I was lunching with family and friends today and several said they read my blog because they like visiting gardens. Then I was asked what would go on my "Bucket List" in terms of gardens! An interesting question and one that's difficult to answer, because although there are many plots and spots I long to visit, most are so far from home that I'm unlikely to see them in the next 10 years! But as I leave for India, I thought I'd leave readers with the 10 best gardens I've seen yet this year, so if you're passing you can fit them in on your summer travels - who knows ... you may just be in the area and these are the ones not to miss! They're not in any order of preference, but all rank as favourites for me.
Sussex Prairies (above) ranks as one of my favourite gardens in the world - it's incredibly close to home and there are times when I just can't resist dropping on in wonderful owners, Paul and Pauline McBride, just to take a look at what's in bloom. It is, just as the name implies, a wonderful open space, with great drifts of plants and grasses and looks wonderful whatever the weather.
Veddw had been on my "wish list" since I started writing this blog, so when I finally made it to visit Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes in May this year I was incredibly excited. And the garden really did live up to all my expectations! It's an incredibly unusual design, with fabulous garden rooms and hedges (above) that have you wondering just how they find the time to keep them in such good shape. But most importantly, this garden has got a real heart and you can sense the time, effort and commitment of the owners, who have carved this amazing space out of little more than an overgrown Welsh hillside. Well worth making a special effort to go and see!
Charts Edge in Kent, was another delightful surprise when I visited in the spring this year, with its rainbow border (above). A really lovely garden, very much in progress at the moment, but worth making a detour for because I suspect that it looks good throughout the season. You'll also find wonderful sculptures here, although these are not for sale - just to make you stop and ponder as you wander round the garden. Definitely worth checking to see if the garden is open if you're visiting others in the area.
I only discovered Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire (above) by accident, and I'm very glad I did! This is an extraordinary and very beautiful landscape, filled with fine specimen trees and green spaces, near Salisbury Plain. You won't find immaculate borders here, because there aren't any, but you will find absolute peace and you can see why this was such a popular "pleasure garden" in days gone by.
It doesn't matter how often I return to the Peto Garden at Iford Manor, because it occupies a very special place in my heart. It's stunning at any time of year, but my last visit was in May (above) when the wisteria was quite spectacular. This is a very special garden and well worth going out of your way to see if you're on your way to or from the West Country. It's an extraordinary feat in terms of landscaping, since it's perched on the edge of a valley overlooking the river Frome, and the planting is quite magnificent. Definitely one to put on a garden "bucket" list if you have one!
Best of the botanical wonders here in the UK for me is the University of Oxford Botanic Garden (above) where you've got views of the city's spires as you walk through the gardens, brimming with flowers - some 6,500 species representing more than 90% of families of flowering plants and all crammed into just 4.5 acres! That's a feat in itself and this is definitely a garden worth making a special trip for, because it's also got amazing glasshouses, but somehow it's scale is manageable, and you feel as though you're in a private garden.
The Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden (above) wins my vote for spectacular architectural planting and brilliant sculptures. This is a constantly changing exhibition in the grounds of Hannah's home, and it's a wonderful haven in the middle of Surrey. I visit often and am always amazed by what I see and how much I missed last time! Go with an open mind and you'll have a wonderful day out - this is another garden with a soul.
The Wave Garden in the San Francisco bay area (above) was on my list of must-sees when I visited California earlier this year. It's very difficult to find because there are no road signs, but well-worth getting lost to see. This is an extraordinary architectural feat - a garden built into a hillside, with curving paths carved through the garden from top to bottom. Magnificent views over the bay and wonderful planting - once you're inside the garden, you feel that you're part of it. This garden also has personality.
And whilst far from home earlier this year, another sight I'll never forget was the spring flower display at the Allan Gardens Conservatory (above) in Toronto in March. It was bitterly cold, with temperatures well below freezing when I visited this wonderful secret garden in full bloom (all thanks to Helen of Toronto Gardens!). It's a sight I'll never forget and I couldn't believe what I saw, when the rest of eastern Canada was covered with a layer of snow!
Little Wantley in Surrey (above) gets my vote as the best NGS garden I've visited so far this year, with its lovely watery scenes and unusual planting. Only open for two days earlier this year, it is one of several UK gardens that just open once or twice for the National Gardens Scheme. One to watch for when next year's "Yellow Book" comes out!
**By the time you read this, I'll have left for India, but will be posting from there on a blog that I've set up for easy access from abroad, especially as internet connections can be difficult during monsoon - if you'd like to check it out, here's the link - Galloping Gardener (Gone to India).