There’s something magical about a garden path awash with the drama of blooms in spring. Navigate carpets of wild flowers and landscaped grounds before stopping for a well-earned bite to eat, because these venues are coming up roses, says Anna Berrill.
Gravetye Manor Sussex
This glorious estate revolves around the vision of horticulturist William Robinson, the gentleman credited with inventing the ‘wild garden’. In 1885 he devised this 14ha space, which is now one of the most important historic gardens in England for its ‘Robinsonian’ style of planting, which favours perennial blooms. Such is the draw of Gravetye’s gardens, the hotel last year chose to reposition its one-star restaurant to ensure a better vantage point of the flora. What emerged is a calm room with floor-to-ceiling windows that allows focus on the plant life surrounding. Chef George Blogg’s pretty plates complement the aesthetic. Much of the produce is picked from the walled garden, with meat from nearby estates. Miso-cured mackerel with baby turnips, citrus and sesame dressing is nothing short of art, while beetroot and clementine jelly would make Robinson himself blush.
As the former home of several dukes, Nancy Astor and where Meghan Markle spent the night before her wedding to Prince Harry last year, Cliveden draws thousands of National Trust visitors to admire its grand Italianate architecture and 150ha of manicured gardens. While season-long floral displays and panoramic views over the Berkshire countryside are guaranteed, a variety of walks will take you through secluded glades, tree-lined avenues and down to the riverside. Start slow and hit the Cliveden green walking trail, an easy amble which overlooks the River Thames and takes in historic statues. Reward yourself with an aperitif in the Library Bar at Cliveden House – a cosy den of sumptuous furnishings and top cocktails. The Dining Room – all crisp tablecloths and chandeliers – treats its ingredients simply but masterfully. The Sunday roasts (think langoustine and salmon tartare, Chateaubriand with red wine jus, and a light raspberry soufflé) are a weekend walker’s perfect reward.
This property, a beautiful boutique-style village within a village, sits amid serenely grazing livestock in Southrop Manor’s 60ha estate, a bucolic Cotswolds dream that has proved a hit with well-heeled walkers in search of some invigorating country air. A scattering of honey-hued 17th-century farm cottages form the accommodation, while a sustainable farm and kitchen garden are a riot of colour at this time of year. Owner Caryn Hibbert moved here in 2002 and, having started with an on-site cookery school, has been growing the business organically ever since. Hibbert’s son Charlie, who trained in London under Jeremy Lee at Quo Vadis, heads up the kitchen in the new Ox Barn restaurant, which opened last December. Having delighted in the vision and thoughtful planting of gardener Bunny Guinness, retire here to enjoy the fruits of the estate: roast beetroot, onion and goat’s curd, perhaps, followed by local guinea fowl, braised radicchio and aïoli.
Bodysgallen North Wales
Richard Fenton, a visitor here in 1810, noted that Bodysgallen ‘was embosomed in woods of noble growth, which are suffered to luxuriate their own way, without any fear of the axe’. Not much about that view has changed in some 200 years, though Bodysgallen Hall is today a stately National Trust-owned hotel offering guests the warmest of country house hospitality along with top spa facilities and Llandudno’s only three AA Rosette restaurant. Treasures found within the award-winning gardens – set amid 80ha of verdant parkland – include a rare 17th-century parterre of box hedges filled with fragrant herbs, a sprawling walled rose garden, glorious lily pond, croquet lawn and several follies, as well as a low-growing topiary maze. Lunch is served at weekends from 12.30pm to 1.45pm, with a menu designed by head chef John Williams that makes wonderful use of local produce, fruit and vegetables from Bodysgallen’s own gardens, and Welsh cheeses of distinction.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
The garden of this contemporary gallery is hung on the hillside like a work of art. Designed by the legendary landscape architect Piet Oudolf, the sprawling slope is enclosed on three sides by 25,000 herbaceous perennials in a variety of shapes, colours and textures, while at the centre of the meadow is artist Anri Sala’s startling Clocked Perspective, a large, skewed watch face. The Roth Bar & Grill is more than a match for the garden and the art hanging in this rural Somerset farm. Complete with an outdoor terrace, the bar and restaurant were designed by Björn and Oddur Roth – the son and grandson of artist Dieter Roth – and are an installation in their own right. Menus change daily and focus on sustainable, seasonal produce from the kitchen garden and nearby Durslade Farm. Top orders include homemade merguez sausages and house-cured meats, which include bresaola, coppa, prosciutto and bacon. Pick of the mains is Castlemead Farm chicken, chimichurri and Caesar salad.
Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons Oxfordshire
Many restaurants big up their kitchen gardens but those at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons should come with a capital K and G. This quintessential country house is surrounded by lawns, flower borders and orchards, with much of the 11 gardens used for growing vegetables and herbs that provide the kitchen with organic produce. From the mushroom valley to the serene English water and Japanese tea gardens, a stroll through the picture-perfect grounds is undoubtedly a highlight. Join one of the daily tours for an insight into the many unique flowers and trees grown here, and pick up some tips from the experienced gardeners for growing fruit and veg. Or, to really let your botanical skills flourish, book a place on one of their gardening courses (from £110). A Michelin two-star meal here is nothing short of wonderful, with a choice of five, six or seven courses. Dishes include the likes of truffled hen’s egg with Parmigiano Reggiano, Cornish turbot with scallop, cucumber and wasabi, and, the perennial favourite, Jacob’s ladder with smoked mash and red wine essence, rounded off with Raymond Blanc’s ‘essence of citron’.
Swinton Park Yorkshire
Wrapped in glorious parkland, you’ll not want to leave the splendid grounds of this Ripon stately home. Stretching from the River Ure in Wensleydale to the sprawling moorland of the Dales, there are walking trails aplenty (dogs are welcome, too). With over 8,000ha as your playground, keep a look out for the 100 fallow deer (including ten stags) who reside on the estate, the blanket of wild flowers which covers the Dales, and the gothic orangery at the rockery just west of the castle. Take a stroll around the walled garden, where around 60 varieties of fruit and vegetables have been planted, from alpine strawberries to rhubarb, plus a vast array of herbs. These act as the backbone of the menus at Samuel’s, the main house’s fine-dining restaurant, and The Terrace, an altogether more contemporary affair overlooking the terraced garden. The former offers modern British dishes that might include estate lamb, pigeon or trout, while the latter offers lighter springtime plates featuring salads, Josper-grilled skate and ‘Yorkshire’ tapas.
Helmsley Walled Garden Yorkshire
This two-hectare idyll is awash with colour and spectacle. There are five gardens, including a fruit orchard, meadows, peonies, cornflowers, hot and long borders (which hit their stride in spring), veg plots and over 100 different varieties of clematis being just some of the highlights. The concise White Garden, surrounded by the orchard and wildflower meadow, is planted with a variety of hardy perennials and shrubs, such as the glossy Aztec Pearl, and is incredibly peaceful. The views here are spectacular and you’ll catch sight of the imposing ruins of 13th-century Helmsley Castle peering over the walls. The Vine House Café, on the outskirts of Helmsley Walled Garden, is so much more than your average garden café. The fuss-free menu focuses on simple, homemade dishes from seasonal vegetable curries, to cod fritters and fasolakia, a green bean stew. Go for the informal ‘Vine House’ board for a sharing lunch, which includes sausage rolls, ham, cheese and pickles.
Leeds Castle Kent
There’s no better welcome to Leeds Castle than a mantle of spring daffodils. While visitors flock to the 12th-century home of Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon, it would be remiss to neglect the 200ha of gardens and woodland. The Culpeper Garden is the epitome of an English garden, with roses, peonies, poppies and artemisia (or lads’ love) contained by a border of box hedges. Exotic plants add interest, while the profusion of colours and scent is hard to better. The Lady Baillie Mediterranean Garden Terrace, designed by the excellent landscaper Christopher Carter, offers wonderful views over the water. Refuel at the restaurant, which relies heavily on Kent’s larder. At lunchtime, food is relaxed and informal, with an excellent farro salad, lamb shank, grilled plaice or spiced falafel, all washed down with a glass of Kentish Chapel Down wine.
Ashford Castle Mayo, Ireland
The only lakeside garden on our list, Ashford Castle is positioned on the shores of Lough Corrib, on the Mayo- Galway border near Cong. Built during the medieval period and added to over the years, it’s now a sprawling five-star country house hotel with all the amenities you’d expect. The Guinness family are the most recent to call it home – they both owned and developed it for a century. They were also the prime commissioners of the estate’s grounds and the look it wears today. The Great Woods are the best place to start an afternoon yomp, home to fine specimens of ancient trees, which lead into a strong balance of formal and informal areas with perennial borders and gorgeous mature fruit trees, including apple, pear and plum. The Terraced Walk is a preordained route, offering the best views back towards the castle, and takes around half an hour to complete. Dining options are myriad, with George V being the most extravagant and an excellent fine-dining option if you fancy a rather formal five-course lunch. However, we recommend Cullen’s at The Cottage for an informal post-constitutional meal using a great range of produce. Killary Fjord mussels are a must-order, with the crab claws with garlic butter and new potatoes running a close second. Finish with the salted caramel rice pudding.