Aldona at Large: Off the beaten garden path–1

Oh dear. How to compress so many lovely English gardens into one manageable post? I know—I’ll show a couple of examples from each (all were first visits for me, which is a wonder, as I’ve been to England umpteen times). These were seen in the company of my dear friends Monica (in Surrey and the Cotswolds), Anna (in Devon and Cornwall) and Dorienne (in Hampshire and Sussex), who have been my stalwart comrades-in-arms for decades and share my love of beauty, adventure and, of course, gorgeous gardens.

Woolbeding Gardens in Midhurst, Sussex is the one I visited last, and it is the one to which I’ll devote the most coverage (Edyth the elephant seen above, is from that garden). As it’s only been open to the public for two years (and only two days a week, with limited access), I’m willing to bet you haven’t yet seen it. It will be the centrepiece of my next post in two weeks’ time.

But before we get started today, remember that TBG members can join the Heritage Canada Foundation for 30 per cent less to get the special TBG members discount code, go here. Why should you bother? Because Heritage Canada is the National Trust for Canada, and your membership card will get you into all the worldwide National Trust properties for free. However, it takes several weeks to process your card so plan accordingly. Here’s the link to the Heritage Canada Foundation.

It’s time to mentally put on your comfiest walking shoes, and together we’ll set off for Surrey.

Our first stop is Polesden Lacey, which is located near Dorking (about 35 km from London) with spectacular views over the Surrey Hills. Due to the efforts in the early 1900s of its ambitious owner, Maggie Greville, Polesden Lacey became a quintessential early 20th century house party destination for the noble, rich and famous (the Duke and Duchess of York honeymooned there). Now a National Trust property, both house and garden are worth a visit. My friend Monica volunteers there in the gardens.


A newly rebuilt arbour flanks the massive rose gardens. Climbers were painstakingly unwrapped from the old structure, then rewrapped onto the new. Spring was late this year, and in May the famous rose garden was just beginning to wake up. I’ll bet it looks great right about now.

Find out more about Polesden Lacey here.

Hidcote Manor Garden, also a National Trust property, has long been on my bucket list of must-see Great British Gardens. An Arts-and-Crafts masterpiece developed by Major Lawrence Johnston, an American, it is located near Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. So Monica and I jumped into her MGB and zoomed off to take a look.

Although it was early in the season, the famous Red Border still looked fantastic.

The garden’s spaces are at the same time both intimate and grand. Here, well-kept hedges and beautiful topiary birds provide definition.

Masterful plant combinations delight the eye at every turn. To find out more about Hidcote Manor Garden, go here.

Almost across the road from Hidcote is another fabulous, though much less well-known garden. This is Kiftsgate Court Gardens, set on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment and created by three generations of women gardeners. Your Heritage Canada card won’t get you in here, but Kiftsgate is well worth the price of admission. A word of warning, though: you need to be in top shape to clamber down (and up) the uneven terrace steps, which is why I’m resting on this bench at the bottom. If you have a hip or knee problem or are short of breath, do yourself a favour and enjoy the view from the tableland where there’s still plenty to see, and then treat yourself to a generous slice of homemade cake in the café. After panting our way to the top, Monica and I yummed up delicious lemon drizzle and simnel (an Easter fruit cake with marzipan in the middle and on top) cakes, served to us by their proud baker and washed down with umpteen cups of Earl Grey tea.

The gardens surrounding the house are quite formal in feel.

And while it was too early in the season to see the single white blooms on the famous and monstrously large white Kiftsgate rose shrub, other interesting plants abound.

Such as this Trillium sessile chloropetalum. Much of the garden revolves around classical elements, but there are intriguing modern touches as well.

To find out more about Kiftsgate Court Gardens, go here.

Next I was off to Devon, where my pal Anna and I had a marathon day at the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, located near St. Austell in Cornwall. Both gardens have been conceived developed by the visionary Tim Smit.

The Eden Project was created in 1995 on the site of an old china clay quarry. Under its iconic biomes reside some one million plants representing nearly 4,000 species and cultivars. I won’t show you more images here, but suffice it to say that the Eden Project is an absolutely fantastic place to bring kids and has loads of terrific educational signage, material and displays.

To find out more, go here.

Tim Smit’s earlier project was the resurrection of the Lost Gardens of Heligan. If you visit Eden, you can get a discount coupon for Heligan.

According to its website, “At the end of the nineteenth century [Heligan’s] thousand acres were at their zenith, but only a few years later bramble and ivy were already drawing a green veil over this “Sleeping Beauty.”

It’s hard to believe that not that long ago, this entire beautiful garden must have looked like these as-yet-untouched ruins.

What are those giant pink trees in the background? They’re rhododendrons, and no, I’m not kidding. I think they’re the largest I’ve ever seen. While this garden was more commercial than the others I visited, it’s still worth seeing. To find out more about the Lost Gardens of Heligan, click here.

The next day, it was off to The Garden House near Yelverton, Devon. This eight acre site is the former home of the vicars of Buckland Monachorum. Just after World War II, it was purchased and named by Lionel and Katharine Fortescue, and over some 40 years they created this garden and developed the Fortescue Garden Trust to ensure its survival (the Fortescues died in the early 1980s). The renowned Keith Wiley oversaw the second phase of development and was Head Gardener here for 25 years (Wiley’s new garden, Wildside, is just down the road, but is only open for a couple of days each month and alas, we were unlucky).

This garden has a wealth of beautiful trees and shrubs, such as this section populated by Japanese maples.

In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s Pieris japonica.


And what about this glorious Cornus controversa variegata? Be still my heart.

In short, this garden is an absolute must-see. And it’s quiet. On the day we visited, it was almost deserted. To find out more, go here.

Next, it was off to Sussex to visit my good friend Dorienne. The two of us set off for Hinton Ampner in Alresford, Hampshire where we were to meet her daughter and grandchildren.

Once again, my Heritage Canada card came in handy.

Like all National Trust properties, this house and garden are immaculately maintained. Within the house, which in 1960 was remodeled after a fire by its then-owner, Ralph Dutton, the last Lord Sherborne, you can see his Georgian and Regency furniture, paintings and objets d’art. Dorienne’s grandchildren were offered a wonderful self-guided scavenger hunt, which kept them highly entertained.

Imagine the work that goes into pruning these yew hedges into the form of clouds.

A pretty path cut through a meadow leads to the church.

Dorienne’s grandchildren seem engrossed in their scavenger hunts and oblivious to the spectacular view over the South Downs. To find out more about Hinton Ampner, go here.

I, on the other hand, was not oblivious to anything. It was all splendid. Come with me next time and I’ll take you to the stunning Woolbeding Garden in Midhurst, developed by Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw with Lanning Roper, Philip Jebb and Isabel and Julian Bannerman. I’ll also reveal some innovative new ideas I saw at RHS Wisley.

Wasn’t this fun? See you in two weeks.

Share this:

Related Posts