As the days get shorter, I thought I'd reflect on some of the wonderful gardens that I've seen in the last couple of years and post in between the new gardens that I visit while abroad. So here's to some of the magnificent "A"s on my list - some have already been featured in my blog, but others will be appearing here for the first time.
First, and one of my favourites, are the Abbey House Gardens in Malmesbury, Wilts (right) - a stunning 5-acre garden set around a Tudor house beside the abbey. Although famous for its spectacular displays of tulips and roses, this is a garden worth making a detour for at any time. Open March to October, daily.
Aberglasney Gardens in Wales make it into my A* list because of the painstaking restoration work carried out here to transform what was once considered "lost" into what is there today. These gardens are quite unique and as you wander through the different areas, you feel as though you have stepped back in time. Open all year except Christmas Day.
The restored Cloister Garden at Aberglasney
An Cala in Scotland sits in a marvellous position near the sea, and is a series of carefully planted areas which invite further investigation, and there are many charming touches including sheep sculptures, a burbling stream and a small wooden temple. Generally considered to be at its best in spring and summer, and with a wonderful collection of azaleas and rhododendrons, I visited in the autumn and really enjoyed my afternoon amid the falling leaves, with the bracing air. Open April - October, and well worth combining with some of the other fine gardens in the area.
An Cala in autumn - the house makes a wonderful backdrop to the gardens
Nearby Arduaine is another must-see in Scotland, with fine sea views, an incredible collection of trees and shrubs and an interesting history. The first great gardener who lived here was James Campbell, a tea planter, who brought back fine specimens from his forays into Sri Lanka and the East. Acquired in 1971 by two Essex nurserymen, Edmund and Harry Wright, the gardens were given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1992. Open year round - wonderful for views over the Sound of Jura and long walks.
Athelhampton House in Dorset has a fine architectural garden, with unusual features including a circular Corona, Great Court with its 12 immaculately clipped yew pyramids, and the benefit of the River Piddle, which bounds the garden on one side and feeds the pools and fountains that are one of the most attractive features of the property. An interesting house too, and lovely views over the surrounding Thomas Hardy countryside. Gardens open March to end of October, but check website for opening days.
The clipped yews in the Great Court at Athelhampton
Each property on my A-list is located in an outstanding area of the UK, so if you're going to visit you may want to plan a longer trip and see some other neighbouring gardens. Garden Visit is a great website for planning trips all over the world, and provides details and maps, so worth adding to your bookmark list if you're a regular garden visitor ... like me.