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Five wild and enchanting gardens to experience in England and Wales

Cascading over hillsides and extending towards the sea, these botanical marvels — from Cornwall to Conwy — showcase the wonder of Britain's landscapes, and make for an inspiring day out.

Published 1 Aug 2020, 08:00 BST
Bodnant Garden

The evocative landscape at Bodnant Garden in Conwy, North Wales has a starring role in the film adaptation of The Secret Garden, set to be released in October 2020.

Photograph by Getty Images

When it comes to garden-visiting, in Britain we’re spoiled for choice. There are those whose wildflower meadows are alive with the hum of insects, and others whose Japanese-style topiary nods to the meditative nature of horticultural practices from overseas. Some gardens, meanwhile, indisputably were designed to inspire a sense of enchantment. Ahead of the anticipated release of the 2020 film adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, we’re celebrating the public gardens whose clever landscaping leaves us eager to explore.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

“Wild horses could not have stopped us opening that door.” These are the famed words of Tim Smit, the record producer who, together with John Willis unearthed a passage to a lost garden in 1990, that was consumed by brambles and ivy. The onset of the First World War had seen these gardens — whose 200 acres had been tended by the Tremayne family (John’s forbears) for over four centuries — fall into disrepair and obscurity. A lengthy restoration project began, and today, the gardens — thick with camellias, palm trees, buzzing herbaceous borders and a nationally recognised collection of rhododendrons — are testimony to an enduring collaboration between man and nature. Truly a garden with a fairytale ending.

The tangled woodland at Puzzlewood, in the Forest of Dean, has been the setting for a number of films, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Photograph by Getty Images

Puzzlewood, Gloucestershire

It’s the mythical woodland you dreamed of getting lost in as a child. Set in the heart of the Forest of Dean, the twisted paths at Puzzlewood lead you around hairpin bends dripping with bracken, over rickety wooden bridges bound in roots, and through low, matted-canopy passageways, where bending double is the only way to the other side. Its enchantments haven’t escaped the notice of film location scouts: it’s here that scenes for productions including Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) were shot. Most recently, it was filmed for Marc Munden’s 2020 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, set to be released in October 2020.

The Beth Chatto Gardens, Essex

Beth Chatto will always be remembered as the horticulturalist who popularised the practice of putting the right plant in the right place. Which is perhaps why there’s an almost tangible sense of magic at The Beth Chatto Gardens. The contrasting series of gardens brim with vibrancy and vitality — for each plant, from the tallest Japanese maple to the smallest alpine, has had its place considered, and the result is a diverse collection of species that flourish in harmony with their surroundings. There’s a gravel, scree and reservoir garden, and for vistas that seem to have hopped directly out of the pages of a storybook, head to the water and woodland gardens.

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Cornwall's Trebah Garden is Britain's answer to a tropical paradise, where exotic planting schemes flaunt dramatic shapes, colours and textures.

Photograph by Getty Images

Bodnant Garden, Conwy

A golden laburnum arch sets this garden apart (at 55 metres, it’s the longest in the UK), but when the spring blooms fade there’s plenty more to explore on the 80-acre estate. Set against the backdrop of Snowdonia’s Carneddau mountains, the terraced gardens extend down a hillside to the River Conwy. The fairytale scenes that unfold around this relatively hidden section of the estate are such that it was also chosen to appear in the The Secret Garden. Down by the river, the waters are enlivened by sunlight beaming through the woodland canopy, by turquoise damselflies darting among leafy undergrowth, and by the rippling, pompom reflections of blue hydrangea, swathes of which hem the banks.

Trebah Garden, Cornwall 

This is Britain’s answer to a tropical paradise — it even has its own beach. Trebah Garden, whose borders, thickets and open glades sprawl either side of a ravine, is renowned for its exotics. The plants residing here luxuriate in the relatively mild Cornish climate, and the result is an unusual mingling of dramatic shapes, colours and textures that descend right the way to the pebbled Helford River estuary. It’s another location that inspired the upcoming film The Secret Garden — in particular the gargantuan, deeply-lobed leaves in the Gunnera Passage, and the ponds and tree ferns in the Water Garden.

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