The big march: seeking out the UK's best gardens

While the rest of the country is glued to the World Cup, Emma Townshend will be traversing the UK exploring the best that the new 'Good Gardens Guide' has to offer
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The imminent start of the World Cup puts me in mind of the following truism. You can be a football fan in a number of ways: you can be the kind of person who plays five-a-side on a Saturday, but only occasionally watches a league match on telly. Or you can be the kind of character who follows their team through thick, thin and every away game. They all love football, but the part football plays in their life is necessarily rather different.

Gardening has divisions of fans just like this. There are those who toil all summer long, and who would rather be in their own garden on a hot June day than anywhere else in the world. Then there are those whose own gardens are mostly a bit of a disappointment. We've come to terms with the fact that we're never going to find gardening greatness at home, but we want to see it once in our lives at least. So it's us lot who are horticulture's travelling fans, criss-crossing the country in trains, coaches and cars, seeking out the gardens of those who do it oh-so-much better than ourselves.

There are a couple of essential tools for those of us in the long-term quest to witness green-fingered greatness. The Yellow Book, the National Gardens Scheme's guide to all private gardens opening on weekends for charity, is full of wonderful finds. But what if you want to see the world-class gardens the UK has to offer? Or you just happen to be free on a Tuesday afternoon?

For this, you need a copy of The Good Gardens Guide 2010-2011 (Reader's Digest, £14.99). The new edition has 1,230 entries, which is just under a kilo of the best green spaces in Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands. I have a small library of these books now, as it's been revised many times since first published in 1990. They add a small set of new gardens every time, and it's always a delight to check them out.

Yet the big treat is just to be reminded of the truly great gardens Britain has to offer. If you're from Shropshire, you'll probably be familiar with the rose fields of David Austin. But have you ever enjoyed the historic beauties of Hawkstone Park, an 18th-century garden currently under restoration by a group calling themselves The Redemptionists? Or how about The Dower House, which will be familiar to the readers of Katherine Swift's garden-making bestseller The Morville Hours?

The Good Gardens Guide even lets you join in the fun, with report forms that ask you to indicate why you think a garden should, or shouldn't, be included in future. Whether or not the thought of the impending football tournament makes your heart sink, get on and order yourself a copy, and find your way this summer to something extraordinary.

Get away from it all

Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh

So exciting: major works by Andy Goldsworthy, Anish Kapoor and Marc Quinn, and the biggest Charles Jencks landform in the world appear in this sculpture garden, all situated in beautiful woodland.

Tremenheere Sculpture Garden

With spectacular views to St Michael's Mount and across Mount's Bay, this has a huge collection of subtropical plants and beautiful installations.

St Catherine’s College, Oxford

Arne Jacobsen's 1960s designs have extraordinary gravity, and the garden features mature trees, climbers, and a gorgeous waterlily canal.