Winning tip: Menai marvel, Bangor
Treborth Botanic Garden in Bangor, north Wales, is owned by Bangor University and sits beside the beautiful Menai Strait at the gateway to Anglesey. The Wales coastal path passes through, and it is very popular with locals and visitors alike. It has not only stunning outside areas, including a Chinese garden, but also glasshouses (though these are still currently closed to the public). An army of volunteers, the “Friends of Treborth Botanic Garden” help keep it looking its best and run plant sales and other events. It’s a lovely place to volunteer, or just a tranquil garden to spend some time in.
Behind the green door, Swansea
Every time I visit my sister-in-law in Swansea, the first place I head for is Singleton Park’s Botanical Gardens. It’s always a thrill slipping in through the anonymous-looking green door in the red-brick wall to discover the secret it’s keeping – towering herbaceous borders that are simply breathtaking. If this was all there was to see, you’d potter home more than happy. But it’s only the entrance and the long path leads to a haven of tranquillity blooming with many more delights and surprises including … but I’ll leave them for you to discover.
Ferry over the Tamar, Devon/Cornwall
Mount Edgcumbe Country Park in Torpoint, Cornwall, is the estate of a Tudor house overlooking Plymouth Sound and the River Tamar, now owned by Cornwall and Plymouth councils. The trip to get there on the little Cremyll foot ferry – bicycles accepted – from Plymouth is part of the fun (there’s also the Torpoint car ferry). The Grade I-listed gardens include rose, American, French, Italian and New Zealand gardens, a dell with tree ferns and the national camellia collection. There are spectacular views from the folly, a walk along the South West Coast Path to Kingsand village, two cafes (now open, with Covid-safe practices), and craft shops in the old stables.
Regency promenading, Shrewsbury
The Quarry park in Shrewsbury has been the perfect place to picnic and promenade since the 17th century, when the ladies of the town would enjoy a stroll along the banks of the River Severn, which loops elegantly around it. Today the public park has lost none of its charm and is easily reachable from the city centre. The jewel in its crown is the Dingle, a sunken flower garden with thousands of blooms sending lovely fragrances into the air, a credit to the town’s longtime parks superintendent, Percy Thrower. Follow the one-way system as you stroll and enjoy a homemade ice-cream at the Quarry cafe as you pass.
Ready to rock, North Yorkshire
Aysgarth Edwardian Rock Garden in Wensleydale is a Grade II-listed enchanting grotto of huge blocks of weathered limestone, with a spring-fed waterfall and 300 varieties of plants including ferns and alpines. It was commissioned in the Edwardian era by Frank Sayer Graham, a game dealer who made his money in silver rabbit furs and rare gulls’ eggs, to show off his wealth and plant knowledge. Lovingly restored, it’s a little oasis of charm and peace, open daily.
Secret garden, Leeds
Leeds council’s Temple Newsam park has rhododendron walks, ornamental lakes, laburnum arches, bluebell woods and formal gardens. Tucked away, and missed by many, is a superb 18th-century walled garden. Red bricks shelter stunning borders and central rose beds. I like to walk through the bougainvillea-filled glasshouse, pause to marvel at the varieties of coleus in the national collection, then sit on one of the many benches surrounded by a medley of scents and the buzz of the apiary’s bees. There are fees to enter the historic house and rare-breed farm, but the gardens and parkland are free.
Diarist’s delight, East Sussex
My favourite public garden is Southover Grange in Lewes. This garden played an important part in my life for many years and I feel nostalgic just thinking about it! It’s the garden of Southover Grange house, built in 1542, where the diarist John Evelyn once lived. The garden is divided into several “rooms” around the old house. There’s a lawn with an ancient mulberry tree, the Winterbourne stream running through, and colourful flowerbeds. The garden teas are another major attraction – sit on a bench with a cup of tea and delicious cake. [See footnote]
Dun wandering, Montrose, Angus
Enter the House of Dun walled garden and it’s easy to imagine you are a fine Edwardian lady taking a promenade around the formal yet cottage-style garden. Rose-covered arbours dotted around the sun-warmed stone walls are the perfect spot to sit and relax. Breathing in jasmine, sweet peas and roses, the years slip away and you could be of any time. Gazing at the windows, you can ponder the lives lived within, from the grand rooms to the servants’ attics. All had at least a most beautiful view. Buildings, cafe, shop and toilets are closed, but the gardens are free to enter.
May the Forth be with you, Edinburgh
Starbank Park on the beautiful coast in Edinburgh is a wee hidden gem! With views clear across the Firth of Forth, on a sunny day there is nothing like it. A team of passionate and green-fingered volunteers maintain stunning floral beds in the front park, and climbing the steep bank to the top rewards you with a different type of garden: of carefully curated trees and all variety of blooms. The park even hosts two mini free libraries – one for adults and one for smaller readers. Everyone is welcome to spend time in the peaceful rose garden or lost in thought gazing out to sea. It’s simply gorgeous!
Promise you a rose garden, Norfolk