Kent may be known as the garden of England, but neighbouring counties Sussex and Surrey make a great case for the label to be applied to the entirety of south-east England. With perfectly mown lawns, colourful flower displays and rare, preserved plant species, each of these gardens perfectly captures the best of English horticulture.
Arundel Castle and Gardens
Despite its relatively small size, Arundel packs in a lot of must-visit attractions, including a cathedral and a nature reserve, although Arundel Castle and Gardens (open from April to November)should be your first priority. Housed next to Arundel Cathedral, the gardens feature several distinctive sections, including a vinery and a walled kitchen garden.
Handily located just off the A23 (one of the main routes from London to Brighton), Nymans is an expansive National Trust garden featuring a variety of exotic flowers from around the world. There’s also a section of woodland on the property, which is ideal for spring and autumnal walks.
Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden
One of the more unique offerings in south-east England (or any part of the country, for that matter), the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden has been exhibiting contemporary sculpture for over 35 years. Set in a beautiful section of woodland, the garden combines bright, colourful flowers, shrubbery and trees with intriguing artworks from more than 50 artists. The garden re-opens for spring/summer in April 2020.
Hever Castle & Gardens
Since the early 1900s, the grounds of Hever Castle (the childhood home of Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn) have housed a constantly expanding set of attractions, including two mazes and a variety of picturesque gardens. Venture into the Italian Garden for a series of plants and sculptures inspired by Italian culture, or celebrate the quintessential English rose in the Rose Garden. Admire the giant topiary chess set and be sure to visit Astor’s Garden Legacy, an interactive display tracing the garden’s development from Tudor times to the present day.
Pashley Manor Gardens
Located on the border of Kent and East Sussex, Pashley Manor Gardens is home to classic Romantic era English landscapes, complete with sculptures, fountains and ponds. Opened to the public in 1992, the rose gardens and woodland paths of Pashley Manor are constantly being refreshed, ensuring visitors can enjoy spectacular displays every year from April to September. Look out for the spring Tulip Festival in late April featuring around 35,000 blooms and for Special Rose Week, when more than 100 varieties of rose are on show.
Wakehurst offers over 500 acres of gardens and woodland, making it one of the largest botanic gardens in the UK. Operated by Kew, Wakehurst’s collection is constantly being updated, and important preservation work is being undertaken at the site’s Millennium Seed Bank too. Go for a ramble in the country and learn more about the local flora, or take in one of the venue's special exhibitions and arts classes focusing on the natural world.
Sheffield Park and Garden
Beautiful from early spring, when the first buds appear, until autumn, when the trees turn red and golden, Sheffield Park and Garden houses acres of landscaped gardens and historic woodland. From various points, you can enjoy spectacular views across the countryside, although with the immense range of colourful plants and trees in the garden, great views can be found just about anywhere. Spot the influences of renowned landscape gardeners Capability Brown and Humphry Repton, wander around the four main lakes that form the heart of this verdant refuge, and keep your eyes peeled for an array of wildlife including kingfishers and birds of prey.
The Savill Garden
Developed by Sir Eric Savill in the 1930s with a wide array of distractive plants and exotic woodland, The Savill Garden welcomes new and exciting colours throughout the year. From the intense sensory experience offered by the rose garden to the ever-changing colours of The Valley Gardens, there is something to enjoy whenever you visit. From here, you can explore parts of the vast Windsor Great Park or take a short drive to neighbouring Windsor, a town with a rich royal heritage. Its castle is the largest and oldest inhabited fortification in the world, having housed royalty for more than 900 years – look out for the Royal Standard flying over the Round Tower, a sign the Queen is in residence.
Borde Hill Garden
Set around an Elizabethan mansion in more than 200 acres of land, Borde Hill Garden will delight visitors with its series of ‘living garden rooms’. From the Italian Garden to the exotic Round Dell (featuring banana and palm trees), there’s something for everyone at Borde Hill, and it’s all maintained to a high standard throughout the year. Each part of the 17-acre formal garden has its own unique identity and style, and you’ll find everything from azaleas and rhododendrons to magnolias and roses from spring onwards.
With 27 acres of woodland, water gardens and exotic flowers, High Beeches is bright and lively from early April onwards. This is an ideal spot for a relaxing walk, giving you the opportunity to spot bluebells in their natural environment, along with many other types of flowers from across the globe. High Beeches is also home to the National Collection of Stewartias, a small set of ornamental trees that can trace their roots to the USA and Asia.