2016 is the Year of the English Garden, so now’s the time to plan outings to some of the most attractive and inspiring gardens across the country. Naomi MacKay provides a selection that offers great extras for groups, including exclusive tours, meet-the-staff experiences and dining options
The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland
Boasting the infamous Poison Garden, the famous Grand Cascade and the chance to eat lunch in the world’s largest treehouse, the Alnwick Garden certainly has plenty of selling points – there is so much to see and inspire in these contemporary gardens. Water is at the heart of the gardens and the Grand Cascade forms a dramatic centerpiece. There’s plenty to enjoy all year round, from stunning spring blossoms to fragrant roses and geometric ornamental gardens. Alnwick offers a range of flexible packages for groups. For more information call 01665 511350 or visit www.alnwickgarden.com.
Castle Howard, Yorkshire
Dubbed one of England’s finest historic houses, Yorkshire’s Castle Howard is surrounded by 1,000-acres of gardens. A highlight is Ray Wood, a woodland garden that has been described as a ‘rare botanical jewel’. Late spring/early summer will be the time to enjoy its magnolias, rhododendrons, azaleas and shrubs. The 18th century walled garden, lakes, temples, fountains and statues offer plenty of interest all year round. Spring sees spectacular displays of daffodils, while summer sees the roses and delphiniums in full bloom. Groups can enjoy an exclusive talk, as well as private dining. Groups of 12-plus (adults £12/children £6.50) receive free entry and food for the coach driver, free entry for group leader, and familiarisation visits.
A Festival of Floral Splendour
June 23-26, 2016
Castle Howard’s grand interiors will host an array of spectacular floral displays at the annual flower festival from Thursday, June 23 to Sunday, June 26, 2016.
Members of local flower clubs will work alongside Castle Howard’s own florist and garden team to fill the house with a collection of different arrangements, from contemporary to traditional, each taking inspiration from their lavish surroundings.
A plant and garden gift market, as well as a number of drop-in talks and demonstrations will take place throughout the festival. Hourly guided tours of the gardens will take in the seasonal blooms and freshly planted potager in the walled garden, as well as the beauty and tranquility of the woodland garden.
Entrance to the festival is included in a house and grounds admission ticket. Pre-book your group to receive discounted entry, plus free admission for group leader and coach driver. Other benefits include free coach parking and driver refreshment voucher.
Burton Agnes Hall and Gardens, East Yorkshire
More than 4,000 different plants are grown in the Elizabethan garden at Burton Agnes Hall and Gardens, including more than 100 yew topiary bushes and a national collection of campanulas. The gardens also feature a classical pond with a fountain, pebble mosaic garden, a woodland walk and wildlife sculptures, and herbaceous borders. Group admission to the gardens cost from £4, with further discounts for groups of 30-plus. For more information call 01262 490324 or visit www.burtonagnes.com.
Howick Hall Gardens and Arboretum, Northumberland
The season at this northerly garden starts in early February with the Snowdrop Festival. During late March to April, spectacular drifts of daffodils make an appearance. The Woodland Garden comes into its own in April/May when the camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons look spectacular.
During summer, the terraces in front of the hall, and the herbaceous borders have their time to shine, as does the Bog Garden, which has been created mostly from seed collected from the wild. Autumn colour is a great attraction at the garden until the end of the season. Howick Hall Gardens was named by BBC Gardener’s World Magazine as one of the top five coastal gardens in the country and named by Independent Magazine as ‘one of the Best 10 Gardens to visit this spring’.
Group costs are £7 for adults, £6 for over 60s and children are admitted free. Guided tours are available at no extra cost. Coach drivers and group travel organisers are admitted free of charge.
Borde Hill Garden
Borde Hill Garden is set in a 200-acre Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the High Weald in West Sussex.
In 2016, Borde Hill Garden will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Jay Robin’s Rose Garden. The Rose Garden comprises of formal beds bordered by box and lavender, red brick paths and highlighted with plantings on obelisks and trellises. Adjacent herbaceous borders contain plantings of Delphinium, peonies and phlox to compliment the roses. During June and July, more than 450 plants of over 75 varieties are planted here.
Groups are encouraged to book a tour of the garden and/or Borde Hill’s Elizabethan House, available every weekday in June and July. An exhibition of sculptures will be running during the summer months.
Group entry cost £7 per person, and visits must be pre-booked and paid at least two weeks in advance. Borde Hill Garden will be open daily from 1000hrs to 1800hrs from March 19 to October 3, 2016. For more information, garden highlights and key events in 2016, visit www.bordehill.co.uk.
Hever Castle, Kent
The award-winning gardens at Anne Boleyn’s childhood home span 125-acres. The Italian garden boasts a Pompeian wall and classical statuary, while the English Rose Garden has a giant topiary chess set and more than 4,000 rose bushes. Overlooking the 38-acre lake is the Loggia, which is a great spot to relax for a moment before heading off to explore grottoes, cascades and fountains. Take a walk along the stream or follow Anne Boleyn’s Walk, with its vast collection of trees – all planted more than 100 years ago. A visit to the gardens lasts around one and a half hours.
Groups of 15-plus cost from £10.65, with a one-hour garden tour led by staff member. Free visits are available for the group travel organiser and coach driver, with free parking, easy pick-up/drop-off and special group menus available. To book call 01732 861701 or email email@example.com. For more information visit www.hevercastle.co.uk.
Bowood Gardens, Wiltshire
The 100-acres of Bowood Gardens in Wiltshire feature a number of speciality gardens, covering almost every garden period from early Georgian onwards. A special treat for horticulture lovers is the exclusive tours of the Private Walled Gardens.
The park has been designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and is the setting for a magnificent stately home, benefiting from gently sloping lawns that stretch down to the lake as well as offering visitors distant views of the chalk downlands. Highlights include the Cascade, Terrace Gardens and Doric Temple. There’s a fabulous Adventure Playground too.
The 70-acre Woodland Garden, with its vibrant Rhododendrons and Azaleas, comes into its own in April and June – it will open on April 22, 2016. Groups can enjoy a special Capability Brown tour for 2016, and group catering in the Stables Restaurant for 20 or more. Entry to the Woodland Gardens and Bowood House costs from £15, with entry to the house and gardens from £8.50. For more information contact Debby Edwards on 01249 810961 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Compton Acres, Dorset
Compton Acres is one of the finest privately owned gardens in England. Situated in Canford Cliffs in Dorset – a stone’s throw from the popular tourist destinations of Poole Quay and Bournemouth seafront – Compton Acres are home to 10-acres of stunning gardens.
The gardens were created in the 1920s by an entrepreneur, who set out to achieve his dream of building a series of gardens that reflected his extensive experience of travelling, from the splendour and romance of Italy to the vibrancy and colours of Japan.
Today, all five themed galleries are filled with plants from around the world, including some rare specimens that cannot survive in other parts of the UK. Compton Acres is also home to one of the UK’s largest private rock gardens, with beautiful sculptures throughout, including pieces imported from Japan. Special guided tours of the gardens are available for pre-booked groups of up to 25 people. To book call 01202 700778 or for more information visit www.comptonacres.co.uk.
Eden Project, Cornwall
What could be better on a chilly day than the promise of stepping into a tropical paradise? That’s what’s on offer at the Eden Project, which celebrates its 15th birthday in 2016. Here, massive bio-domes house a wealth of flora from across the globe. Most famous is the dome that holds the world’s largest indoor rainforest, with its steamy jungles and waterfalls. Take the chance to walk among its treetops for a money’s-eye view.
Groups of 10-plus cost £14.35, £10.50 for seniors, £6 for children and tours can also be booked in advance via the group coordinator.
A 20-minute introductory talk costs £1 per person; a one-hour guided tour costs £55 for up to 25 people, or £110 for up to 55 people. A 25% discount on pre-booked food is available. Parking is free. Allow at least four hours for a visit.
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, London
Kew is probably the most famous garden in the world and has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This botanic garden dates from the mid-18th century and is probably most noted for its vast glasshouses and its pagoda. With breathtaking landscapes, historical buildings and tropical plants to discover, the hop-on hop-off explorer bus is a great way to find your way around its vast acres. Don’t miss the giant water lilies – they have to be seen to be believed.
Themed guided walking tours cost £4 per person, and are available until March 31, 2016. After that, 90-minute tours will cost £6 per person. To book call 020 8332 5648 or email email@example.com. For more information visit www.kew.org.
RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey
One of the most visited gardens in England and the flagship site of the Royal Horticultural Society, RHS Garden Wisley has been under the care of the RHS since 1903. It offers a number of events throughout the year, including the annual butterfly display. One of its highlights is the Bicentary Glasshouse, which covers three-quarters of an acre and houses plants from tropical, desert and temperate climates. The Rock Garden and Mixed Borders are also stunning.
For groups of 10-plus, garden admission costs £11.70 per person, with garden tours costing an additional £3 per person. Both the coach driver and group travel organiser receive free entry. To book call 01483 212307 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley.
Great Dixter, Sussex
Great Dixter was the family home of gardener and gardening writer Christopher Lloyd. Horticulturalists from across the world come to be inspired by the bold planting combinations that he was famous for.
In spring, a carpet of crocus appears in the front meadow and orchard. Fritillaries and daffodils follow. April and May is the time for tulips, which pop up in borders and pots all around the garden, with different colour combinations tried out each year. Keen gardeners will discover the different euphorbia throughout the garden and enjoy the hosts of poppies of all kinds throughout the garden in early summer.
The gardens are open from March 25 to October 30, 2016.
Anglesey Abbey Gardens, Cambridgeshire
These gardens were created back in the 1930s by Lord Fairhaven and are particularly famous for their Winter Garden and a spectacular snowdrop display. Don’t miss the finale to the Winter Gardens when the Himalayan Silver Birches’ pure white trunks dramatically rise from a deep red underplanting of Bergenia, along with a tulip display around Easter.
The gardens are set within the grounds of the working Lode Mill and a Jacobean-style abbey, and have been designed to offer year-round appeal, with spectacular borders and Rose Garden in summer, dahlias and fabulous autumn colour later in the year.
Two group tours are available. Group tours last around 90 minutes, suitable for up to 25 people. Coach parking is available 50 yards from the abbey, and an onboard coach welcome is available.
Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire
Take a trip around the world without leaving Staffordshire at the extraordinary Victorian garden at Biddulph Grange. This collection of plants from around the globe takes visitors from a Chinese landscape based on a Willow pattern design, through a Himalayan Glen and an Egyptian Court to an Italianate garden.
The new Woodland Walk offers the chance for children to enjoy a range of natural play features, such as balancing beams and a willow tunnel. The garden also has a shop, tearoom and a plant centre where you can buy plants grown at Biddulph.
Group entrance is £7.25 and parking is free. Groups must pre-book. To book call 01782 517999 or for more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/biddulphgrange.
Arley Hall & Gardens, Cheshire
With the biggest double herbaceous borders in England, summer is a perfect time to visit these historical gardens set around a beautiful Victorian country house built in Elizabethan style. There are eight-acres of gardens to explore, and you can take a walk in the informal grove where you’ll discover more than 20 sculptures created by local artists – look out for the a life-size cow and her calf. The adventure playground offers fun for kids, as does the willow dome den. An escorted (pre-booked) garden tour takes around one and a half hours.
Discounts for groups of 15-plus are available, plus free places for the organiser, drivers and carers. A meet and greet service can be arranged, and there is free parking onsite.
Tatton Park, Cheshire
With 50-acres of Edwardian garden to explore, Tatton Park also offers 1,000-acres of deer park and a rare-breed farm. There’s a maze, walled kitchen garden and a Japanese garden too. Groups can spend a day or half-day at Tatton, and groups of 12 or more receive a discount. Plan to spend at least four hours here.
As well as the gardens, groups can visit the Farm, Old Hall and Mansion. Group entry to the gardens cost £5 for adults and £3.50 for children. Free coach parking, free entry and meal for drivers is available. The Stables Restaurant offers a dedicated room for groups to eat together. The Gardener’s Cottage offers views over the gardens in a more intimate setting. A general garden tour costs from £85 per group of up to 25 people, with the Japanese Garden special interest tour costing from £110 for 15 people maximum.
To book call Tatton’s dedicated Groups Team on 01625 374416 or email email@example.com.
Barnsdale Gardens, Rutland
Created by the late, much-loved former Gardeners’ World presenter Geoff Hamilton, Barnsdale has 38 individual gardens on its eight-acre site. With all kinds of garden styles and planting schemes to inspire, it has been described as ‘a theme park for gardeners’.
Keen gardeners can glean lots of ideas from the gardens, which are all built on peat-free, organic principles. A minimum of three hours is recommended for your visit to include the gardens, nursery, gift shop and tearoom. It is also possible to arrange an exclusive group visit out of normal hours. Tours are led by Barnsdale’s owner, Nick Hamilton or Head Gardener Jon Brocklebank, and last around two hours.
Entry and tours for up to 25 people with Nick is £500. Tours for 25 people with Jon cost £350. Free coach parking and a member of staff will meet and assist the group upon arrival. Coach drivers can visit the gardens and have a tea or coffee free of charge. For groups of 20-plus, entry is £5.50 for adults and £2.50 for children (£7.50 for during evening visit). A group evening visit costs £7.50 per person for a minimum of 20 adults.
Armadale Castle Gardens, Skye
The 40-acres at Armadale Castle Gardens have been restored by dedicated staff and continues to be developed and planted to create a haven of scent and colour. Huge trees – some of them almost 200 years old – tower over wildflowers, bluebells and orchids. This sheltered corner benefits from a mild climate created by the Gulf Stream, and is home to plants from across the globe – the vibrant ‘Chilean Fire Bush’ (Embothrium), the white stems of the Himalayan Birch and the cheerful giant daisy flowers of the Celmesias from New Zealand.
There are terrace walks, ponds and herbaceous borders, and visitors can walk through dappled shade and delicate woodland. Armadale Castle Gardens is open from March 30 to October 31, 2016.
Groups of 10-plus cost £6.95 per person, with guide and driver admitted free. Lunch can be pre-booked for your party. To book call Mags Macdonald on 01471 844 305 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit www.clandonald.com.
Wyndcliffe Court Gardens, Monmouthshire
These Grade II-listed gardens have been designed in the Arts and Craft style and also showcase contemporary sculptures from local and well-known British artists. The gardens were designed by H. Avray Tipping, who was a friend of Gertrude Jekyll and also the editor of Country Life magazine.
Finished in the 1920s, the gardens have been designed into a series of ‘rooms’, where you can admire topiary, a summerhouse, walled gardens, lily ponds, fountains and even a bowling lawn, which leads onto wooded walks. The house and gardens sit in a high bluff, which affords stunning views over the Severn and Bristol Channel.
Groups of 10-plus must pre-book. Coach parking and catering options are available. To book call 01291 621242 or email email@example.com.