Review by Fiona Duncan, published 5th May 2004.
Armed with a road atlas and the Daily Telegraph Good Gardens Guide (Francis Lincoln, £12.99) keen gardeners can plan the perfect break. The guide contains entries on many private gardens, both long-established and modern, as well as ‘historic’ ones (those listed on the English Heritage Registry of Historic Gardens) If you want to take in specialist nurseries as well, you should consult the RHS Garden Finder (Dorling Kindersley £12.99). The Yellow Book (National Gardens Scheme, £5.99) is another invaluable source: a compendium of all gardens in the country that open their gates for charity, however infrequently. In one day of green-fingered delight you can move seamlessly from the historic garden of a great estate to the cottage garden of a pretty village, and – if you are clever – spend the night in a hotel with lovely grounds of its own.
Amongst the unsung advantages of many British country hotels are their gardens. They are often full interest, beautifully maintained, and sometimes just as memorable as the hotel’s food or its interior decoration. Focusing on seven principal areas that garden lovers are likely to head for, here are suggestions for congenial places to stay – excellent hotels, with, in most cases, fine gardens too.
Be prepared to spend all day at Castle Howard,’ warns the RHS Garden Finder, ‘essential visiting for both plantsmen and anyone with a sense of history’. You will find plenty of other gardens in the area to detain you, including, if you stay there, that of Middlethorp Hall (01904 641241; www.middlethorpe.com; doubles from £183 per night including breakfast). This ultra-elegant hotel on the edge of York has grounds that have been restored, as well as the house, to their former 18th-century splendour by Historic House Hotels.
Besides York, Ripley also makes a sensible base for visiting Yorkshire gardens: Ripley Castle, Studely Royal, Newby Hall, Valley Gardens and Harlow Carr are all close at hand. At the Boar’s Head (01423 771888; www.boarsheadripley.co.uk; doubles from £120 per night including breakfast), owned by Sir Thomas Ingilby, boars’ heads and ancestors fill the walls, and period furniture graces the rooms. Bedrooms, especially those in Birchwood House across the courtyard, are very comfortable; and the food,whether in the bistro or the candlelit dining room, is a cut above.
Derbyshire and NottinghamshireLarge gardens on old estates are the dominant feature of Derbyshire. Chatsworth is unmissable, though, by contrast, Dam Farm House at Ednaston is also highly recommended. Over the the border in Nottinghamshire, Newstead Abbey and Felley Priory stand out. As a conveniently central base for all these and more, choose Red House Country Hotel (01629 734854; www.theredhousecountryhotel.co.uk; doubles from £90 per night including breakfast) at Matlock, which has the the added fillip of attractive grounds, including a knot garden. Alternatively, there’s a welcoming B&B in the conservation village of Winster: Brae Cottage (01629 650375; doubles from £44 per night including breakfast), where Jane Ball serves a notable breakfast and provides plenty of thoughtful extras in the bedrooms.
If you aren’t frightened off by over-the-top Victoriana, you could head for the old spa town of Matlock Bath and Hodgkinson’s Hotel (01629 582170; www.hodgkinsons-hotel.co.uk; doubles from £70 per night including breakfast) with its bedrooms in varying shapes and sizes (and prices), panelled dining room, ‘parlour’ drawing room and many Victorian antiques and collectables.
Norfolk and Suffolk
Plant yourself on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk close to the highly influential Bressingham Gardens, as well as the beautiful 18th-century landscaping at Euston Hall, and other notable gardens besides. Grove Thorpe (01379 668305; www.grovethorpe.co.uk; doubles from £64 per night including breakfast), a cosy, old-world B&B at Brockdish, is the place to stay, and one of the bedrooms is in a garden cottage. A warm welcome, lace, old beams and schooners of sherry await.
To see the fine gardens of north Norfolk – including the superb modern garden of East Ruston Old Vicarage – stay at Congham Hall (01485 600250; www.conghamhallhotel.co.uk; doubles from £155 including breakfast), a perfect example of a classic English country house hotel which is also renowned for its herb gardens, with over 600 varieties. For an unusual B&B (dinner on request) head for Cley Mill (01263 740209; www.cleymill.co.uk; doubles from £37 per night including breakfast), much appreciated by nature lovers for its location on the edge of Cley Marshes. There’s a welcome sense of adventure staying in this real windmill, with its bedrooms and bathrooms ingeniously fitted into the most challenging nooks and crannies.
Two superlative gardens, Hidcote and Kiftsgate, stand opposite each other near Chipping Campden. Sezincote, Bourton and Batsford Arboretum are also close at hand, with many other historic gardens spread across the rest of the county. If you stay at stylish Cotswold House (01386 840330; www.cotswoldhouse.com; doubles from £215 per night including breakfast) in the centre of Chipping Camden, you could return from your garden tour, sip cocktails and soak in a hot tub for two in the secret garden of your own cottage. Bedrooms are luxurious (design your own ‘bed and bath menu’ before you arrive), and there’s stylish British food in the restaurant and brasserie. Nearby, at Broad Campden, the lattice windows of the 17th-century Malt House (01386 840295; www.malt-house.co.uk; doubles £125 per night including breakfast) overlook its dream garden. Inside there are Georgian antiques, fresh flowers and open fires. Dinner by arrangement.
Surrey, Kent and East and West Sussex
Not only is East Grinstead at the meeting point of all four of these garden-rich counties, but it is home to a hotel with a truly great garden, created by William Robinson, pioneer of natural gardening, in the late 19th-century. Under Peter Herbert, its present owner, Gravetye Manor (01342 810567; www.gravetyemanor.co.uk; doubles from £198 per night including breakfast) has been a top country house hotel. and a bastion of gracious high living, for the past forty years. Expect calm, solicitous service and formal dining. A few miles south,the Griffin Inn at Fletching (01825 722890; www.thegriffininn.co.uk; doubles from £70 per night including breakfast) is an upmarket, friendly village pub with good food and civilized accommodation. Its back garden overlooks Sheffield Park while neighbouring Clinton Lodge has a fine private garden open on certain days and by appointment.
Southeast of Tunbridge Wells lies the charming village of Frant, where the Old Parsonage (01892 750773; www.theoldparsonagehotel.co.uk; doubles from £74 per night including breakfast) makes an elegant country guesthouse, its walled garden overlooking the Kent Weald. Whichever base you choose, they are all within easy reach of an impressive selection of historic and private gardens.
A cluster of delightfully varied gardens make Dorset an appealing county to pick for a garden tour. You could combine visits to several enchanting cottage gardens – such as Ivy Cottage near Dorchester and Chiffchaffs near Gillingham – with historic gardens such as Abbotsbury and Mapperton, and then head for Chettle, on the edge of Cranbourne Chase, where there is another beautiful garden to visit. Its benign owners have also converted their dower house into a congenial hotel, The Castleman (01258 830096; wwwcastlemanhotel.co.uk; doubles from £70 including breakfast) with spacious bedrooms, amusing period features, good food and an easy-going ambience. Here you are spoilt for choice because the next village, Farnham, is home to the popular Museum Inn (01725 516261; www.museuminn.co,uk) with a bustling bistro/bar, a calmer restaurant, pretty bedrooms and a book-lined residents’ sitting room.
Not only has Cornwall more historic gardens than any other county, but its own Festival of Spring Gardens (details from the Cornwall Tourist Board, 01872 322900). The majority of its wonderful gardens, both woodland and tropical, are ranged along the South Coast. Staying between Truro and St Austell will put you in pole position, and where more appropriate than Creed House (01872 530372; doubles £80 per night including breakfast), a Georgian rectory with one of the loveliest private gardens in the county. Owners Lally and William Croggon have spent 30 years restoring it to its former glory, and they run their family home as a stylish B&B.
Just east of St Austell is another upmarket B&B, secluded Nanscawen Manor House (01726 8144488; www.nanscawen.com; doubles £88 per night including breakfast) with five acres of beautiful camelia and rhododendron gardens , a wonderfully sited pool and spacious guest rooms with spa baths. If you prefer not to go out in search of dinner, consider Well House at St Keyne (01579 342001; www.wellhouse.co.uk; doubles from £115 per night including breakfast), a consummate country house hotel on a small scale, run like clockwork by owner Nicholas Wainford, with luxurious bedrooms, highly regarded food and a swimming pool in the immaculate grounds.