendron to identify. Look out for the garden’s native red squirrels that can be spotted stocking up food for the coming winter.

Open daily all year, 9.30am to dusk.
0844 493 2210

This article was brought to you by Discover Britain Magazine.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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