Britain is renowned for its picturesque gardens, and the South West is no different. From secret hidden gardens through to the gigantic tropical biomes of the Eden project, explore the region’s diversity of horticulture at your leisure with our list of secret gardens.
15 of South West England's hidden gardens
1. Explore the Eden Project's five biomes, Cornwall
The Eden Project's massive greenhouses contain thousands of plant species from around the world. The Mediterranean biome takes you on a road trip, from the olive trees of Europe to California, whilst the Rainforest biome – the biggest indoor rainforest in the world – sees a huge waterfall tumbles in the background as you walk through Tropical South America, West Africa and Asia landscapes. Don’t miss the spectacular view from the new 165-ft jungle canopy, which at 90% humidity, is not for the faint hearted.
2. Unearth the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall
An aristocratic estate left to ruin as nature reclaims the buildings under a carpet of green, explore hidden paths and bamboo tunnels of these Lost Gardens. Heligan was the seat of the Tremayne family for 400 years but after the Second World War was abandoned and reclaimed by nature. Now, after one of the largest garden restoration programmes in Europe, it's open to everyone to enjoy. There's more than 200 acres to explore including a jungle with banana plantations, giant rhubarbs and tunnels of towering bamboo; and the lost valley with lakes, hidden paths and roosting boxes for the local bats. In springtime, the gardens are covered in bluebells.
3. Admire splendid Stourhead, Wiltshire
Discover majestic 18th century landscape gardens owned by the National Trust. Enjoy nature at its very best as you follow lakeside walks and admire grottoes, classical temples and rare and exotic trees. The garden is particularly spectacular during autumn when the trees are cloaked in red, brown and orange hues, or during spring when daffodils smother the lawns. The wider Stourhead estate can also be explored, with many walking routes and hidden treasures to be discovered along the way.
4. See subtropical sights at Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly
Located on the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, you’ll find Britain's subtropical Tresco Abbey Garden. Established by Augustus Smith in the 19th century, it houses spectacular collections of 20,000 plants from 80 countries, from Brazil to Burma and New Zealand to South Africa. The Valhalla collection within the Garden is equally impressive with its colourful figureheads salvaged from the islands' shipwrecks. And be sure to look out for the friendly red squirrels, introduced to the garden in 2013.
5. Discover Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset
Lose yourself in fifty acres of lakes, temples, cascades, tranquil woodland walks, formal terraces, vivid colours and stunning views. This unique combination of three centuries of garden design: Coplestone Warre Bampfylde's Georgian landscape garden, the Victorian terrace and shrubbery and the stunning Edwardian garden design by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll.
6. Explore historic parklands at Bowood, Wiltshire
The ancestral home of the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne, Bowood House is set within Capability Brown landscape and contains a remarkable collection of trees and shrubs as well as a tranquil lake. Visit in late spring to see the rhododendron gardens awash with colour. Look out for tours of the private walled garden that are offered at certain points throughout the year. Within the house you’ll find the laboratory where Joseph Priestly first discovered oxygen and a remarkable collection of heirlooms and artworks spanning the centuries. Why not make a break of it at Bowood’s very own spa hotel and golf resort?
7. See trees like never before at Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
Marvel at one of the finest collections of trees and shrubs in the world, just a short drive from Bristol. Whatever the season, the leafy surrounds make for a magical day out. The cherry trees burst into pink and white blooms throughout April, whilst in May a sea of bluebells spreads through Silk Wood. In autumn, the grounds are ablaze with a kaleidoscope of fiery colours, including vibrant maples, and dazzling hickories. Visit from March 2016 onwards and you’ll be able to stroll along a new Treetop Walkway, giving you a ‘never-seen-before’ perspective on the arboretum’s trees and landscape from above.
8. Roam Great Chalfield Manor, Wiltshire
Stop by a grand medieval manor house that’s located in beautiful countryside and surrounded by romantic gardens decorated with ponds and terraces and boasting blissful views. With such spectacular assets, it’s easy to see why Great Chalfield Manor has been used as a filming location for BBC period dramas Wolf Hall and Poldark.
9. Explore the intriguing Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire
Enjoy colourful strolls through Batsford Arboretum, famed for its magical autumn hues. Lose yourself in 56 acres of wild garden as leaves changes from green to a kaleidoscope of reds, pinks and golds; explore hidden glades, paths and streams and treat yourself to home baked cakes, teas and lunches in the Garden Terrace Café. Next door at the Cotswold Falconry Centre, you’ll find a hundred and fifty different birds of prey in natural aviaries in the owl woods. Watch from a distance at one of the free-flying demonstrations or get closer on a one-to-one experience.
10. Uncover Larmer Tree Gardens’ hidden treasures, Wiltshire
Created by General Pitt Rivers in 1880 and located in the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Larmer Tree is an extraordinary example of Victorian extravagance. Originally designed as pleasure grounds for ‘public enlightenment and entertainment’, the gardens are recognised by English Heritage as a Garden of National Importance. Within the gardens discover ornate buildings, sculptures and tranquil woodlands. Enjoy rhododendrons, camellias and hydrangeas at various times of the year and see how many of the resident peacocks you can spot on your visit.
11. Unravel a tale of two gardens at Hidcote and Kiftsgate, Gloucestershire
Hidcote Manor Gardens are a beautiful example of arts and crafts design, featuring a series of intricate outdoor ‘rooms’ created by the American, Major Lawrence Johnston. His secret gardens and magnificent vistas inspired his next-door neighbour and lifelong friend, Heather Muir, who created her own, more feminine version at Kiftsgate Court Garden. While Hidcote remains true to Lawrence Johnston’s design, Kiftsgate has been handed down to three generations of women gardeners who’ve contributed to the garden in their own unique way.
12. Admire fine art and gardens at Wilton House, Wiltshire
While away the hours in 21 acres of landscaped parkland and four formal gardens. Hop across the bridges in the Japanese garden, wander through the arboretum and enjoy strolling along the River Nadder, which passes through the parkland. Wilton House – home to the Earls of Pembroke since 1544 – has often been used as a filming venue, most recently featured in The Young Victoria and Pride and Prejudice. You’ll soon see why film crews flock here as you explore the grand house contains one of the finest art collections in Europe with works by Van Dyke, Rembrandt and Brueghel.
13. Visit Blagdon's Organic Garden, North Somerset
Tucked away in the Mendip Hills and overlooking a lake, Yeo Valley Organic Garden is a labour of love by Sarah Mead and her team. They have spent the last 18 years turning six and a half acres of land into a beautifully diverse, seasonal patchwork of ornamental and edible planting. The Garden is regularly open to the public, and visitors can get involved in tours and courses, or just enjoy a stroll around the beds, borders and quirky garden artworks, picking up expert tips from the gardeners. Visit the garden café for homemade lunches and afternoon teas all made with fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced in and around the valley.
14. Visit the Victorian Kitchens of Barley Wood, North Somerset
Barley Wood Walled Garden is a carefully restored Victorian kitchen garden home to an award-winning restaurant specialising in using locally sourced, seasonal produce to update and refresh historical recipes. The expert gardener grows a huge array of vegetables some of which are heritage and heirloom varieties. Espaliers and cordon fruit trees spray and fan against warm brick walls and he garden borders are a rainbow of breath-taking colours in summer attracting butterflies and bees that live in the Garden’s orchards.
15. Step back in time at Painswick Rococo Garden, Gloucestershire
Famous for its snowdrop gardens in the Cotswold town of Painswick, the Rococo Garden is a fascinating time capsule of a flamboyant period of English garden design, when gardens were used as a backdrop to decadent garden parties. This gem of a garden was originally laid out in the early 18th century and is set in a hidden Cotswold valley with magnificent views of the surrounding rolling countryside.