Alphabet Gardens - Best of Britain's "B" gardens
Barnsley House in Gloucestershire, former home of Rosemary Verey - well-known society plantswoman and author of several seminal gardening books, is one to put on the Wishlist for 2014. Notable for its laburnum arch, modelled on the larger version at Bodnant (see below) and the potager, this garden is well worth visiting at any time during the spring and summer. Now an acclaimed hotel and restaurant, where the garden is principally open to guests, rather than garden visitors, there is an annual Barnsley Village Festival in May, when the garden opens to all.
Barrington Court in Somerset is a large Tudor house set in 11 acres of grounds, operated by the National Trust and known for its 20th century garden commissioned by a former tenant after World War I, who enlisted the help of Gertrude Jekyll for the planting there. Particularly notable is the kitchen garden, where you'll see spectacular displays of both flowers and vegetables in season. A further bonus for garden lovers is the other notable gardens nearby including Lytes Cary and Tintinhull.
If in Scotland, head for Benmore, home to Britain's finest avenue of giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron gigantum) and some of the finest conifers in the country, this is the spectacular arboretum and country garden affiliated to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. Particularly noteworthy in spring, when the 300+ species of magnolia and rhododendron are in flower and in autumn, when the acers (above) give good colour.
The Beth Chatto Garden in Essex is one of the most popular in Britain (above) and visitors flock here throughout the year to see what this veritable plantswoman has created. She is famous for her shade planting schemes and the garden is a joy at any time of year (especially springtime) when visitors will draw inspiration from her plant combinations, clustered around a series of ponds. Equally popular is her dry garden, a relatively new addition to the landscape here, but showing just what grows in arid conditions.
Bodnant (above) one of the jewels in the National Trust's garden crown, has a stunning location near Colwyn Bay in North Wales and exceptional views over the surrounding countryside. Best known perhaps for its laburnum arch and dazzling spring colour displays, this is another of the most visited gardens in Britain and can get very crowded. Fortunately there are 80 acres to explore, so you can leave the crowds behind you if you are fleet of foot!
Borde Hill in Sussex is another property where the woodland gardens play a starring role in springtime. Get there on a sunny day and you'll be blown away by the magnolia blossoms glinting in the sunshine (above). Much time and effort has been put into this 200-acre property at the heart of the Sussex Weald in the last 10 years by the Clarke family, who live in the Tudor mansion there.
Bowood House in Wiltshire arrives on the gardening map in May, with the astounding colour displays in its 60-acre woodland garden (above), where rhododendrons and bluebells guarantee spring displays that will make you gasp if you're lucky enough to see them. But this is quite separate to the Capability Brown landscape surrounding the main house, which remains open throughout the summer months, and offers elaborate Italianate terraces overlooking a series of lakes.
Broughton Grange is well worth making the trek to see, even though open days are extremely limited. It took me five years to get there, but when I finally made it earlier this year, I was glad I had. The gardens were redesigned as a Millennium project for the owner by Tom Stuart Smith, who has left his mark on the property with the stunning walled garden featuring his famous and much-photographed parterre (above). The garden opens infrequently for the NGS and selected local charities - well worth making the effort to see if you can get there.
Bressingham in Norfolk was one of the biggest surprises this year for me - a stunning 16-acre garden created by a family of plantsmen who ply their flourishing nursery trade, known as "Blooms" all over the world. Renowned for its island borders and collection of steam trains, this makes an ideal family day out, because the unusual combination of plants and locomotives provides entertainment for all the family. The garden is simply stunning in mid summer and definitely one to put on your Wishlist.
Buscot Park in Oxfordshire is the best surviving example of a Harold Peto water garden anywhere in Britain (above), but is also well known for its pleasure gardens and walled garden, which is a blaze of colour in mid-summer. The gardens are administered by the National Trust, but art lovers will also enjoy this property, because of the fine collection of Rubens, Rembrandt and Reynolds that adorn the walls in the main house, under the stewardship of the Faringdon family.