Best spring gardens to visit in the UK
With a nod to hanami, Japan’s annual cherry blossom celebration, Rhiannon Batten discovers the best UK spots to enjoy blossoming spring blooms
An 11-acre Essex garden grafted into being over 25 years by owners Philippa and Bryan Burrough, Ulting Wick features impressive displays of dahlias, a wildflower meadow and more, but it’s best known for its tulips. Thousands of bulbs are planted each November and December against a backdrop of listed black barns – most of them in colourful box parterre beds, but others in clusters of pink or white elsewhere.
Yet more can be found billowing in naturalistic drifts alongside the garden’s stream and pond. The garden is open in aid of the National Garden Scheme on a handful of dates through the year, but April visits understandably get snapped up quickly.
From blackthorn to apple blossom, bluebells to azaleas, each month in spring has its botanical showstoppers, and each corner of the country a standout bloom. In Cornwall, all eyes are on magnolias. Six champion specimens are scrutinised across six different Great Gardens and the date they come into bloom recorded.
Once all six have a full flush of at least 50 flowers (followers can keep abreast via The Nare hotel’s online Bloomometer), spring is officially said to have arrived in England. While all the gardens are spectacular, Caerhays’ magnolia collection features a remarkable 16 champion magnolia trees of different varieties.
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The Alnwick Garden
Northumberland is the home of the largest collection of tai-haku trees in the world; 329 of these prized cherry trees bloom in late spring in the swing-peppered Cherry Orchard at The Alnwick Garden. Originally from Japan, it was once thought that the species, with its unusually large white blooms, had become extinct.
In 1926, however, English botanist Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram visited Japan, saw an 18th-century painting of a tai-haku tree and realised he knew of just such a tree that had been imported to Sussex in 1899. Cuttings were taken, the tai-haku was reintroduced to Japan, and the species was saved.
Wordsworth’s famous lyric poem may have been inspired by a walk with his sister Dorothy around Ullswater, but if you fancy wandering lonely as a cloud to spot hosts of golden daffodils this spring, Dora’s Field – in nearby Rydal – is another excellent place to start.
Wordsworth had bought the plot of land in 1826 with the intention of building on it, but it was later given to his daughter Dora. After Dora’s death in 1847, the poet, his wife and their gardener planted it with hundreds of daffodils as a memorial to her. Now owned and maintained by the National Trust, and fringed by benches, it’s a peaceful spot to sit and enjoy banks of both bluebells and daffodils.
For spectacular urban blossom spotting, few UK towns or cities can match Harrogate. At the heart of this genteel Yorkshire spa town is The Stray, an iconic 200-acre parkland once used for grazing cattle, but whose grassy expanse now forms an elegant leafy counterpoint to the grand Georgian and Victorian houses that border it.
Although picturesque at any time of year, The Stray is arguably at its most dazzling in spring. First, a carpet of crocuses gilds the grass with a vivid purple haze; then come swirls of daffodils; and, finally, great clouds of frothy pink cherry blossom cloak the trees that line the parkland’s paths.
Coed Y Bwnydd
Blossom Day was launched by the National Trust in 2021 and now runs on the fourth Saturday of April, with people sharing uplifting photos of spring blossom on social media, using the hashtag #BlossomWatch. Anyone can join in, whether they’re at a National Trust property or not (nor do you have to stick to the prescribed date), but many Trust properties are ideal for the job.
The spotlight tends to be on cherry blossom but, for later spring flowers, head to sites such as Coed y Bwnydd in Monmouthshire – a well-preserved Iron Age hill fort that’s shrouded by woodland. Visit at the right time and you’ll find it flushed with bluebells.
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