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Britain's Year of the English Garden

© by Tess Bridgewater

English Gardens

English Gardens are simply spectacular thanks in part to renowned landscape architect Lancelot (Capability) Brown, celebrated in 2016, the 300th anniversary of his birth, as the "Year of the English Garden." England's greatest gardener, he designed the landscapes and gardens of some of England's finest stately homes, credited with 170 English landscapes. He started the gardening mania for which the British people are known for whether castle or cottage, a garden ablaze with flowers can always be found. Some gardens are privately owned and many others are beautifully maintained by the National Trust or English Heritage. No matter where you are, there will be one or two worth visiting.

Plan a full day outing for a garden visit, with time to wander and relax and even learn some gardening tips . Gardens usually have a garden shop and restaurant and during the season, some offer concerts, art exhibits or other special events. Here are some gardens within easy reach of London which offer something a little different:

Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens Kew Gardens

On the southwestern outskirts of London, easily reached by tube or bus and frequent mainline trains from central London. The best known of London gardens, it was founded in 1772, and is now a World Heritage Site. The first known garden was created in 1299 when the Royal Court moved to nearby Richmond.

The 300 acre verdant oasis is renowned worldwide as a repository of rare and unusual species of plants and botanical research. The horticultural gardens of the Niagara Parks are modelled on Kew and several rare plants only found in North Dumfries township, Cambridge, Ontario have been sent to Kew.

Stroll the paths among the rare plants and flowers, visit The Palm House, Arboretum or journey through ten climactic zones in the Prince of Wales Conservatory. With two art galleries containing beautiful botanical paintings and photographs, a children's playground, a historic Royal Palace, once the home of Queen Charlotte and the thirteen children of King George I, a shop, and a restaurant in the Orangery, there's more than enough to keep one occupied for hours.

RHS Garden Wisley

RHS Garden Wisley RHS Garden Wisley

The flagship of four gardens around England sits at Woking in Surrey is, operated by the Royal Horticultural Society. The second most popular garden in England after Kew, it is also easily reached by rail or bus from central London but far enough to make an ideal daytrip.

Wander the 70 beautiful acres at your leisure. Highlights are the magnificent borders, each themed riots of colour, and the world's largest collection of waterlilies in a single stretch of water. On a woodland hilltop with a panoramic view overlooking the grounds and scenic view, relax among the birdsong and small wildlife in a shady picnic area.

Wisley is a teaching garden with an enormous greenhouse, and there are always special events, classes and workshops in progress, and a plant information centre where you can increase your knowledge of gardening or shop and enjoy a snack at the cafeteria.

Horniman Museum and Gardens

Horniman Museum and Gardens Horniman Museum and Gardens

In Forest Hill, south London, this free attraction is a well kept secret. It originated as the collection of Frederick Horniman, founder of the renowned Horniman Tea Company in the late 19th century, who brought back a collection of plants and artifacts from his tea planting world travels. He aimed to "Bring the World to Forest Hill". Now it is a magical oasis, a repository for rare plants from around the world. A year round calendar of events, offers an eclectic mix of activities, many geared to children, lectures, concerts, walking trails, learning opportunities for serious gardeners or just a place to relax and spend a fascinating day and enjoy the wonderful views across south London and the southern counties.

With limited parking, it is best to utilize London's excellent transportation system to get there. From Central London Take the Overground Rail line to Forest Hill Station or a # 185 or 176 bus.

Highgrove House Gardens

Highgrove House Gardens Highgrove House Gardens

Particularly interesting among privately managed gardens are Highgrove House Gardens, the personal passion of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, at his country home near Tetbury in the scenic Cotswold hills, SW England. Highgrove offers tours on selected dates during the summer. You can book online or through travel agents in England who offer coach tours.

The Prince is keen to showcase his garden and his organic principles and he loves visitors. He has even been known to join a tour on occasion, and has been seen painting on a sunny patio near the house or peering out of the window, taking in the visitors.

All proceeds from garden tours go to the Prince's Trust, his Charitable Foundation, which has raised millions of pounds for hundreds of varied projects.

There are no pristine lawns and flower beds, and you won't find mechanical lawn mowers here; instead a rare breed of Shropshire sheep roam the lawns, fertilizing in season and chewing the cud on the grass in fall when their hooves spread the seeds, ready for the next year. Free range hens wander about, producing eggs for the household and the estate restaurant. A specially planted wild flower garden attracts butterflies and bees for the beehives which produce honey for the estate shop.

In the restored sunny walled kitchen garden, much beloved by the Queen Mother, ancient fruit trees produce apples, peaches and other fruit and all produce grown is used in the estate dining halls. Sculptured busts of famous, garden minded friends, line the top of the walls.

There's a woodland walk and stumpery, with a tree house built for Princes William and Harry, which is now being restored for the grandchildren. Sometimes muddy and unruly underfoot, everything is recycled into organic matter for fertilizer which is used around the estate, almost nothing goes to waste.

The sundial garden outside the drawing room windows is the only formal area of the garden at the request of the Duchess, and this is planted with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall's favourite flowers such as delphiniums. He enjoys experimenting and works with seed experts to develop new varieties for the garden.

Tess Bridgwater is a travel writer who lives in southwestern Ontario, not far from Oxford County. She writes for the Record and other publications in Kitchener/Waterloo County, national magazines and is a member of SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers

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If you go

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Garden

One of the Park's best kept secrets, the Great British Garden was one of its most loved areas during the London 2012 Games, and is now being rediscovered by visitors as an idyllic destination for a quiet stroll or a moment's peace.

Renowned garden designer Sarah Price worked from a brief set by two amateur horticulturalists, Rachel Read and Hannah Clegg, winners of a competition by the Royal Horticultural Society to design this beautiful corner of the Park.

The Great British Garden intermingles rich and varied new planting designed for the London 2012 Games with existing trees that had crowded the banks of the canal for decades. These trees (mostly Sycamore) now form a natural barrier between the tranquil gardens and the hustle and bustle of the Stadium which sits over the water.

The Garden is designed to take visitors on a journey of discovery through three gardens themed on the colours of Olympic medals: Bronze, Silver and Gold.

The bronze section features reds, oranges and other fiery tones; the silver section features a human sized sundial set within an area of silver coloured paving, and in the gold section, spiral planting led visitors to a stately oak tree. One of the oak trees in this gardens was grown in Kew Gardens from an acorn collected from the tree that Baron Pierre De Coubertin planted in 1894 to thank the citizens of Much Wenlock for inspiring the founding of the modern Olympic Games. Beyond the this large oak is one of the parks four frog ponds providing valuable habitat and beautiful backdrop to the garden.

During the Games, archways that link the sections of the Great British Garden together were covered with good luck messages for athletes which visitors had threaded into the foliage.

SOURCE : Queen Elizabeth Olympic Garden

Browse Gardens By Map: http://www.greatbritishgardens.co.uk/england.html
Kew Gardens: http://www.kew.org/
RHS Garden Wisley: https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley
Horniman Museum and Gardens: www.horniman.ac.uk
Highgrove House Gardens: https://www.highgrovegardens.com/
English Gardens: www.visitengland.com/gardens
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