With a far-flung holiday off the cards for most of us this summer, there’s never been a better time to get acquainted with London’s green spaces. And while the city is home to a wide range of incredible parks and woodlands, it’s also full of lesser-known horticultural gems, from secret walled gardens to vast botanical havens. Enjoying the great outdoors is still the safest option amidst the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and many of these gardens have brought in extra post-lockdown measures, ranging from pre-booked time slots to keep numbers down to one-way systems around certain attractions. Here, we’ve rounded up the finest private gardens in London and its surrounding counties where you can enjoy the best of the English summer.
CHELSEA PHYSIC GARDEN
Tucked away behind an unassuming brick wall lies one of Chelsea’s most enchanting (and little-known) private gardens. Despite being founded in 1673, this glorious botanical gem remain one of London’s best-kept secrets, meaning a visit there is always blissfully free from crowds, leaving plenty of space to explore the incredible array of rare medicinal plants and peruse Europe’s oldest rockery. This is even truer post-lockdown, where the garden is only allowing visitors with pre-booked tickets in order to monitor capacity levels. Their charming café is still open to provide takeaway cakes, pastries and ice cream, and they’ll be hosting a series of socially distanced events for families, including regular Garden Safaris.
Entry is only available through pre-booked tickets; chelseaphysicgarden.com
Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HS
Fulham Palace House and Garden
Spread across 13 acres by the river, this is the second oldest botanical garden in the city and is home to rare oak trees dating as far back as 450 years. The main garden features a wide range of exotic flora and fauna from around the world, planted by the Bishops of London, who used to summer here in the 17th century, while the walled garden is an urban oasis filled with fruit trees, beehives and colourful blooms. Since reopening on 29 June new measures have been brought in to ensure utmost safety, including one-way paths, increased cleaning regimes and takeaway-only options at the on-site café. Don’t miss The Bishop’s Tree, a striking modern sculpture carved from the trunk of a Cedar of Lebanon.
Tickets are not required and the garden is free for visitors, though a voluntary donation of £2 is encouraged for entry to the walled garden; fulhampalace.org
Fulham Palace House and Garden, Bishop’s Avenue, London SW6 6EA
Chiswick House and Gardens
Nestled in the grounds of Chiswick House, a Neo-Palladian marvel in the heart of west London, these majestic gardens are often considered the first example of ‘natural’ gardens in England. Designed by renowned landscape architect William Kent, along with his mentor, Lord Burlington, rigid formality was sidelined in favour of a freer landscape, with rustic waterfalls, wild woodlands and a serpentine lake taking their place. While the house remains closed for the time being, the gardens are open for visitors looking to immerse themselves in nature and explore the 65 acres of fragrant flowerbeds, jaw-dropping vistas and 18th century wilderness.
Tickets are not required and the garden is free for visitors, though donations are welcome; chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk
Chiswick House and Gardens, Burlington Lane, London W4 2RP
Kew’s much-loved gardens are home to the largest and most diverse botanical collection in the world. The gardens themselves have been open to the public since the beginning of June, providing a welcome haven for nature lovers in the midst of the pandemic. From 4 July they will also be opening their world famous glasshouses, meaning visitors can now enjoy the tropical wonders of the Palm House, with new Covid-19 measures being brought in to ensure visitors feel as safe as possible, including one-way systems that follow designated routes. With many holiday plans on hold this summer, a tour of the exquisite Japanese tea garden could be just the ticket some much-needed escapism.
Entry is only available through pre-booked tickets; kew.org
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Richmond TW9 3AE
Great Dixter, East Sussex
Hailed by some as the most innovative and spectacular garden of the 20th century, Great Dixter was home to the celebrated gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd for over 40 years and has become a pilgrimage spot for horticulturists from around the world. Known for his unconventional designs, there are plenty of whimsical touches throughout, including a pebble mosaic of Lloyd’s beloved dachshunds, Dahlia and Canna, and the Peacock Garden, which features 18 topiary birds. These sit alongside a vast array of technicolour flowers and plants, which attract everything from blackbirds and magpies to green woodpeckers.
Entry is only available through pre-booked tickets; greatdixter.co.uk
Great Dixter, Rye, East Sussex TN31 6PH
Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent
Created by renowned English poet, novelist and garden designer Vita Sackville-West, a one-time lover of Virginia Woolf, this enchanting garden is made up of intimate ‘rooms’ that were designed as a “refuge dedicated to beauty”. Its colourful, abundant planting – the garden is known for its spectacular roses, which were Sackville-West’s favourite flowers – reflect the romance of her poems and writings. The gardens have been open since the beginning of June, but the number of visitors remains limited to ensure safety amidst the new Coronavirus restrictions. Plan a visit as soon as possible – early July is one of the best times to go, as this is when the famous White Garden is at its peak, with headily scented blooms cascading over the central arbour.
Entry is only available through pre-booked tickets; nationaltrust.org.uk
Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Biddenden Road, Kent TN17 2AB
Pashley Manor Gardens, East Sussex
Spread across 11 acres of grounds, Pashley Manor features all the ingredients of a quintessential English Country Garden, from sweeping herbaceous borders and box hedges to ha-has and a historic walled garden, all set against the backdrop of an elegant Grade I listed house. It’s particularly famous for its fantastic displays of roses, dahlias and tulips, with their annual tulip festival boasting 35,000 of the colourful bulbs. Special events like their Kitchen Garden Week are currently on hold, but the gardens and sculpture exhibition remain open. As well as being home to rare trees and plants, Pashley is also a haven for wildlife, with bees, butterflies and birds flocking here to enjoy the garden in all its glory.
Tickets will be sold on arrival from the front door of the house; pashleymanorgardens.com
Pashley Manor Gardens, Ticehurst, East Sussex, TN5 7HE
Hidcote Gardens, Gloucestershire
These Arts and Crafts-inspired National Trust gardens are some of the loveliest in the Cotswolds, full of narrow paved pathways and secret gardens exploding with colour. Created by the eminent American horticulturist Major Lawrence Johnston, its intricately designed outdoor ‘rooms’ are defined by yew, holly and beech hedges and are always full of surprises, from rare shrubs and trees to beautiful bathing pools and magnificent vistas. July is one of the best times to visit, when the vibrant herbaceous borders are in full bloom. Keep an eye out for the elusive hummingbird moth, which has been spotted flitting around the gardens during the summer months.
Entry is only available through pre-booked tickets; nationaltrust.org.uk
Hidcote Gardens, Hidcote Bartrim, Gloucestershire, GL55 6LR
RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey
Wisley is the historic home of the Royal Horticultural Society and houses one of the largest plant collections in the world. Spread across 240 acres, there’s a dizzying array of attractions to explore here, from unusual rock and heather gardens to incredible mixed borders and perfumed summer roses. And while the glasshouse, which is filled with rare tropical plants, cacti and orchids, remains closed, the majority of the gardens’ key features are still open to the public, whether you fancy taking a stroll along the striking Jellicoe Canal and wisteria walk or prefer to spend time in the Mediterranean Terraces, which are filled with fragrant lavender and rosemary
Entry is only available through pre-booked tickets; rhs.org.uk
RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB