Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Decisions, Decisions......Needing the Help of the Brits!

So we've finally come up with some very basic decisions about the England trip. In a nutshell, probably mid-to-late September (once schools are back in session and the children have left the gardens), probably about ten days, probably concentrated in the Southern third of England (a few days in London, the balance of the time outside the city).

My family emigrated to the US four hundred years ago, but I'm still curious about the areas from which they originated, which are pretty consistently Surrey, Sussex, Norfolk. I find it fascinating that they seem to have packed up everything (including their hometown names) and came to the New World....Ipswich, England to Ipswich, Massachusetts, Portsmouth, England, to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, etc.

I'd love the comments of anyone who's visited some of the gardens we're considering, since I've only narrowed the list to about 40, which is still more than a little excessive! Please remember that Frank is not a die-hard gardener, and really likes the stereotypical "English garden" look.

Here's the list, in no particular order, that seems appealing:
  • Great Dixter
  • Charleston Farm
  • Beth Chatto Gardens
  • Hidcote
  • Mottisfont Abbey
  • Osborne House
  • Sissinghurst
  • Hever Castle
  • Blenheim Palace
  • Montacute House
  • Windsor Castle and all that stuff
  • Kew Gardens
  • Vale End
  • Savill Garden
  • Hampton Court Palace
  • Nymans Garden
  • Iford Manor
  • Arley Hall
  • Kiftsgate
  • The Manor House at Upton Gray

Any personal experiences with these places? Are any of the "iconic" gardens disappointing? Are there any that I'm missing that I really need to visit?

On a retail note, I've heard that I really should visit Blooms of Bressingham, Merriments, Denman's in West Sussex, and Coton Manor Nursery. Any thoughts about these suggestions?

Lastly, how accessible is London if we choose to stay in Surrey or Sussex at a holiday cottage, rather than staying in the city? I'd really rather not drive "on the wrong side of the street" around the city!

Needless to say, I have much more faith in the recommendations of other gardeners than the internet.....looking forward to hearing your thoughts about my long list of possibilities!


  1. Ive never been, but sounds wonderful, want a stow

  2. Honestly I wasn't the impressed with Kew. It's really big, and has lots of cool specimans, but it fell short in the awe factor. No huge breath taking views.

    My favorite garden in England is Hestercombe. I really loved the big landscape gardens. The ones that Longwood and Winterthur seem to emulate. The Greek temples and Iron summer homes and huge vistas.

    I also really loved Rosemary Verey's Barnsley House near Cirencester in Gloucestershire . I got to meet her before she died. A lovely woman and supurb landscape designer and author. I would love to see her house and gardens again, but that might be because I have good memories there.

  3. Steven, Frank may not really want a stowaway on the anniversary trip! Foy, thanks for those comments. That's just what I'm looking for to tweak my list!

  4. Hi Tim, Kew is better part of a day with travel back and forth via tube. Charleston (mecca) is half a day as well. But if you are not into early 20th century British art, you could pass on it. Not the time of year for Mottisfont (spring blooming).
    So many decisions..what fun!!!!!...

  5. Jim, your comments confirmed some concerns I had about both Charleston and Mottisfont. I'm afraid Frank would be pulling his hair out and pacing at Charleston! Now if only I could have planned this BEFORE my own little stepchild garden is on our local tour!.....oh, well,no room for a stableyard garden on my 1/2 acre anyway.....

  6. I was able to do a garden tour in 2000 and saw a lot, but there is so much more to see. I would not miss Hidcote, it was heaven. It is in the Cotswolds and even if Frank is not a gardener, the setting is right out of a story book. I would also recommend visiting Wisely outside of London, it is home to the RHS and they have a little of everything, including an incredible book store/gift shop. If you are going to stay in London, I would not miss Kew, especially for the glass houses. As Gaudy said it is right on a Tube stop, but you can also take a boat from the center of London and see the sights along the Thames on the way.

  7. Oh, you are going to have so much fun. I've been to England numerous times but for some reason, have not made it to very many gardens, weird! But I would echo Foy's enthusiasm for Barnsley House. It's in the Cotswolds, which is quintessential English gardening country. When I visited it, it was still owned by Rosemary Verey. Since she died her house has been turned into a hotel (last I heard) so you should check to see how accessible it is to the general public first.

    Kew Gardens is huge and although it might not be exciting for some, it's so historic you really should see it.

    A few gardens on my visiting wish list still to come are Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, Hidcote, and Beth Chatto's.

    Whatever you do, do not have a car in London! It's crazy driving and you don't really need one what with the Tube and taxis.

    I look forward to seeing some great posts from your visit!

  8. Hi Tim

    Before you book somewhere to stay, have a look at

    A blog worth seeing is

    I've never been, but Great Dixter would be at it's absolute peak mid Sept.

    Hidcote and the Cotswolds would be very high on my list. I'd chill a little if I was you. That's an enormous list of gardens for 10 days.

    Of course you could try something a little different. A Sunday visit to London's east end flower and plant market would be a great way to take in a different atmosphere. Plenty of places for a good lunch when you've finished.


  9. Rob, thanks for great advice! I'm definitely planning to trim my garden list down very substantially. I've gotten some good information which is allowing me to do just that. Columbia Road looks awesome! The Nat'l Trust cottages look like great places to stay, just trying to work with a location that allows us to get relatively easy train access into London, as well. Otherwise, we may do a cottage for 7 days, then 3 in London.

  10. Tim, We went to the UK 15 years ago and still have vivid memories. We broke the trip up into two segments. First we rented a car and drove all over England. We didn't get anywhere near London with a car. After 8 days we returned the car to the airport rental and then rode the train into London and Victoria Station. We stayed in a hotel near Victoria Station so we could easily take any train we needed. Parking is impossible in London and there is a metro line closed to all the major attraction. Blenhein is worth the visit, both the palace and grounds. Carra

  11. I've been to London once but never made it to any gardens. I'll be interested to see what ones you choose to visit.

  12. I would not miss Kew. The trees!!!!!!! One magnificent mature specimen after the other, of varieties I've never seen or heard of collected from around the world . Then the green houses. It is more like a park, and large.
    I refused to pay the ticket price for Blenhein. I don't care who crapped there! So didn't go there.

  13. Blessings on the trip, Tim, a dream for me! Two of my husband's ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, the history gathered by his Great-Grandmother, amazing!

  14. Denman's is a garden too, one widely cited in many books, gardened by John Brookes now. Wouldn't miss it. Also don't miss Great Dixter and Sissinghurst. And tour the house at Great Dixter. You'll be amazed.