Glorious Gardens

Ok, so I don’t have a garden, but during lockdown, I’ve never been so appreciative of everyone else’s gardens, or missed so much the beautiful parks near work where I used to walk on my lunchbreaks. Well, as it’s National Gardening Week, there’s extra excuse to stop and admire our neighbours’ efforts (whilst maintaining social distancing). To highlight and give a shout out to all those who help create, nurture (and in many cases, rescue!)  these glorious green spaces I asked our good friends at The Gardens Trust, to tell us about some of their favourites. Over to you TGT team…

TGT team's picks include places of 'fun and frippery' as well as high class horticulture collections © wikicommons / Painshill / Sally Bate / John Gruban

Painswick’s Red House embodies the Rococo style perfectly with its asymmetrical design / © Marion Mako

An entertaining gem reclaimed from the jungle

Margie Hoffnung, Conservation Officer at the Gardens Trust

Painswick Rococo Garden, in Gloucestershire is England’s sole surviving Rococo Garden, created as a place of fun, frolics and frippery, far away from local prying eyes, hidden within the hills. It also has a unique collection of garden buildings, including the Red House, Eagle House, Pigeon House, Gothic Alcove and for that fashionable 18th century past-time, a Cold Bath. All of this surrounds the central feature of a diamond-shaped organically run vegetable garden, which has supplied produce for the cafe on site. It seems unbelievable now that as recently as the 1970s this hidden gem was a forgotten jungle, partially planted with timber in the 1950s, with the dilapidated buildings sliding down the hillside. Its rescue is thanks to years of painstaking work by Lord and Lady Dickinson and their team of staff and volunteers; clearing the undergrowth to allow flowers to bloom, restoring the buildings and replanting the garden with historically accurate varieties before gifting it to current owners, the Painswick Rococco Garden Trust.

A view through the Hermitage window (wouldn't mind a slice of this for a view during Lockdown!) / © Painshill

A People’s Palace and circuit of follies

Linden Groves, Strategic Development Officer at the Gardens Trust

Alexandra Palace Park in London is very special to me and I adore it for its gorgeous views over London, vast open spaces, and hidden corners despite being right in the metropolis. As a child I visited every day to use its One O’Clock Club playgroup and iconic Brutalist playground; now I have my own family and still live nearby so it’s the destination for simple days out and rendezvous with other local friends. Built by the Victorians as a People’s Palace to rival Crystal Palace, it’s now run by a community trust who balance income-generation from events and hiring it out to fund public access to the palace and its park. 

Painshill Park in Surrey is another of my favourites, a uniquely-surviving 18th century circuit garden with eccentric follies – a crystal grotto, Roman temple, gothic tower, romantic ruins, exotic Turkish tent, thatched Hermitage, and a series of picturesque bridges - that play games with the imagination, through variety, mood shifts and concealment. After falling into disrepair as so many ambitious gardens do, Painshill has been restored over recent decades by a team of dedicated volunteers, and championed by the Garden History Society, the predecessor to the Gardens Trust. We continue to lend a supportive arm to Painshill when needed, such as in 2018 when it was threatened by proposals to expand the busy A3 road that would result in it virtually skimming the gothic tower.

Highdown Gardens is a hidden gem, full of unusual things to discover from its Nationally significant plant collection

A notable collection of blooms

Virginia Hinze, Chair of the Gardens Trust’s Events Committee and Trustee of Sussex Gardens Trust

Highdown Gardens, Worthing come as a wonderful surprise – and a miracle of survival - once you have ascended the long drive up the slope of the South Downs above Worthing. Nestled in an old chalk pit overlooking the sea the Gardens are home to the National Collection of the Plant Introductions of Sir Fredrick Stern – which includes two of my very favourite flowers, hellebores – in shades from chocolate to pink and green - and tree peonies. 

Sir Frederick and Lady Stern spent 50 years turning this almost impossible site with its steep chalk cliffs and poor thin soil into a unique collection of trees, shrubs, perennial and bulbs, many of them the original stock obtained from pioneering botanists and collectors. The Gardens even have their own rose, bred by Sir Frederick: ‘Rosa x Highdownensis’, with flowers of cerise-crimson. Worthing Borough Council inherited Highdown Gardens under the terms of Sir Frederick’s will in 1967 and with the support of The Sussex Gardens Trust has recently  been awarded a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund that will both help save the hundreds of rare and exotic plants through expert cataloguing, preserving and propagating, and improve visitor experience.

Plantation Garden is a sanctuary in the city centre, but how long before it returns to a tangled thicket? / © Sally Bate

Will the jungle return to the city?

Sally Bate, Historic Landscape Project Officer at the Gardens Trust, and Vice-Chair of Norfolk Gardens Trust

The Plantation Garden, Norwich has been cleared and cared for by dedicated volunteers since the late 1980s (many are members of Norfolk Gardens Trust). Such a peaceful and beautiful garden in the bottom of an old lime quarry in the centre of Norwich, which is usually open every day for people to enjoy or get involved with.  However, I am worried that, with social isolation and distancing, the volunteers will not be able to come in and the garden risks becoming a jungle again.

Vulnerable treasures

Historic parks and gardens have always been a much-loved part of our shared national story, but they are appreciated now more than ever as Covid-19 forces us to evaluate the role of open space in our lives. While those of us with our own gardens thank heavens for them, so we also come to understand just how essential free access to public parks is to the wellbeing of the nation as a whole.

Sadly though, these unforgettable gardens are themselves at risk. Gardens and landscapes have always been vulnerable to destruction through maintenance cuts, neglect, development or mis-management but now these precious treasures are more at risk than ever, as Covid-19 has forced many historic gardens to shut their doors and lose essential ticket revenue, whilst on the flipside public parks struggle to serve the growing needs of their communities for outside exercise. The Gardens Trust and volunteers in the County Gardens Trusts are working harder than ever to support these amazing sites. Please consider joining us and supporting our work.

Find out more

About The Gardens Trust

The Gardens Trust is a charity working harder than ever in these challenging times to help share and protect historic parks and gardens, and support and train volunteers to get involved. We are always reliant on membership income to deliver this work, and expect this to be the case even more as grant-giving bodies are hit by the economic impact of Covid-19. 

From 2020 to 2022 the Gardens Trust will be celebrating Unforgettable Gardens – what they mean to us, the threats they face, and how you can help save them for future generations.