10 Best Historical Gardens in England

10 of the Best Historical Gardens in England

Sarah Roller

23 Jun 2021

England’s lush landscape and formal gardens have long inspired garden owners and designers the world over, and there’s no better way to wile away a summer’s day than in acres of gardens in full bloom, feeling the cool spray of a water feature on your face, picnicking on green lawns or losing yourself in a maze.

With so many wonderful gardens to choose from, we’ve made your job a little easier by picking 10 of our favourite historical gardens from across England – perfect for a day out.

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1. Stourhead

Stourhead is a prominent British stately home set in the Wiltshire countryside which is now run by the National Trust. Stourhead is famous for its impressive 2,650-acre estate and gardens, which attract tens of thousands of visitors every year.

The gardens, completed over decades, demonstrate the evolving aesthetic attitudes that bore so many great British gardens throughout the latter 18th and early 19th centuries, inviting guests not just to look but to arrive and experience.

The classical gardens, born out of enlightenment inspiration, hark back to the perceived dignity of ancient Rome, evoking images of Vergil’s Aneid at every turn, boasting temples to Apollo and Flora, a Romanesque Pantheon and several grottos. Moreover, historians have often commented on the gardens’ biblical implications, suggesting that the ‘pilgrims’ who walk this path see it as a modern day Eden: A paradise given, lost and regained.

Stourhead’s gardens remain extremely popular year round. There’s a loop around the lake which takes about an hour to complete.

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2. Princess Beatrice Garden at Carisbrooke Castle

Princess Beatrice became Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1896 following the death of her husband, Prince Henry of Battenberg, who had previously held the position.

In 1913 she moved into Carisbrooke Castle, the traditional residence of the Governors of the Isle of Wight, and began using it as a summer retreat, renovating it further to suit her needs. At this time she also cultivated her private garden, which since the 17th century had been used for leisure and as a kitchen garden.

Beatrice’s garden was the inspiration for its modern-day counterpart, which was created in 2009 by award-winning garden designer Chris Beardshaw. Using the colours of Beatrice’s heraldic crest – blue, red and yellow – and taking inspiration from her original geometric plans, Beardshaw created an Edwardian-themed garden in remembrance of the woman who dedicated much of her life to the castle and the island on which it sits.

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3. Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace is a spectacular Art Deco palace built in the 1930s alongside a medieval hall that was once a the centre of royal life in England.

Eltham Palace’s 19 acres of beautiful gardens also reflect both the medieval and 20th-century garden design, including a rock garden, a moat, a medieval bridge, herbaceous borders, a rose garden and plenty of picnic areas. Always interesting and colourful, garden highlights at Eltham Palace include the Spring bulbs display and the wisteria cascading over the classical pergola in Summer.

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4. Walmer Castle & Gardens

In 1792, Prime Minister William Pitt became Lord Warden, and visited Walmer Castle & Gardens occasionally in the summer. Pitt developed larger grounds around the site which are now the gardens and meadows. The castle and gardens were then later greatly improved and expanded by the 2nd Earl Granville between 1865 and 1891.

The garden covers 32 acres of land which is split evenly between formal ornamental gardens and parkland.

By the early 1900s, Walmer Castle was a very old building which was prone to cold and damp. From 1905, a new regime began, with the former porters and gardeners becoming wardens, park-keepers, and custodians of both the castle and gardens. During the 20th century it was visited by Elizabeth the Queen Mother amongst other famous figures.

 

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5. Witley Court and Gardens

Witley Court and Gardens is an elegant country estate that reached its peak in the Victorian period when it was the setting for extravagant parties and royal entertainments

Parts of the garden have been restored by English Heritage to give an idea of their Victorian glory. At the centre of the south parterre, the Perseus and Andromeda fountain, one of the grandest in Europe, has been restored to working order.

Intricately designed parterres, vibrant flower beds, ornate terraces and pavilions make up the magnificently landscaped gardens of Witley Court. Visitors can listen to free audio guides which tell the stories of the estate’s past residents. The site features a visitor centre, a play area and a popular tearoom.

 

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6. Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is a botanic garden in southwest London that houses the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kew Gardens contains over 50,000 living plants and millions of preserved specimens.

Kew Gardens sprung from the merging of the Richmond and Kew royal estates in 1772, and became famous under the management of Sir Joseph Banks, with collections including specimens from around the world.

In 1840 the gardens became a national botanic garden, and Kew Gardens became a centre for scientific research and the international exchange of plant specimens. Under Kew’s director, William Hooker, the gardens were increased, and by the early 20th century the grounds were expanded to the present size of 300 acres.

Kew’s Palm House, built between 1844-1848, was the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron – now considered the world’s most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure. The Temperate House followed later and is now the largest Victorian glasshouse in existence.

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7. Wrest Park

In the 18th century, Henry the Duke of Kent set up Wrest’s huge formal woodland garden, enclosed by canals. The ordered garden landscape was decorated with statues and garden buildings, including a spectacular Baroque pavilion. However, it was his granddaughter Jemima who showed an interest in gardens, and had leading designer ‘Capability’ Brown remodel the part in the new English landscape style.

Explore the 90 acres of gardens that reflect styles from France, Italy and England, boasting lush greens, an ornate marble fountain, a Chinese Temple and Bridge, and statues.

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8. Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens

Regarded as the first British house to be built in the Greek revival style, Belsay Hall in Northumberland, England, was built to join Belsay Castle and estate between 1810 and 1817.

The layout of the gardens at Belsay, including exotic conifers, Scots pines, a new lake and a terrace walk, have remained largely unchanged since the 19th century, restored to their appearance in the 1920s and 1930s.

 

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9. Brodsworth Hall and Gardens

Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire is one of England‘s most complete surviving Victorian country houses and has remained almost unchanged since the 1860s. Not only has Victorian life been ‘conserved as found’ at Brodsworth Hall, but the estate’s pleasure gardens have been restored, boasting a unique Rose garden.

The pleasure gardens – stretching 6 hectares wide – reflect the house’s Italianate style and boast spacious lawns and terraces with marble steps. Wandering around you will find white marble statues popping out of the greenery at you, as well as a 3-tier fountain, a rockwork grotto and garden buildings, all lined by fabulous topiary.

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10. Down House

Down House is a Grade I listed former home of English naturalist Charles Darwin. It is particularly well-known for being the site where Darwin researched and wrote his famous ‘On the Origin of Species‘. Today, the house, gardens, and grounds are open to the public.

Many of Darwin’s famous ideas and experiments took place in the botanical gardens at Down House, which he used as an outdoor laboratory – built on the ‘detestable slip’ of land in use as a kitchen garden. In the late 1950s, while writing ‘On the Origin of Species‘, Darwin took over a corner of the gardens and developed his work. Later, he added a hothouse alongside the greenhouse, where he continued his experiments until he died in 1882.

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