Britain celebrates gardens

Britain’s National Trust, which looks after the world’s largest and most important collection of gardens, has proclaimed 2001 Gardens Year. The British are obsessive about their gardens, so it comes as no surprise that the island nation will open a host of new public gardens this year.

New or old, the nation’s gardens are simply delightful. The historic landscapes designed by ‘Capability’ Brown, for example, are as awe-inspiring today as they were when created in the 18th century. And modern gardens are also being planted in historic settings, making an interesting contrast between old and new.

New heritage gardens
English Heritage, the country’s conservation body, has launched a major initiative, creating 10 new gardens within its historic properties by the end of 2004.

· At Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire, designer Neil Swanson has created a charming garden within the dramatic setting of a ruined Norman fortress. This spectacular garden is scheduled to open in the summer of 2001.

· The Eden Project in England’s West Country is described as a ‘living theatre of plants and animals’ and set in a former china clay pit.pening near St. Austell, Cornwall, in the spring of 2001, the Eden Project will house two massive conservatories, or ‘biomes’.

Two conservatories
One of these impressive structures rises to a height of 45 metres, large enough to hold the Tower of London. The world’s largest conservatory with a biome, it is home to hundreds of plants from Amazonia, West Africa, Malaysia and the Oceanic Islands.

The other is a warm temperate biome containing plants from California, Southern Africa and the Mediterranean. This development has so inspired the British public that it has already been attracting crowds, even while under construction.

Garden of Wales
This year also marks the launch of the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Its centrepiece is a fantastic glasshouse, the largest single span in the world. Inside are more than 1,000 species of Mediterranean flora and fauna in a setting that includes a ravine, rock terraces, a waterfall, even a lake. It is, in fact, the first new botanic garden to be designed in the UK in the last 200 years, and will house many endangered plant species from around the world.

In contrast, the University of Oxford is home to the oldest botanic garden in Britain. Founded in 1621, its original walled garden and collection of 8,000 species of plants, including cacti over 100 years old, makes for a delightful outing.

Renovated gardens
The gardens surrounding London’s royal palace of Hampton Court are world-renowned. However, 130 miles away in Hereford lies another Hampton Court, which, although less well known, is equally as dramatic. Created in 1430 as a reward for a knight’s bravery at the Battle of Agincourt, the gardens have recently been given a new lease on life under their present owners, the Van Kampens.

The gardens open this summer and feature a wide range of English styles, including a sunken garden with pool, a waterfall and a hermitage with a tunnel leading to a wonderful yew maze.

Crompton Acres is also undergoing something of a transformation. Overlooking Poole Harbour near Bournemouth on England’s south coast, the property is to open a Sensory Sculpture Garden this year to celebrate its 80th anniversary. The focal point of this new garden will be a group of stone sculptures from Zimbabwe. Visitors will be encouraged to touch the art works, which are to be set amid a range of decorative grasses and scented shrubs.

Leeds Castle 
Another garden celebrating an anniversary in 2001 is Leeds Castle in Kent. Often described as the loveliest castle in the world, Leeds is celebrating 25 years of being open to the public. The castle, surrounded by 500 acres of magnificent parkland and gardens, is set in the middle of a natural lake.

The woodland garden, with its old and new shrubs, is especially beautiful while daffodils are in bloom, and there’s also a spectacular fuchsia display. A highly popular and successful program of special events is arranged throughout the year making a visit to the castle an interesting one, whatever the season.

Victoria’s garden
Finally, as 2001 marks the centenary of Queen Victoria’s death, why not visit Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight (76 miles southwest of London), Her Majesty’s holiday home? In this peaceful rural retreat, she and her family spent some of their happiest times. Now, for the first time, visitors can enter the walled fruit and flower garden – filled with plants of the period – created by the Queen and her husband, Prince Albert.

These are just a handful of the many hundreds of gardens open to the public in Britain. The British Tourist Authority has produced a colourful gardens map, available free. The BTA website at gives an inside look at over 400 gardens as well as garden itineraries to help you plan your next holiday to Britain.