Best Gardens in So. England in May (Pick 5)

kwheat(z9 sunset 14)October 14, 2003

We are planning our first trip to England this May to visit my son and daughter-in-law who are living in Petersfield (Hampshire) for the next three years. I'm an avid Rhododenron and Azalea lover and I am especially fond of natural woodland gardens. Here's my tentative list (although some don't fit my criteria) Would love comments about them and additions:

Exbury Gardens

Kew Gardens

Scotney Castle

Winkworth Arboretum

Wakehurst Place

Sheffield Park






If you had to pick 5 which would you pick and why?

Please feel free to e-mail me directly at

Thanks for your input.

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adisim(Brooklyn, NY)

I've only been to England in June and July but I would pick Stourhead (which must be great in May, wonderful walking paths), Sissinghurst- the classic, lots of variety, and Scotney Castle- picture perfect "romantic" setting. I love Mottisfont but I was there when the roses were at peak bloom in late June. You might check if there are webpages for the others that describe the gardens and see which have "woodland gardens" or "woodland paths."

    Bookmark   October 22, 2003 at 12:43AM
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You will never forget Exbury Gardens in May!! It is so beautiful. Not too far away is the Longstock Water Gardens, also quite good, but not large. Stourhead is good. Sissinghurst is so popular because its owner (now dead) Vita Sackville-West, was a famous English garden writer. The garden itself, not large, is hugely visited, but, in my opinion, isn't one of the better English gardens.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2003 at 9:42AM
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kwheat(z9 sunset 14)

Thank you CentralOH and Adism for your feedback. It seems the more I check into gardens the longer my list grows! There's a beautiful estate garden everywhere you look and that doesn't even mention the National Garden scheme that opens up private gardens to visit.

Has anyone been to Leonardslee?

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2003 at 10:58AM
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Leonardslee is the best- fabulous. Scotney Castle, Exbury - beautiful. How about the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St. Austell, Cornwall - the largest garden restoration project in Europe with Himalayan rhodendrons. Don't miss Sissinghurst in Kent and Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2004 at 10:56AM
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Greenmanplants(UDSA Zone 8)

If you're going to be in Petersfield, Hampshire may I suggest a couple of local gardens/nurseries in Hampshire. You can pinpoint these using their postcode at

Spinners garden at Lymington, SO41 5QE, specialist woodland nursery in 3 acres of very well planted woodland including national Trillium collection.

Crosswater farm, Churt Farnham, GU10 2JN, specialist Rhodo nursery in several acres of woodland. With extensive Rhodo and Azalea plantings from the founders own collections in the Himal.

Wakehurst place also has some pretty fine woodland areas and is easily accessible from your Petersfield base, as are the Saville gardens which also have a good Azalea collection.

Both Kew and Wisley (GU23 6QB) are nearby, with Wisley(400 acres), The Royal Horticultural Society's garden being only about 30 minutes up the road.

Sorry, that's 6 but all within about 1 hour travel of Petersfield.

Hope this helps. Greenmanplants

    Bookmark   January 10, 2004 at 6:00PM
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kwheat(z9 sunset 14)

Thank you to all who have posted! I especially appreciated Greenmanplants lastest post. When I return I will post where I went and what I found. Thanks again. We leave the end of April. I can hardly wait!

    Bookmark   January 10, 2004 at 7:44PM
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I am hoping to go to England in May to see the gardens of the South East. I am taking my 2 adult daughters and we are trying to do this on our own. Is the first week of May a good time to see the gardens in bloom?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2004 at 8:27PM
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kwheat(z9 sunset 14)

From what I have read it depends on what you want to see. Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Bluebells should be great in early May. If you are looking for Roses June is a better month. And perennials are at there best later in the summer. Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2004 at 11:20AM
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gardengull(z6B RI)

Hello - the last comment "depending on what you want to see" is correct - if you are a rose nut, June is the month. Don't forget about microclimates, esp. walled gardens, wonderful flowers in May but no roses.

Bloom times are listed on the net - used them for our earlier trips - sorry, no source at my fingertips now but check out the obvious sources: National Trust, Royal Hort, etc.

May was a great time to travel for us - not crowded. And take the time to learn basic UK hort terms ahead of time - it helps.

Be aware that the charitable gardens scheme may be limited to a couple of days yrly for certain gardens and others may require reservations - pay attention to the detail. These are private residences and we often forget that.

Have fun and I envy you,

    Bookmark   March 25, 2004 at 2:11PM
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Greenmanplants(UDSA Zone 8)

Gardengull's post just prompted me to point out a good publication for anyone visiting England to "Gardenwatch".

The National Garden Scheme Yellow Book, lists all gardens open for charity, the dates, the directions, what is of special interest.

These mostly private gardens usually open for a few days only, charge a small fee for their nominated charity and are one of the best ways to see British gardening, rather than organised public ammenity gardens. There is still a fantastic benefit to huge scale of the National Trust and Royal Horticultural Society establishments, but the yellow book is about the people as well.

You can buy the yellow book (for the current year) at most good book stores, at any of the RHS gardens and probably at most of the gardens open. If you drive about the countryside any week-end from May-September you will see yellow signs taped to lampposts, showing "GARDEN OPEN" and the details of some local event. Take the trouble to read the writeups in the book (which is organised by county )as there is a heap of difference between a "Plantsmans Garden" and a "Lawns and formal bedding garden". Better to go for what you like, rather than seeing anything that is available. These are quite often arranged in groups where a village will have 3 or 4 different gardens open, so you can see the different styles, often a bit of competition between them as well, so be careful what you say.

Yes, please remember that these are peoples private gardens.

In my posting above "Crosswater farm" is the only one of those that is private, it is open in May.

Cheers Greenmanplants

    Bookmark   March 25, 2004 at 8:10PM
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kwheat(z9 sunset 14)

Just got back from a fantastic trip to the UK. We saw 11 gardens (which of course wasn't nearly enough). Didn't see many that we planned on but saw others that came our way. We spent 6 days in No. Wales and went to Powis Castle, Bodnant and Penhryn Castle. All wonderfully different. Bodnant was unbelieveable!

I took Greenplants's advice and visited Vann Hambledon which was great. The entrance is certainly deceiving. Great sculptures enhance the playful design. Also visited two other "Gardens for Chairty" Hammerwood House near Chitford which was a parklike estate garden with wonderful rhodies and a magnificent setting (immaculately maintained). And the Malt House near Ipping which is a delightful plantsperson's garden with lots of Rhodies and unusual perennials and a beautiful Tudor House.

West Dean Garden was a real treat and a real surprise. Photo's I'd seen just don't do this place justice as they over emphasize the walled garden and forget about the arboretum, woodland and formal elements. This is a grand garden!

Exbury was the first garden we visited and was a delightful woodland garden and a joy for any Rhododendron and Azalea lover. We also visited Furzey nearby which is a smaller woodland garden.

Two National Trust properties near where we were staying were Uppark (not noted for it's garden but has a nice one with a lovely Handkerchief tree in full bloom) and Hinton Ampner whose topiaries and formal beds with tulips were quite enchanting.

What struck me most about this our first to the UK is how there are little gardens just about everywhere. In the small village where we stayed (South Harting) cottage and container gardens abound.

I would recommend joing the Royal Oak Foundation only available to US residents ($75.00 for a family) for free entrance to the National Trust Properties. I would also recommend the Gardens Open for Charity and perhaps one of the nicest websites for gardens (check the link for the Garden Finder)

Although the weather was rainy the bluebells, Rhodies and Azaleas were perfect and many places the tulips were gorgeous. As we left the hybrid Clematis were following on the heels of many species that were in bloom. Wisteria and Laburnum were blooming and many viburnums and early bedding plants. Even a few peonies were in bloom.

Lots of new gardens to explore on our next visit.
Thanks again to all who responded.

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2004 at 10:30AM
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