Winter is always a good time to take stock and make your travel plans for the future, and for me it's a time to reflect on some of the wonderful gardens I've seen in my travels and decide where to go next. I was sorting through photographs this week and found several places that make the basis of this "Wondrous Water Garden" feature today. It's raining so hard here in Florida, that it seems doubly appropriate!
One that will always stick in my mind is the garden at the Swarovski Crystal Works just outside Innsbruck in Austria, which I visited some 18 months ago. And although most visitors come for the museum, which is filled with amazing crystal objects, I wanted to see the Alpine Garden and the huge grass-covered giant (above), with crystal eyes - Swarovski of course - that spouts water into a pool below. This is a perfect garden to visit on a summer's day, when you have a clear view of the mountains.
In Britain we have many gardens with moats, which also make watery wonderlands. Scotney Castle (above) is a moated medieval manor house - in ruins - which sits on an island in the middle of a lake. It makes a terrific day out because it's set in the middle of rolling Kent countryside and has wonderful spring displays of rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas. But just as good at any other time of year if you want to take a picnic and spend a day out with the children. There's enough acres of open parkland here to let them run around for hours!
Sheffield Park in East Sussex remains open throughout the year and is renowned for its spring and autumn colours, but the greatest joy of this garden is the reflections in the water. It doesn't matter what time of year you visit, there's always something to reflect on, and you can stand on one of the bridges that cross the lakes to see the gardens at their best. Spring and autumn are particularly memorable - for the rhododendron displays and the turning colours at the end of the season.
You can't get much more watery than Longstock Water Gardens in Hampshire - famous for its fabulous damp-loving plant displays and open for charity on the first and third Sunday of every month from April to the end of September (14.00-17.00). Owned by the John Lewis group of department stores (a British equivalent to Macy's), this garden is maintained for the employees. Well worth making a special trek to see on one of the open days because there aren't many other water gardens in Britain to rival this one!
Buscot Park is another garden worth making a special visit to see the stepped-canal water garden designed by Harold Peto (above). This is a garden on many different levels, featuring a series of pools and fountains, with adjacent garden rooms. There is also a huge walled kitchen garden, filled with alliums in high summer and a Judas tree tunnel.
Each one of these gardens is exceptional in its own way. All but the Crystal Garden and Longstock come under the umbrella of England's National Trust. For overseas visitors the Trust offers a Touring Pass, which is valid for seven or 14 days and gives unlimited entry to Trust properties. The pass must be purchased in advance, but represents excellent value for money if you're planning on visiting more than a single property.