The 50 Best Garden visits: THE CREAM OF THE CROP

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The Independent Culture
If the sight of your garden fails to get your sap rising, then take a leaf out of Anna Pavord's book and visit someone else's. Around the country, horticultural havens large and small are open to the public, from the landscaped grounds of stately homes, to massed plantings in narrow city back yards, via country kitchen gardens filled with luscious vegetables and scented herbs. Whatever your taste, The Independent's celebrated gardening correspondent guides you to the best spots to exercise the imagination and furnish you with ideas to take back home

1

GREAT DIXTER, EAST SUSSEX

Christopher Lloyd's garden gets richer, more inventive, more extravagant with each succeeding year. Open the small oak wicket gate (a Lutyens design); stroll up the flagstone path towards the front door. The long grass, spangled with wildflowers, seems gentle and romantic. But the pots grouped round the porch provide a hint of the wildly eclectic garden beyond. Especially brilliant in August when the tropical garden explodes.

Where & when: Northiam, nr Rye, East Sussex (01797 252878); 1 Apr to 31 Oct daily except Mon (2pm-5pm). How much: garden only pounds 4, children pounds 1; house & garden pounds 5/pounds 1.50.

2

THE COACH HOUSE, DORSET

Penelope Hobhouse's garden, made since she moved from Tintinhull House, over the border in Somerset. The house, a long, low building, divides the garden into two contrasting areas. To the rear is an intensively planted walled garden; in the front, freer, wilder planting joins hands with the landscape beyond. Superb combinations of plants, as you would expect from such a stylish garden designer and writer.

Where & when: Bettiscombe, Nr Bridport, Dorset; Sun 20 Jun (10am-5pm).

How much: pounds 3.

3

THE DILLON GARDEN, DUBLIN

Helen Dillon's garden on the outskirts of Dublin has become a place of pilgrimage for garden lovers. It is a model: design, plantsmanship and maintenance are all impeccable. Trelliswork, box hedges, trained fruit trees provide screens between one part and the next, so the long thin rectangle provides endless surprises. Bend your knee to the best Cornus controversa `Variegata' you are ever likely to see.

Where & when: 45 Sandford Rd, Ranelagh, Dublin 6 (00 3531 497 13080); May, Jun & Sept Sundays only (2pm-6pm), Jul & Aug daily (2pm-6pm).

How much: IRpounds 3.

4

CHATSWORTH, DERBYSHIRE

The first view of the Duke of Devonshire's place is breathtaking, especially if the Emperor Fountain is in action alongside the house. The most talented garden designers of the last 300 years all worked here, and Grillet's 17th-century cascade is one of the best sights in the country. A bold, serpentine hedge of beech winds up the hill to frame a massive urn. Stupendous stuff. Where & when: Chatsworth, Bakewell, Derbyshire (01246 582204); daily (11am-4.30pm) to end Oct. Flower and Garden Show 26-27 Jun. How much: garden only pounds 3.75, children pounds 1.75; house & garden pounds 6.50/pounds 3.

5

BODNANT GARDEN, CONWY

The Himalayas without the travel jabs. Be prepared to buff up on your rhododendrons before visiting this famous collection, started by the present Lord Aberconway's great grandfather. But I also love the formal terraces, with their trelliswork smothered in roses. Below is the smooth water of the canal, mirroring the 18th-century Pin Mill at one end.

Where & when: Tal-y-Cafn, Colwyn Bay, Conwy (01492 650460), daily (10am- 5pm) to end Oct.

How much: pounds 4.60, children pounds 2.30.

6

BALLYMALOE COOKERY SCHOOL GARDENS, CO CORK

Darina Allen's cookery school is just down the road from the famous Ballymaloe Hotel, run by her mother-in-law, Myrtle Allen. It is set in a wildly exuberant series of gardens: a herb garden that floats and billows round blacksmith-made plant supports; and a potager, barely contained within its corset of trim box hedges. Admire them from a raised viewing platform smothered in golden hop. New is a fabulous grotto, a handy way to recycle oyster, scallop and mussel shells from the hotel kitchen.

Where & when: Shanagarry, Midleton, Co Cork (00 35321 646785); daily (9am-6pm) to end Oct. How much: IRpounds 3.

7

BLENHEIM PALACE, OXON

Only four days after the foundation stone of the great palace had been laid, the dramatist Sir John Vanburgh (who also designed Blenheim's house and garden) told the Duke of Marlborough that "the garden wall was set agoing the same day with the house. The whole gardens will be form'd and planted in a year." Little did he know that in the 1920s, the French designer Achille Duchene would completely transform the place with his ambitious water gardens. Where & when: Woodstock, Oxfordshire (01993 811325); daily (10.30am-5.30pm) to end Oct. How much: house & garden pounds 8.50, children pounds 4.50.

8

BIDDULPH GRANGE GARDEN, STAFFS

Wonderfully eclectic: round the world in 80 minutes. Enter a timbered cottage in the grounds and, after a dark passageway, emerge in an Egyptian court, complete with sphinxes. In another part of the garden, a cave in a glen leads through to China, with the Great Wall, a dragon parterre and a bridge straight off a willow-pattern plate. One of the bravest and most successful of National Trust restorations.

Where & when: Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs (01782 517999); Wed-Fri (12noon- 6pm) plus Sat, Sun & bank hols (11am-6pm) to end Oct; Sat & Sun only (12noon-4pm) 6 Nov to 19 Dec. How much: pounds 4.20, children pounds 2.10 to end Oct; then pounds 2/pounds 1.

9

GLENBERVIE HOUSE, KINCARDINE & DEESIDE

The walled garden is set, Scottish fashion, a short distance away from the house. You can stand on one side of a little valley and admire it, unrolling like a map. Also worth a visit are the superb glasshouses by the Rolls Royce of manufacturers, Mackenzie and Moncur of Edinburgh, plus a lovely woodland garden made by the aunt of the present owner, Mrs Macphie.

Where & when: Drumlithie, Stonehaven, Kincardine & Deeside; Sun 25 Jul (2pm-5pm).

How much: pounds 2, children 80p.

10

23 BEECH CROFT ROAD, OXFORD

A south-facing town garden, roughly 70ft long by 20ft wide, crammed with more plants than you would normally expect to see in a couple of acres. Anne Dexter controls their growth rigorously, and you can never quite tell when one rose or clematis stops and the next one starts. Herbaceous borders, alpine beds, beds for shade-loving plants, ferns, troughs, good pots. Bring your notebook.

Where & when: 23 Beech Croft Rd, Summertown, Oxford (01865 556020); private visits welcome to end Sept, but please phone first.

How much: pounds 3.

11

HATFIELD HOUSE, HERTS

The Marchioness of Salisbury is one of the few gardeners in Britain who understands design as well as plants. The avenues of mop-headed ilexes in the East Garden are worth the entrance fee on their own. But don't miss the knot garden by the old palace, the scented garden and the privy garden to the west of the house, all planted with an astonishing attention to detail. Another reason to visit is Hatfield's Festival of Gardening (19-20 June), featuring top growers displaying and selling plants, and even Gardeners' Question Time.

Where & when: Hatfield, Herts (01707 262823); daily except Mon (11am- 6pm); "connoisseur days" every Fri (12noon-4pm), when the East Gardens are open. How much: house, garden & park pounds 6, children pounds 3; park & all gardens pounds 5 on "connoisseur days".

12

DENMANS, WEST SUSSEX

This bold, modern garden is mostly John Brookes's work. Particularly successful are his dry "rivers", which sweep in sinuous curves through the space. Stones, pebbles and gravel suggest the flow of water, and plantings depend strongly on foliage. Huge clipped balls of variegated box anchor the free-flowing beds, with many plants self-seeding into the surrounding gravel.

Where & when: Fontwell, nr Arundel, West Sussex (01243 542808); daily (9am-5pm) to end Oct.

How much: pounds 2.80, children pounds 1.50.

13

37 HEATH DRIVE, NW3

Charles Caplin's award-winning garden is packed with good town plants, particularly ferns and bamboos. Neither mind shade, and both look very much at home in this elegant setting. He has even found room for a compost heap, usually the first casualty where space is limited. Excellent greenhouse and conservatory.

Where & when: 37 Heath Drive, London NW3; 9 May & 11 Jul (2.30pm-6pm).

How much: pounds 2.

14

CRAGSIDE, NORTHUMBERLAND

A hundred and thirty years ago, the armaments manufacturer Lord Armstrong was responsible for transforming a thousand acres of moorland into the present garden, employing most of the male population of Rothbury in the process. The house was the first in the world to be lit by electricity, and hydraulic power drove the cascades in the grounds. Don't miss the fruit house, recently restored by the National Trust.

Where & when: Rothbury, Morpeth, Northumberland (01669 620333); gardens daily except Mon (10.30am-7pm) to end Oct, except in June, when gardens open daily; house opens at 1pm.

How much: garden only pounds 3.95, children pounds 1.95; house & garden pounds 6.20/pounds 3.10.

15

CAERHAYS CASTLE, CORNWALL

This is my favourite woodland garden, beautifully situated on a wild stretch of Cornish coastline. Here, the Williams family has built up a world-famous collection of camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons. I like the Caerhays Castle garden because it doesn't smack you in the face. The longer you stay, the more you understand the point of it.

Where & when: Gorran, St Austell, Cornwall (01872 501310); daily (11am-4pm) to 14 May.

How much: pounds 3.50, children pounds 1.50.

15

CHASTLETON GLEBE, OXON

For decades, chef Prue Leith has been preaching the virtues of fresh fruit and vegetables. Visit her own garden to check out what she thinks is worth growing. But you'll also find a garden life beyond veg: herbaceous borders planted along the terraces (one all red), a lake with an island, and a whiff of China in the bridge and pagoda. You can also munch home-made teas in aid of Chastleton Church.

Where & when: Chastleton, nr Moreton-in-Marsh, Oxfordshire; Sun 11 Jul (2pm-6pm).

How much: pounds 2.50, children free.

17

KILLRUDDERY, CO WICKLOW

Set in the foothills of the Wicklow mountains, this formal landscape garden was begun by the 4th Earl of Meath circa 1682. Very French is the effect of the twin canals that lead away from the house to a circular pond in the distance. The garden suffered badly in a great storm in the middle of the 19th century, and the new planting included a beech circle and a beautiful green theatre.

Where & when: Bray, Co Wicklow (00 3531 286 2777); gardens daily (1pm- 5pm) to end Sept; house May, Jun & Sept only.

How much: garden only IRpounds 2, children 50p; house & garden pounds 4/pounds 1.

18

INVEREWE, HIGHLAND

Begun more than 100 years ago by Osgood Mackenzie, who planted shelter belts of trees round the edge of a small peninsula at the southern end of Loch Ewe. Inside this cocoon, he built up one of the best collections of sub-tropical plants in Europe. Exotic foliage, Australian tree ferns, and giant eucalyptus and myrtles are now lovingly cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

Where & when: Poolewe, Highland (01445 781200); daily (9.30am-9pm) to end Oct; thereafter daily (9.30am-5pm) to 14 Mar.

How much: pounds 5, children pounds 3.40.

19

MISARDEN PARK, GLOS

Tucked away in a secret valley, the garden is still full of Edwardian ghosts. The architect Edwin Lutyens worked on the house, and you can sense his influence in the garden, too: long yew hedges with crazy finials, elegant terraces, a formal rose garden, a wildly impractical turf staircase. Superbly maintained by Major Wills, who understands the importance of continuity.

Where & when: Miserden, nr Stroud, Glos (01285 821303); Tue-Thur (10am- 5pm) to end Sept. The excellent nursery next door to the garden is open daily except Mon.

How much: pounds 3, children free.

20

BETH CHATTO GARDENS, ESSEX

A series of drought-ridden summers persuaded Beth Chatto to convert her old nursery car park into a gravel garden filled with plants that could thrive without any watering. It has been an outstanding success. But she understands the opposite condition, too: her first plantings here in the Sixties were in areas of bog and marsh. She has a wonderful eye for combinations of plants - especially those with good foliage.

Where & when: Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex (01206 822007); daily except Sun (9am-5pm) to end Oct; thereafter weekdays only (9am-4pm) to end Feb.

How much: pounds 3, children free.

21

HEALE GARDEN, SALISBURY

The 17th-century house, beautifully situated in the Woodford valley, is a dream of pinkish brick. A trout stream runs through the garden, spanned by a fragile Japanese tea house and a Japanese bridge of sealing-wax red. Much of the planting is the work of the late Lady Anne Rasch, who introduced borders of musk roses and bold tunnels of espaliered apples. Still suspended in a Carolean bubble. Salve for the soul.

Where & when: Middle Woodford, Salisbury (01722 782504); daily (10am- 5pm).

How much: pounds 3, children under 14 free.

22

GRESGARTH HALL, LANCS

Arabella Lennox-Boyd has brought a surprising touch of Italy to this patch of Lancashire. A large stone boar, resting at ease on a cushion of box, welcomes the visitor in the forecourt. Flamboyant mosaics mark the crossings of paths, and magnolias bloom among the oaks on the protecting hillside. A formal kitchen garden thrives behind sheltering stone walls.

Where & when: Caton, Lancs; 23 May, 13 Jun,

11 Jul, 22 Aug (11.30am-5pm).

How much: pounds 3.

23

22 LOUDOUN RD, NW8

Visit it for its grotto, made in the Italianate back garden, where water cascades down an assemblage of mussell shells. Ruth Barclay has surrounded it with damp-loving ferns. Anyone planning a water feature in their garden will find plenty of ideas here. Romance and mystery rule. Even in NW8.

Where & when: 22 Loudoun Rd, London NW8; 30 May (2pm-6pm)

How much: pounds 1.

24

MOUNT STEWART, CO DOWN

The mild climate of this particular corner of Northern Ireland encourages extraordinary plants to grow in this extraordinary garden, laid out in the 1920s by the political hostess the Marchioness of Londonderry, and now in the care of the National Trust. The style is tropical and bold, and the colours most likely to appeal to gardeners who like their gardens strong, strong, strong.

Where & when: Newtownards, Co Down (012477 88387); daily (11am-6pm) to end Sept; Sat & Sun only in Oct.

How much: pounds 3, children pounds 1.50.

25

CRARAE GARDENS, ARGYLL& BUTE

If you are going to Loch Fyne for the oysters, don't miss this wild garden, made either side of a precipitous glen, overhung with the branches of huge old rhododendrons and azaleas. The ravine is crossed at intervals by wooden bridges, particularly dramatic when the burn below is in spate. Reginald Farrer, a great plant collector at the turn of the century, was a nephew of the owner, and contributed many rare shrubs and trees.

Where & when: Crarae, Inveraray, Argyll & Bute (01546 886614); daily (9am-6pm) except in winter, when the garden closes at dusk.

How much: pounds 2.50, children pounds 1.50.

26

HOME FARM HOUSE, SUFFOLK

Superbly maintained, as you would expect of a Rothschild property. The walled garden alone covers three acres, half of which is still devoted to vegetables, grown potager fashion. Glasshouses shelter peaches, apricots and figs; there is also a vinery and an orchid house. Beyond the walled garden is an orchard and a moat garden.

Where & when: Home Farm House, Rushbrooke, Suffolk (01284 386276); Mon 31 May (2pm-5pm), or call the head gardener to arrange a private visit.

How much: pounds 2.50, children free.

27

ROUSHAM HOUSE, OXON

One of the first places in England to take on board the essayist Joseph Addison's idea that an entire estate could be "thrown into a kind of garden". It is entirely the work of the 18th-century designer William Kent, who laid it out for the Dormer family, ancestors of the present owner, Charles Cottrell-Dormer. Classical figures gaze out over the River Cherwell to a Gothic eyecatcher set in the landscape beyond. An astonishing survival.

Where & when: Rousham, nr Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire (01869 347110); daily (10am-dusk).

How much: pounds 3 (no children under 15).

28

1 LISTER ROAD, E11

Myles Challis was one of the first garden designers to leap wholeheartedly into the exotic and press daturas, gingers and bananas onto his dazed clients. So much central heating escapes from houses into city gardens, an entirely different microclimate prevails. You can have a jungle on your doorstep. Cannas rule, okay? So do phormiums, gunneras and bamboos.

Where & when: 1 Lister Rd, London E11; Sun 11 Aug (11am-4pm).

How much: pounds 1, children 50p.

29

PLAS BRONDANW, GWYNEDD

The television programme The Prisoner made nearby Portmeirion famous. This is the garden that belonged to Portmeirion's creator, the architect Clough Williams Ellis. Long vistas end in views of the peaks of Snowdonia; fanciful fountains and statues are conjured up from the most unlikely objects. Brilliantly designed and conceived, it remains a masterpiece of garden-making.

Where & when: Llanfrothen, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd (01766 770484); daily (9am-5pm)

How much: pounds 1.50, children 25p.

30

BOURTON HOUSE, GLOS

Nobody, to my mind, plants better pots than Paul Williams, head gardener at Bourton House. Waxy aeoniums, spiky agaves, tender dark-leaved fuchsias, peppermint-scented geraniums, strange glossy begonias - all are pressed into service. There's also a fine little potager here, a shade house (above) full of tender exotics, and borders packed with unusual perennials.

Where & when: Bourton-on-the-Hill, Moreton-in-Marsh, Glos (01386 700121); Thur & Fri (12noon-5pm) 27 May to 22 Oct; also 30/31 May, & 29/30 Aug.

How much: pounds 3, children free.

31

MAPPERTON, DORSET

The most intricate part of the garden is hidden in a small steep valley below the house and its anchoring lawn. Look down over the precipice to get a perfect bird's-eye view of clipped topiary, a comfortably drunken pergola, an elegant central pool raised up on stone surrounds with yellow-flowered bidens seeding into the cracks of the paving stones. Beyond Rapunzel's tall tower is a 17th-century canal garden. This is the only garden that makes me ravingly jealous.

Where & when: Mapperton, Beaminster, Dorset (01308 862645); daily (2pm- 6pm) to end Oct.

How much: pounds 3, children pounds 1.50, under-fives free.

32

IFORD MANOR GARDENS, WILTS

Edwardian designer Harold Peto's own garden is now owned by Elizabeth Cartwright-Hignett, whose husband has spent much of his time reinforcing Peto's hastily erected Italianate effects. But what effects! Hollywood meets high art. Narrow terraces ornamented with elegant bits of Italy are connected by a grand staircase, swagged with urns. Breathtaking.

Where & when: Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts (01225 863146); May-Sept daily except Mon & Fri (2pm-5pm); Sundays only in Oct.

How much: pounds 2.50, children over 10 pounds 1.90.

33

PECKOVER HOUSE, WISBECH

A surprisingly little-known set piece of the Victorian era, now owned by the National Trust. There's a croquet lawn, a rustic summerhouse and shrubbery walks: "the product", as a contemporary writer put it, "of prudent tidiness". I was not surprised, on my first visit, to find the head gardener wearing a green baize apron.

Where & when: North Brink, Wisbech (01945 583463); to end Oct: garden only Mon, Tue & Thur (12.30pm-5.30pm), house & garden Wed, Sat, Sun & Bank Holiday Monday.

How much: garden only pounds 1.60, children pounds 1; house & garden pounds 3.50/pounds 2.

34

THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, KEW

Grand in its conception and ideals rather than in its layout. This is a place of science and research. It does not have to impress as well; but it is impressive, in its sheer range of plants. Good on wet days, when you can lurk in the glasshouses among futuristic cacti and smothering creepers.

Where & when: The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey (0181- 940 1171); daily except Christmas Day & New Year's Day (9.30am till dusk).

How much: pounds 5, children pounds 2.50, under-fives free.

35

MINTERNE, DORSET

A tranquil garden in an outstanding landscape setting: a man-made lake surrounded by pasture in which sheep graze in required Arcadian fashion. The trees are exceptional, though many good ones were lost in the great January gale that hit Dorset nine years ago. Lord Digby has an enviable skill in always doing the Right Thing in this timeless place.

Where & when: Minterne Magna, nr Dorchester, Dorset (01300 341370); daily (10am-7pm) until 10 Nov.

How much: pounds 3, children free.

36

LE MANOIR AUX QUAT'SAISONS, OXON

If you can't afford to eat here, snoop round the garden instead and discover what the patron, Raymond Blanc, is feeding his punters. The manor itself is mostly 17th-century, with two acres devoted solely to the growing of vegetables and herbs for the kitchen. Cool down in the water garden, contemplate the Japanese garden and covet the cut-flower garden.

Where & when: Church Rd, Great Milton, Oxfordshire (01844 278881); Sun 20 Jun (11am-5.30pm).

How much: pounds 2.50, children pounds 1.

37

STOURHEAD, WILTS

Owned for generations by the Hoare banking family, who in the 18th century dammed up the River Stour to make a large and natural-looking lake. When that was finished, Henry Hoare II commissioned a series of buildings to set round its perimeter: a Temple of Flora, a grotto, a river god's cave. Given to the National Trust in 1946 by Sir Henry Hoare, who had lost both his sons and heirs in the Second World War.

Where & when: Stourton, Warminster, Wilts (01747 841152); garden daily (9am-7pm or sunset, if earlier), but note that on 22-24 Jul, it will close at 5pm to prepare for the Fete Champetre; house Mar-Oct daily except Thur & Fri (12noon-5.30pm). How much: garden pounds 4.50, children pounds 2.50; house & garden pounds 8/pounds 3.50.

38

OAK TREE HOUSE, NORFOLK

A cathedral-city garden that thinks it is in the Caribbean. Photographer, artist and garden junkie Will Giles has half an acre on a south-facing slope to play with. He has packed it with palms, aroids and giant bananas (what is it about bananas?). Well-planted pots of sempervivums, echeverias and other succulent beauties. Seven cats creep through the undergrowth, pretending they are tigers.

Where & when: Thorpe, Norfolk (01603 623167); 11 & 25 Jul, 8 & 22 Aug, 5 & 19 Sept (1.30pm-5.30pm).

How much: pounds 2.50, children free.

39

RENISHAW HALL, DERBYSHIRE

One of the few projects ever completed by Sir George Sitwell, father of the terrible trio, Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell. Heavily influenced by Italy, where Sir George spent much time sustained by hampers of cold chicken and champagne provided by his butler, Henry Moate. Elegant and moody: a surprising jewel among the coalfields of Derbyshire.

Where & when: Renishaw, Sheffield, Derbyshire (01777 860755); Fri-Sun & Bank Holiday Monday (10.30am-4.30pm) to 26 Sept.

How much: pounds 3, children pounds 2.

40

GLEBE COTTAGE, DEVON

Carol Klein was famous amongst plantsmen before she ever hit the nation's televisions on Channel 4's Garden Party. Her garden is a showcase for her nursery, which specialises in all the trendiest plants: penstemons, hardy geraniums, lovely columbines. Catch her stand at the Chelsea Flower Show - instant gardening at its best.

Where & when: Pixie Lane, Warkleigh, Umberleigh, Devon (01769 540554); Wed-Fri (10am-1pm & 2pm-5pm); Ms Klein's nursery open Tue-Fri (10am-1pm).

How much: pounds 1.50, children free.

41

POWIS CASTLE, POWYS

The castle, now a National Trust property, balances on top of a series of narrow terraces, each at least 500ft long and all richly planted. Swooping stairways connect the various levels and bring you eventually to the rose garden. A more secret descent follows the line of billowing yews on the eastern end of the terraces. An orangery and an aviary are tucked into the drops between one level and the next. Not to be missed.

Where & when: Welshpool, Powys (01938 554338); 27 Mar to 30 June & 1 Sept to 31 Oct daily except Mon & Tue; Jul & Aug daily except Mon (11am- 6pm); open Bank Holiday Mondays. How much: garden only pounds 5, children pounds 2.50; garden & house pounds 7.50, pounds 3.75.

42

THE OLD RECTORY, GLOS

Garden designer Mary Keen has already produced a beautifully written book about the making of this garden: difficult changes in level to be resolved; changes, too, in mood between one part of the garden and the next. The way that one feels in a garden is important. This is exceptionally peaceful. Don't miss the little auricula theatre made in the old bread oven.

Where & when: Duntisbourne Rous, nr Cirencester, Glos; 17 May & 20 Sept (11am-5pm), plus 27 Jun (11am-6pm) in aid of the Cirencester Parish Church Centre.

How much: pounds 2.50, children free.

43

THE ROOF GARDENS, W8

The roof garden of the famous old Derry and Toms department store did not know what had hit it when the Biba boutique moved into these High Street premises. But, against the odds, it has survived, and is now owned by Richard Branson. Lovely paths of old York stone, interspersed with brick laid in herringbone style. A generally Moorish atmosphere, which must have been wildly titillating to the frocked ladies who took tea there in the Thirties.

Where & when: The Roof Gardens, 99 Kensington High St (entrance in Derry St), London W8 (0171-937 7994); generally daily (9am-5pm), but phone before visiting as the gardens may be closed for private functions.

How much: free.

44

WADDESDON MANOR, BUCKS

A jewel among National Trust gardens thanks to the generosity of Lord Rothschild, whose family once owned it and who still funds much of the work in the garden. In the Edwardian parterres, elaborate bedding schemes are laid out in the Rothschild racing colours: blue and gold. If you go into the house, look out for the roof garden in the Bachelors' Wing.

Where & when: nr Aylesbury, Bucks (01296 651211); garden daily except Mon & Tue (10am-5pm) 3 Mar to 24 Dec, plus Bank Holiday Mondays; house open Thur-Sun plus Wed in Jul & Aug (11am-4pm). How much: garden only pounds 3, children pounds 1.50; house & garden pounds 10/pounds 7.50.

45

TREGREHAN, CORNWALL

The 20-acre garden crouches in a sheltered valley one mile inland from the sea. Gillian Carlyon, who gardened here for many years, was particularly interested in camellias, and raised many new cultivars, including "Cornish Spring". Venerable rhododendrons, a bluebell wood and giant Monterey cypress. Superb Victorian greenhouses in the walled garden.

Where & when: Par, Cornwall (01726 812438); daily (10.30am-5pm) to mid-June.

How much: pounds 3.

46

WEST DEAN GARDENS, WEST SUSSEX

An astonishing restoration project, funded by the Edward James Foundation, brought this kitchen garden back to life. A vast complement of period glasshouses, pit houses and cold frames is now filled with unusual displays - chilli peppers perhaps, or a collection of the world's tomatoes. Immaculately maintained by head gardener Jim Buckland and his wife, Sarah Wain.

Where & when: West Dean, nr Chichester, West Sussex (01243 818210); daily (11am-5pm) to end Oct.

How much: pounds 4, children pounds 2.

47

STOWE LANDSCAPE GARDENS, BUCKS

Thanks to an anonymous donor, the National Trust was able to relieve Stowe School of the responsibility for maintaining this archetypal landscape garden. Charles Bridgman, elegant landscaper, worked here. So did Sir John Vanbrugh, who provided designs for temples and follies with the same skill and ease as he wrote plays. Then came "Capability" Brown, who was Stowe's head gardener from 1741 on.

Where & when: Stowe, nr Buckingham, Bucks (01280 822850); 5 Jul to 5 Sept & 11-23 Dec daily (10am-5pm), 6 Sept to 31 Oct daily except Tue, Thur & Sat.

How much: pounds 4.50.

48

OVERBECKS, DEVON

Tony Murdoch, inspired head gardener at the National Trust's Overbecks, retired this year. No one could have coaxed more beauty out of the garden's six acres. I love it in late summer, when it blazes with dahlias and sunflowers set against the huge purple-bronze leaves of flowering cannas. Stunning views, too. Well placed for the eclipse on 11 Aug, though, because of the darkness expected till noon that day, the garden is unlikely to open in the morning. Phone first to check details. Further details on the eclipse are available at www.thisistheeeclipse.co.uk.

Where & when: Sharpitor, Salcombe, Devon (01548 842893); daily (10am- 8pm or sunset, if earlier).

How much: pounds 2.70, pounds 1.30 children.

49

RODMARTON MANOR, GLOS

The archetypal "arts and crafts" garden, designed by Cotswold craftsman Ernest Barnsley in conjunction with his patrons, the Biddulphs. The space is divided into a series of outdoor rooms, protected by tapestry hedges. The present owner, Simon Biddulph, has spent four years renovating and replanting the two vast herbaceous borders, which flank an enchanting summerhouse. The house, too, should not be missed.

Where & when: Rodmarton, nr Cirencester, Gloucs (01285 841253); Wed, Sat & Bank Holiday Mondays (2pm-5pm) 12 May to 30 Aug.

How much: garden only pounds 2.50, children free; house & garden pounds 6, children pounds 3.

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HADSPEN GARDENS, SOMERSET

The sweeping oval curve of the kitchen-garden wall at Hadspen makes a superb backdrop for Nori and Sandra Pope's bold borders, carefully planned in subtle gradations of colour. This is the great set piece, but there is also fine planting around the old water tank that once acted as a reservoir for the house. The Popes run an excellent nursery here, too. Hosta heaven.

Where & when: nr Castle Cary, Somerset (01749 813707); Thur-Sun & Bank Holiday Mondays (10am-5pm) to end Sept.

How much: pounds 2.50, children 50p.

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