Horticulture is hot right now. The pandemic has fuelled our passion for plants to such an extent that some millennials would rather go to a garden centre than a nightclub. But lugging bags of compost can only bring you so much pleasure. To immerse yourself completely in the joy of all things green, you need to widen your focus to the sort of beds you get at a hotel. Nature is much more enjoyable when someone else has done the weeding and, fortunately, some of the UK’s best-loved country-house hotels are also home to some of our most enchanting flower borders.
Guests can hunker down in hotels wrapped in fertile ribbons designed by the world’s most influential garden designers. In the Cotswolds, sip that gin and tonic amid a classic English floral scene orchestrated by Rosemary Verey, and in Scotland, stare at the sea through vistas artfully engineered by Gertrude Jekyll.
You can visit grand estates with thousands of acres of pristine woodlands for a very British spin on the Japanese concept of forest bathing, walking between centuries-old oaks with only a startled deer for company. You can also sneak into some of England’s most popular public gardens before they open to the crowds, including a contemplative wander through an extraordinary apple maze in Somerset and the chance to soak up the scandalous past of Cliveden in Berkshire in the dewy early-morning spring light.
● Most beautiful gardens you can visit in Britain
Many of these delightful gardens are not simply decorative, they play an important part of the dining experience too. From Oxfordshire to Yorkshire you can take a pre-prandial stroll in the kitchen gardens that supply the ingredients for everything from cocktail garnishes to meals in Michelin-starred restaurants. For a dirty weekend of the green-fingered kind, here are our favourite hideaways.
Italianate gardens at the Beaverbrook Estate
1. Flowers and infamy in Surrey
Lord Beaverbrook, the wartime cabinet minister and influential owner of the Daily Express, entertained everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Ian Fleming at Cherkley Court, his weekend retreat in the Surrey Hills outside Leatherhead. Five years ago, it was renamed Beaverbrook and transformed into one of the UK’s smartest country-house hotels. The house is loaded with history. So too are its enchanting Italianate gardens. Rudyard Kipling found consolation among its grade II listed garden pool and loggia after learning that his son was missing after the Battle of Loos, while down in 40 Acre Field you can find the ancient yew where Winston Churchill would ponder his next move with a cigar and a glass of whisky.
Details B&B doubles from £590 (beaverbrook.co.uk)
Leonardslee, near Horsham
2. Wallaby gardeners in West Sussex
Sir Edmund Loder created the grade I listed woodland gardens at Leonardslee near Horsham in 1889 and at the same time installed some unusual gardeners — a mob of wallabies. Today, their descendants still do a grand job of keeping the grass trimmed and providing an endless supply of fertiliser. Fortunately, they don’t like the taste of rhododendrons, so the flora for which the gardens are rightly famous remains untouched. Loder’s family home has recently been converted into a swanky ten-room hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, Interlude. Its chefs forage ingredients from the 240-acre estate to make birch syrup, oak-tree vinegar, smoked juniper and other delicacies.
Details Room-only doubles from £350 (leonardsleegardens.co.uk)
3. Apple-tree maze in Somerset
The Farmyard is a honey-hued cluster of 18th-century dairy barns on the 800-acre Hadspen estate near Bruton. They form part of the exceedingly glamorous Newt hotel, which has free access to Hadspen’s award-winning gardens. At their core is a glorious walled garden with an apple-tree maze created by the French-Italian architect Patrice Taravella and tended by the head of horticulture, Iain Davies, who previously worked at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. There are also ancient woodlands, a kitchen garden showcasing some of the produce on the menu at its excellent Garden Café, a deer park and the Story of Gardening museum.
Details B&B doubles from £475 (thenewtinsomerset.com)
Askham Hall, near Penrith
4. River view and romantic borders in Cumbria
Askham Hall is a gorgeous restaurant with rooms outside Penrith. The seasons dictate the menus at Allium, its Michelin-starred dining room, with chefs sourcing inspiration from the estate’s gardens as well as nearby farms and woodlands. Whet your appetite for dinner with a tour of the raw ingredients. Its grade II listed gardens are a 12-acre bouquet of romantic and quintessentially English formal and informal spaces, including a 230ft double herbaceous border, terraces, topiary, ponds, woodland and meadows, with views of the River Lowther.
Details B&B doubles from £125 (askhamhall.co.uk)
Gliffaes Country House, in the Brecon Beacons
MARK BOLTON PHOTOGRAPHY
5. Blooming in the Beacons
The Victorian poet Alexander Smith maintained that trees are our best antiques, and Gliffaes Country House, near Crickhowell in the heart of the Brecon Beacons, illustrates the point beautifully. The late 19th-century mansion’s grade II listed ornate mouldings, fireplaces trimmed in Delft tiles and polished barley-twist wood are pleasing, but it is arriving and departing along its drive, lined with more than 100 specimen trees from ancient oaks to ornamental maples, that you won’t forget. There is a tree walk map to help you to discover the rhododendrons and azaleas in the hotel’s 33 fertile acres.
Details B&B doubles from £155 (rarebits.co.uk)
De Vere Totworth Court, Gloucestershire
6. Tree hugging in Gloucestershire
Forest bathing a trendy new wellness pastime? Of course not. In 1853, when Henry Reynolds-Moreton became the 3rd Earl of Ducie and proud owner of Tortworth Court, a glorious gothic revivalist mansion outside Bristol, he immediately established what has become one of the UK’s most important arboretums. It is now home to 300 plant species and specimen trees from North American oaks to rare Himalayan shrubs and fine examples of rhododendron, conifer and maple. These days, they are accessorised by specially commissioned sculptures from the artist Emma Stothard, including a parliament of hares positioned as the centrepiece of the formal garden. In 2018 the house underwent a £20 million restoration, converting the former stables and orangery into smart hotel bedrooms.
Details B&B doubles from £119 (www.devere.co.uk)
Bodysgallen Hall, near Llandudno
NATIONAL TRUST/JOHN MILLER
7. Time-warp garden in Wales
Climb the medieval tower of Bodysgallen Hall, which was built as a lookout for Conwy Castle, and you’ll be rewarded with an unfurling panorama of the mansion’s 220 acres of award-winning gardens and parklands. They include an enchanting walled rose garden, a rockery with cascade, several follies, the terrace walk and the ladies walk, as well as a Versailles-worthy 17th-century parterre of box hedges filled with herbs, laid out around a sundial. Cast your eye further for views of Snowdonia, Anglesey, the Great Orme and nearby Llandudno. The house is pickled in Tudor-gothic character, too, with oak-panelled rooms, fireplaces festooned with heraldry and portraits of aristocrats whose eyes seem to follow you around the rooms.
Details B&B doubles from £225 (bodysgallen.com)
8. Record-breaking rhododendron in Sussex
Every year, horticulturalists and film crews come from far and wide to see South Lodge’s rhododendron in bloom. This is no ordinary bush; it’s the UK’s largest single-stem rhododendron: 115ft wide, 75ft deep and 40ft high. You’ll find it by the main entrance of this neo-Jacobean mansion built by the Victorian explorer and plant-lover Frederick DuCane Godman in the 1880s. Guests aren’t complaining about recent additions such as the state-of-the-art 14-room spa, but they are grateful that the 93-acre gardens that Godman developed have remained more or less untouched. If you want to see that bush at its best, visit between now and the end of May.
Details B&B doubles from £285 (exclusive.co.uk)
Barnsley House, near Cirencester
9. Celebrity gardener’s home in Gloucestershire
The late, great designer Rosemary Verey created gardens for the likes of Prince Charles and Elton John but arguably her most romantic was her first, her very own four acres at Barnsley House near Cirencester. The house is a William and Mary mansion enveloped by greenery that provides a masterclass in how to plant an English country garden. There are eye-catching knot gardens, statues by Simon Verity and a glorious potager that still provides plenty of fruit, vegetables and flowers for the hotel’s chefs. The highlight, though, is a stroll along its famous Laburnum Walk; it’s such a swoony space that it will completely turn your head.
Details B&B doubles from £329 (barnsleyhouse.com)
Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire
10. Gourmet patch in Oxfordshire
The first thing the celebrity chef Raymond Blanc did when he bought the 15th-century Manoir aux Quat’Saisons outside Great Milton in 1984 was to establish an allotment. Almost 40 years on, Le Manoir is home to two acres of flourishing organic kitchen gardens, a 2,500-strong heritage orchard, a mushroom valley and even a gardening school. Of equal interest is the produce once it arrives on your plate, given the restaurant is the only one in the UK to have maintained two-Michelin-star status for a phenomenal 38 years. There are 27 acres in total, so plenty of room to work up an appetite. Don’t miss the water garden, which is fed by natural springs and was originally dug out by 16th-century monks, and the wildflower meadow created with Chris Beardshaw, a regular on Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time.
Details B&B doubles from £965 (belmond.com)
Glenapp Castle near Ballantrae
11. Highland horticulture in South Ayrshire
It’s almost unfair how many advantages Glenapp Castle near Ballantrae has over the competition. For a start, it’s within one of only two Unesco-protected biosphere reserves in Scotland and the Gulf Stream warms its coast sufficiently for giant sequoia trees to thrive. Then there are its Italian gardens designed by the pre-eminent gardener Gertrude Jekyll, its rhododendron collection, which is 3D clickbait for the green-fingered Instagrammer, and its walled garden, the perfect spot for afternoon tea. There are also acres of pristine woodlands with glimpses over to Arran between the tree trunks. The hotel is tempting too, replete with 19th-century baronial splendour including oak-panelled hallways and lavish reception rooms, as well as prestigious past guests including Winston Churchill.
Details B&B doubles from £361 (glenappcastle.com)
Consall Hall, Staffordshire
12. Labour of love in Staffordshire
In 1958 William Podmore set about turning 70 acres on the edge of the Staffordshire Moorlands near Stoke-on-Trent into the heart-stoppingly romantic Consall Hall Landscaped Gardens. It was a labour of love that occupied him for half a century as he created five mirror-like lakes dotted with tumbledown follies and enveloped in unruly borders and dappled woodlands. After a sensitive restoration, it was resurrected last year as the Tawny hotel. Stylish shepherds’ huts, boathouses and treehouses have been discreetly inveigled into the landscape and offer ringside seats to watch the geese, tufted ducks and moorhens take early-morning baths and hear the owls’ late-night entertainment, best appreciated from the comfort of a private hot tub.
Details B&B doubles from £230 (thetawny.co.uk)
Raithwaite Sandsend resort, near Whitby
13. Forest by the sea in Yorkshire
Vodka can lead to (quickly forgotten) ideas, but when the owners of Raithwaite Sandsend resort outside Whitby realised, as they sipped their martinis, that Sapling Spirits planted a tree for every bottle sold, a plan took seed. The two have now collaborated on a forest garden at the hotel that features 1,000 large and dwarf fruit trees, nut trees, berry and currant bushes, beans, flowers, globe artichokes and herbs and spices that are used by the kitchen and bar teams. The 100-acre estate also has heritage gardens, a pagoda, a lake and eyefuls of the North Sea where you just might spot dolphins, whales and porpoises making a splash.
Details B&B doubles from £187 (raithwaitesandsend.co.uk)
The Japanese pagoda at Cliveden, Berkshire
14. Scandal amid the borders of Berkshire
Cliveden became synonymous with upper-class scandal after the Profumo affair (and you can still lounge by the grade II listed swimming pool where it all started). The former Palladian mansion and home of the Astor family, now a grand country-house hotel, is almost as well known for its 376 acres of grade I listed woodland, floral displays, topiary and statuary. During the day, you must share delights such as the maze and the Water Garden with its six-sided Chinese pagoda, originally made for the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle, with day visitors but, out of hours, hotel guests get these much-loved acres all to themselves. Book a bedroom at the back that overlooks the six-acre parterre and the Thames slinking by.
Details Room-only doubles from £445 (clivedenhouse.co.uk)
The Falcon, Castle Ashby’s coaching inn, Northamptonshire
MARK BROWN PHOTO
15. Grandeur in Northamptonshire
The grade I listed Castle Ashby has been in the 7th Marquess of Northampton’s family since the Middle Ages. They have been fastidious guardians of its bricks and mortar and have recently given the Falcon, the estate’s 16th-century coaching inn, an impressive, nature-themed makeover, but their first love has always been its 10,500 acres of forestry and farmlands. Guests at the pub have free rein over its most precious 35 acres — parklands designed by Capability Brown that include a misty lake, deer park and dappled woodlands. A pre-breakfast stroll through the trails of the arboretum, the Italian gardens, the orangery and a meerkat and marmoset-filled menagerie set you up nicely for the day.
Details B&B doubles from £120 (thefalcon-castleashby.com)
Greywalls hotel, East Lothian
16. Gourmet food, golf and gardens in East Lothian
Greywalls is prestigious indoors and out. The Arts & Crafts country house, a favourite retreat for Edinburgh’s smart set, was designed by Edwin Lutyens in 1901 and it is now home to Chez Roux, a restaurant run by Michel Roux of the two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London. Alfresco joys include being so close to the Muirfield golf course you need to keep an eye out for stray balls. But Greywalls’ crowning glory is its wrap-around six acres of formal walled garden attributed to the renowned garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. They are a quintessential example of an Edwardian garden, with a fusion of straight and curved walls that create intimate “rooms” and uplifting vistas of the Firth of Forth beyond.
Details B&B doubles from £325 (greywalls.co.uk)
The Cadogan in Chelsea
17. Secret garden in the city
Outdoor spaces are rare at London hotels so it’s a welcome surprise that a bedroom at the Cadogan in Chelsea, a stone’s throw from the smart shops of Sloane Street, comes with the key to the neighbourhood’s secret garden. It’s a bonus that Cadogan Place Gardens are also magical, remaining relatively unchanged since they were laid out in 1886. Trees provide a cloak of privacy, exotic planting includes a Brazilian pepper tree and a Chinaberry tree, and there is a striking Dancers sculpture by David Wynne. There are tennis courts if the shops haven’t exhausted you but the hotel will supply blankets, deckchairs and board games if you prefer to put your feet up.
Details B&B doubles from £530 (belmond.com)
18. Georgian splendour in Bath
Its Roman roots, Georgian architecture and Jane Austen links mean Bath is a perennial favourite for short breaks. The main sights are no more than ten minutes’ walk from this 1830 ivy-clad mansion but you won’t spot a pylon or rooftop anywhere from the Bath Priory’s wisteria-draped terrace and four tranquil acres. Borders are tended by Jane Moore, a Chelsea Flower Show medal winner in 2003 and regular guest presenter on BBC Gardeners’ World, and guests can download a DIY tour of the grounds and kitchen garden. The spa is also florally focused, with treatments using products infused with healing herbal essences such as verbena and lavender.
Details B&B doubles from £245 (thebathpriory.co.uk)
Monkey Island Estate, Berkshire
19. Monkeying around in Berkshire
In the 12th century monks were the first to make their home on a seven-acre sliver marooned in the Thames outside Bray. By 1723 Charles Spencer, the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, had built two splendid Palladian lodges on the island and in the early 1900s Edward VII would contemplate life from beneath its walnut trees. Edward Elgar found the serene setting inspiration for his Violin Concerto. Today Monkey Island Estate is a unique hotel with a restored garden that pays homage to its 800-year heritage with traditional herbaceous borders and a herb garden stocked with plants such as echinacea, acanthus and lavender, which the monks would have used for remedies.
Details B&B doubles from £275 (monkeyislandestate.co.uk)
The Pipe and Glass pub, Beverley
20. Flowers and fun dining in Yorkshire
The Pipe and Glass may have a Michelin star and five fancy bedrooms but as much thought has been put into the gardens as the posh pub nosh at this classic coaching inn on the Dalton Estate in Beverley. The owners James and Kate Mackenzie have spent eight years developing fairytale outdoor dining spaces with sculptures made from larch bark, hidden arbours and kitchen gardens including a living wall of herbs. The garden is practical as well as beautiful, so every single ornamental vegetable and shrub is edible — including the fragrant rose bushes, the petals of which feature in desserts.
Details Doubles from £200 (pipeandglass.co.uk)