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Britain's Glorious Gardens
by
Christine Roberts

It was not surprising to learn that gardens and gardening are a special passion of the British, when visiting several of their beautiful gardens last spring. For, their cooler climate is conducive to producing excellent gardening results, and with an absence of weather extremes is not stressful to their plants. Besides, the UK is reputed to successfully cultivate more species of plants than anywhere else in the world.

The National Trust, the exceptional British organization which looks after the world's largest, most important collection of gardens and landscape parks, designated 2001 as its Gardens Year. Of great significance during the year was the opening of two remarkable garden projects - The National Botanic Garden of Wales and The Eden Project in St Austell, Cornwall. Definite "must-sees" for every visitor no matter if you are an avid gardener, or not.

The latter comprises two massive conservatories called biomes. One of them is large enough to house the Tower of London and contains hundreds of plants from Amazonia, West Africa, Malaysia and the Oceanic islands. The other, a warm, temperate biome, contains plants from California, Southern Africa and the Mediterranean.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales' most stunning feature is an enormous glasshouse. Inside are 1,000 species of Mediterranean flora with features such as rock terraces, a ravine, a waterfall and lake.

English Heritage recently opened the latest in its series of contemporary gardens in historic settings of 12th century Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire and the Medieval Bishop's Palace, Lincoln. Last year happened to be the centenary of Queen Victoria's death and for the first time, visitors were able to enter the walled fruit and flower garden at her former holiday home at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight: a garden filled with plants of the period and created by Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert.

Information on 100 exquisite British gardens is provided in the British Tourist Authority's colorful new map-folder,"British Gardens", available free from your nearest BTA office. Some 400 Gardens can be viewed on BTA's web site:- www.visitbritain.com/gardens.

A plethora of stunning garden attractions in South East England offer leisurely walks in their grounds. A few of my favorites include Hampton Court Palace (Surrey), Hever Castle, Penshurst Place and Leeds Castle (Kent) which also has an amazing aviary. A dedicated web site www.southeastgardens.co.uk includes "live" gardens information, 
seasonal spotlights, itineraries and short break packages.

Many garden lovers visiting Britain like to coincide their visit with an attendance at one or miore of the Royal Horticultural Society's top flower shows, such as The Chelsea Flower Show held in May, The Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in July, or to experience the more intimate village show atmosphere late summer at the Wisley Flower Show, held towards the end of August.

Two garden "oases of tranquility" I visited were the Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park, only 25 miles from London, and the magical gardens of Sudeley Castle, nestled in the Cotswolds.

Many painters and photographers come to Sudeley Castle to view the award-winning Gardens and Park, and thence to capture its haunting beauty on canvas or film. Considered one of the most beautiful gardens in the Cotswolds, they were laid out in the 19th century while the Castle was being restored. Their Queen's Garden is particularly noteworthy for its magnificent double yew hedges and spectacular old-fashioned roses. And there's a Secret Garden, too!

Although part of the Castle is the family home of Lady Ashcombe, the remainder is opened for visitors to explore and enjoy at leisure. For, Sudeley relies on the support and appreciation of its visitors to keep its unique inheritance alive, and growing.

It lies half a mile from the ancient Saxon capital of Winchcombe, the view of the Castle remaining unchanged since Cromwell's army invaded it long ago. Whilst the Tithe Barn was destroyed by Cromwell, its ruins still stand, overlooking the Tithe Barn Garden's pond which is stocked with rare carp.

While it's impossible to cover a wonderfully romantic history in a short article of the Castle and its Gardens they were the legacy of Ralph Boteler, former Admiral of the Fleet under Henry V and Henry VI who became Baron Sudeley in 1441. Interestingly, the usefulness of a garden was an important factor in those days, not its decorative appearance.

Many years later, Edward VI, nine-year old son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, gave the gardens to his uncle, Thomas Seymour. At this time the knot garden was becoming fashionable.

Sudeley's Gardens have several ideas on their cards for the future: a Stone Age Garden, as well as a Wild Flower and a Sculpture Garden.

New and interesting ideas for entertaining the public include their 4-day annual Sudeley Music Festival, featuring international stars such as Jose Carreras and Lesley Garrett, teamed with top orchestras and conductors.

Worth noting for a future visit to this region are the delightful Sudeley Castle Country Cottages which are only five minutes away from the castle grounds. A minimum stay of a week is usually required. Phone: UK 01242 602308. Email: marketing@sudeley.org.uk.

Closer to London is The Savill Garden owned by the Crown Estate and part of the Windsor Estate www.crownestate.co.uk. Over 60 per cent of Windsor Great Park's land is open to the public with 405 hectares (1 000 acres) the responsibility of their Gardens Department.

Creator of this gorgeous garden was Sir Eric Savill, the Deputy Ranger of Windsor Great Park between 1937-1959. I discovered a few of its highlights when strolling through the grounds one Spring morning last year.

There is a Peat Garden, a Veteran Oaks Garden - England has more wonderful old trees than any other country - a Dry Garden with its mass of well-adapted plants to arid conditions and a Woodland Garden, among others. The Savill Garden was originally conceived as a woodland garden, a style that originated in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Don't miss the spectacular South American conifer tree and The Queen Elizabeth Temperate House which houses a range of woodland plants maintained at correct temperatures - New Zealand ferns, exquisite in all seasons, and Rhododendrons, for instance.

Areas of grassland were observed and those double-sided herbaceous borders which were once a standard feature in Victorian and Edwardian country homes and public parks. But they are seldom seen today.

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Email:  Christine Roberts

 

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