A year of glorious gardens to visit

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Here are some of my favourite gardens to visit.

These are taken from gardens I visited in 2016 that will also open to the public in 2017.

Some are ‘great gardens’ run by professional gardeners, but others are middle-sized gardens open for the NGS or other charities.

It was so difficult to choose only 12!

Winter gardens to visit


Not an easy month for garden visiting. So many gardens are closed. But winter gardens have their own austere beauty and it’s a good time to see the structure of the garden. The garden I would most recommend looking at is your own. That’s not cheating – it really is a good time to review both your plant structure and hard landscaping.

The Middlesized Garden in winter

This is my favourite winter photo of our garden – but other photos are not so flattering. Time to plan.


February is for snowdrop walks and winter light. Doddington Place Gardens, Doddington, Kent, has its snowdrop walk in mid-February.

Snowdrops at Doddington Place Gardens

Snowdrops at Doddington Place Gardens.


March is a good time to see behind the scenes. Gardens are still showing their bare bones. It helps enormously to go to a talk or workshop to learn how to ‘read’ the winter garden. I really think you learn more about gardening at this time of year, because this is when the garden is prepared for the lushness of summer.

Great Dixter has talks and workshops throughout the year. I went to a wonderful one in early spring (see here for the Great Dixter pruning tips I picked up). I can warmly recommend it.

Great Dixter in February

Great Dixter in early March – go to a talk or workshop if you can.

Spring gardens to visit


Spring seems to come later every year, and apart from bulbs, things are still quite bare in the garden in April. It’s time to get clever with containers. Or go on another course. Sarah Raven is good at both courses and container planting. She’s also fabulously good with bulbs.

Sarah Raven tulips

Tulips underplanted with lettuces at Sarah Raven, Perch Hill.

I went to a really informative ‘Year Round Veg’ course there in April. It transformed my vegetable harvests last year.

Pot plant display at Sarah Raven

Pot plant display at Sarah Raven Perch Hill, Sussex.


By May, gardens are bursting into song. I love the light, bright foliage greens that make country gardens in particular, look so fresh and new. It’s definitely time to get out the NGS Handbook and visit as many gardens as possible. I took these photographs in May of Kylie O’Brien’s garden near Faversham, Kent. She’s open this year for the NGS by appointment – you can ring her to arrange a visit. Details in the NGS handbook.

Gardens open for the NGS

Kylie’s O’Brien’s middle-sized country garden in May, open by appointment with the NGS.

The beautiful Pheasant Farm is also open in May. It’s another ‘middle-sized’ English country garden with a contemporary interpretation. Read more about it in this post.

Gardens open for the NGS

Pheasant Farm near Faversham, open in May and by appointment for the NGS.

Summer gardens to visit


Open gardens in June means Faversham for me. At the beginning of June, three walled town gardens will be open for the NGS. They have all appeared in this blog (garden maker, Posy Gentles, garden writer, Sarah Langton-Lockton and Faversham Open Gardens’ John and Mary Cousins).

Faversham NGS gardens

And the Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day is on Sunday 25th June. It’s the largest open gardens day in the South East of England, with around 30 gardens and 20+ market stalls. You can read about some of the gardens involved last year here, where you will also find Posy Gentles and the Cousins’ gardens.

Faversham Open Gardens

At the time of writing, gardens aren’t finalised for the 2017 Faversham Open Gardens, but these are some of those that have participated. This is Stonebridge Lodge.

The historic market town of Faversham is given over to all things gardening on the last Sunday of June. There’s a festive air, and lots of cafes and pubs where you can rest from all that garden visiting.

Faversham Open Gardens

These small town gardens go down to an ancient brook. Each has its own little bridge across to a patch of garden beyond. Some people grow vegetables there or keep hens.


In July, I visited Parham House & Gardens in Sussex. I can warmly recommend it for English summer country colour and style. Read more about it here.

Parham House & Gardens in Sussex

The rose garden at Parham House & Gardens in Sussex.


In early August, I visited Heale Gardens in Wiltshire. It’s another ‘English country garden’ which incorporates contemporary style in a charming way. Heale has quite a few ideas that the middle-sized garden owner might like to copy.

Heale gardens in Wiltshire

Heale’s use of grasses is both classic and contemporary. Here a silver birch is surrounded by a ‘box’ of grasses – it looks great.

Heale Gardens in Wiltshire

A meadow look for a sundial at Heale – I like the informal setting for a usually formal garden piece.

Heale Gardens in Wiltshire

I love this formal combination of stipa gigantea and lavender. I think this is one of my favourite photos of 2016.

Late summer gardens to visit


Ah – September means dahlias. You could visit Sarah Raven at Perch Farm again (she is Queen of the Dahlias). Or you could go to the Salutation Garden in Sandwich.

The Salutation garden in Sandwich.

Sculpture by Emily Cooper with dalias at the Salutation.

The Salutation at Sandwich.

Espaliered fruit trees at the Salutation, under-planted with dahlias.

This garden was destroyed by sea flooding in 2013, but it has risen again. If you feel your garden lacks late summer colour, pick up dahlia planting ideas from the Salutation.


By October, the gardening world is putting up the ‘closed’ signs and retreating to the potting shed. But, depending on the weather, it can still be a wonderful time to see grass-based gardens.

Sussex Prairie Gardens

Paint your bench purple after visiting Sussex Prairie Gardens

The ‘new planting’ pioneered by Piet Oudolf and Christopher Bradley-Hole has now been around for some time. Some people never took to it, and some say that it’s ‘over.’ However, it’s been so successful that it’s likely to become a classic style, rather than actually going out of fashion.

Sussex Prairie Gardens

Grasses, sculpture, colour. Those are the three best things about Sussex Prairie Gardens. But their cake is pretty good, too.

If you like prairie planting, go to Sussex Prairie Gardens. In fact, go even if you don’t like prairie planting. I loved the use of colour in this garden, and also the way they use sculpture to give structure to grasses.

End of the year gardens to visit

November and December

You might think that not many people visit gardens in November. But ‘winter gardens’ are a growing trend as organisations such as the RHS work hard to interest the public in gardening all the year round.

Fashions in homes favour the winter garden, too. Anyone with an extension with big glass doors or who has large modern windows will see their garden all year round.

I visited RHS Hyde Hall in November to see the development of their new winter garden.

RHS Hyde Hall

The RHS garden Hyde Hall in November. Its new winter garden will be just over a year old in November 2017.

While RHS gardens are created and maintained on a scale that the middle-sized gardener could only dream of, there’s still plenty of inspiration and planting ideas for us.

I apologise for the very South East England bias in this post – it’s where I live, so these are the gardens I know best. Please do let me know what gardens you’d recommend visiting elsewhere in Britain.

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