'The detail is beautiful, better than I'd hoped for'

Garden designer and writer Karen Gimson is a radio gardening expert, Rainbows Hospice Ambassador and Trustee of the Hardy Plant Society, and when she finally visited Borde Hill in Sussex, she was captivated.


I’ve been looking at pictures of Borde Hill in magazines and newspapers for years and years. It seemed so enticing; I’ve always been too busy to go but I finally got my chance this spring. It was the satisfaction of achieving a long-held ambition and finding that in real life it was as good as I had hoped – or even better!

I have a passion for trees and the rare and unusual specimens are really exciting. Many were collected by the great plant hunters of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There is a huge tulip tree, Liriodendron chinense, and it turns out that it was raised from seed collected by Ernest Wilson in central China, and bought from Veitch Nurseries in 1913. There’s also the best collection of magnolias that I have ever seen!

© 2018 Heather Edwards

© 2018 Heather Edwards

The woods are filled with rhododendrons and magnolias and the floor is carpeted with wildflowers. It’s such a peaceful, beautiful place. It gladdens your heart to stand among the bluebells and anemones in this ancient woodland and listen to the birdsong. Then you turn a corner and suddenly there are all these modern garden rooms, set around the Elizabethan manor house. 

It’s a real garden of contrasts and the garden rooms are exquisite, like something from RHS Chelsea Flower Show. There is a Paradise Walk, designed by James Alexander-Sinclair, a garden full of David Austin roses and an Italian terrace garden with a formal pool.

The determination to make a garden and make it really excellent was inspiring. The exotic garden, designed by Sophie Walker, is in a really tricky spot on the site of a former quarry. It contains specimens of schefflera, discovered by modern day plant hunters, which neatly unites the past with the future.

I discovered a beautiful Itoh peony there and I came straight home and planted it in my own garden! The detail at Borde Hill is beautiful. You are there, wandering around and gazing at the wider landscape, and then you focus on the immediate and suddenly find something special right at your feet.

Words: Naomi Slade

Borde Hill Garden, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath RH16 1XP

Tel: 01444 450326

Visit www.bordehill.co.uk for more information. Open for the NGS on 30th September

'It's a great spot to explore from and there's lots to do!'

Plantswoman Claire Austin likes to base herself in Laugharne for a thoroughly enjoyable romp around the gardens and nurseries of South Wales.


When we go away in the UK the trip is always based around gardens and nurseries. I like to check things out and hunt for plants and I don’t like to sit still. We’re busy

so we don’t go often, but when we do it’s all about visiting things locally.

Laugharne is quite amazing. There are long walks to go on and so much history. It’s a great spot to base yourself in and there's a lot to do if you walk out and drive out from there. It's such a different little place, and it's full of eccentricities!

© Andrea Jones

© Andrea Jones

If you go down to the estuary at Laugharne, there's a lovely walk along the stones. It’s a really good idea to take a pair of wellington boots, though, as you never quite know how wet it is going to be. You can walk in line with the tide and make sure it doesn’t come in and get you. It has that pure, open estuary feeling and the landscape is lovely. You can then walk up to Dylan Thomas’s boathouse where he did his writing. However, we arrived there too early and it was closed!

It was fantastic to go back to the National Botanic Garden of Wales (pictured above). I supplied some of the plants when the Botanic Garden was first established around 20 years ago, so it was interesting to go round and try and spot where they were! The Great Glasshouse is absolutely amazing, with all the different zones. It’s fascinating to see how they grow things there.

We went whisky-tasting last time we visited. With me it’s always about the food and drink. It was really funny; the chap forgot what we were supposed to be drinking next – it was Welsh whisky, the one with the red dragon on it from the Penderyn Distillery – and I think he’d tasted a bit too much!

We always visit Llandeilo when we’re down that way. It’s quite an upmarket little town; it’s close to Aberglasney Gardens which is lovely even in the off-season and has some really interesting plants. South-west Wales is a beautiful area for anyone to visit.

Words: Naomi Slade

Visit www.discovercarmarthenshire.com

Wildlife on the island's almost indescribable!

Wildlife advocate Brigit Strawbridge Howard loves the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. Her book Dancing with Bees – a journey back to nature is out on the 5th September, published by Chelsea Green.


I first went to Barra to search for the Great Yellow Bumblebee. It used to be quite widespread, but changes in farming practises and land use have squeezed it into the far west coast of Scotland and the islands.

We were only there for a short time, but I just fell in love. The Outer Hebrides are incredible and Barra is the jewel in their crown. It has a bit of everything; the beaches look tropical, with white sand made up of shells. The weather is wild and there are mountains and an incredible coastline, and the bird-life is fantastic!

It’s like time has stood still. They use the same crofting system of farming that they’ve done for generations, with light grazing and no herbicides and pesticides. The landscape is diverse and the wildlife is diverse – the wildlife is possibly the most amazing thing of all, it’s almost indescribable.

© Charlotte Strawbridge

© Charlotte Strawbridge

The wildflowers blew me away. The machair (a fertile low-lying grassy plain) is one of the rarest habitats in Europe. It changes all the time. When we first went there is was yellow, with kidney vetch and bird’s foot trefoil, ragwort and ladies’ bedstraw.

Next time, Rob and I arrived on our first wedding anniversary, in late July and all the yellows had gone and, instead, there were purples and violets, blues and pinks. That’s what happens, the flowers come and go and then there is another wave. It’s like heaven on earth, it really is.

The people there are really lovely; they waved to us and engaged us in conversation. And I love the lack of retail. You don’t ‘go shopping’. You can get food in the small towns and villages, but you don’t go out and buy loads of stuff and you can get away from wi-fi.

We parked our campervan on a disused pier on the Eoligarry peninsula and were surrounded by the sound of birds from oystercatchers, curlews and corncrakes. We climbed the crag, turned a corner and we were within fifty meters of a fledgling golden eagle! Honestly, if I could close my eyes and wake up somewhere, it would be the Isle of Barra. It’s a hard place to leave.

Words: Naomi Slade


It's the most important garden I've created

TV garden and landscape designer and RHS luminary James Alexander-Sinclair has designed hundreds of gardens but the one that means the most to him is Horatio’s Garden, Glasgow.

Horatio's Garden Scotland.jpg

The garden is at a spinal injuries unit where it clearly demonstrates its healing powers. It is probably the most important garden I have made in my life. I have a routine when I visit. My flight arrives at 8am and I get a taxi to the garden. I open the gate that leads to the woodland garden and no one is there. Nobody has arrived yet, it’s just me. It’s a really, really precious moment.

© Chaz Oldham

© Chaz Oldham

Hospitals are not private places and the patients at the Spinal Unit have experienced a trauma that will change their lives forever – often in a split second. The garden is as a place of sanctuary, in which they can adapt. Somewhere they can sit and talk and cry and get used to what their lives have become. It makes you appreciate what you have.

It’s changed immeasurably in the years I have known it. When I first saw the site, it was a rat-ridden siding on the motorway that leads to the Clyde Tunnel. Now it is full of life and colour, trees, plants and bulbs. And, invariably and unashamedly, I cry every time I go there.

There is scent and birdsong, choirs of angels, and the gentle rumble of traffic passing is ever-present. The woodland has been an amazing transformation and I am engaged in a battle – I am determined that the trees will grow large enough to hide the road signs.

There is an army of volunteers supervised by Sallie, the wonderful head gardener. They do an extraordinary job and hang out in one of the nicest sheds in Scotland! There’s a constantly overflowing biscuit tin – an important part of the healing process.

Gardens make people happy and, as with any beautiful garden, I feel my blood pressure drop as I arrive. But rather than pleasing just one client or family, Horatio’s Garden will still be giving comfort to patients, relatives and staff for many years to come.

Words: Naomi Slade

The Scottish National Spinal Unit, Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, 1345 Govan Road, Glasgow, G51 4TF


'It's what my garden would look like in my dreams!'

Qualified professional gardener and designer, would-be smallholder and writer, Sally Nex campaigns to reduce plastic use in the garden. She loves to visit Forde Abbey.


Forde Abbey is a beautiful former monastery and I go there really regularly. It’s privately owned and much as I adore the National Trust properties, private gardens have a character and a quirkiness that you don’t find anywhere else.

© Naomi Schillinger

© Naomi Schillinger

I love the fact that they’re really proud of their kitchen garden, which is unusual because productive areas are usually hidden round the back. As a committed vegetable grower it’s the thing that I always head for first and at Forde Abbey it’s right next to the ticket office!

The walled kitchen garden is in the old style and it’s very beautiful. It’s laid out in traditional beds, but they’re bursting with amazing fruit and veg in huge quantities. It’s really photogenic, too. I’m always taking pictures.

It’s also incredibly ornamental and I love it at harvest time, when the space is filled with bright orange pumpkins, drying in the sun. There’s also a big bed around the corner from the peach house. It’s filled with big, bright, beautiful plants like salvias and dahlias, cannas, bananas and ginger lilies. It’s just fabulous.

I’ve bought lots of plants from the lovely garden centre there, including the pineapple guava, Acca sellowiana. It’s evergreen and hardy and, although it doesn’t produce fruit in the climate here in the UK, it has big, showy, edible flowers that taste of pineapple.

I do sometimes tear myself away and look at the rest of the garden. The Cistercian abbey dates from the 12th century and it provides a wonderfully mediaeval backdrop to the planting. There are good seasonal displays – big sheets of crocuses and massive sweet pea displays. And in autumn the herbaceous borders are full of marvellous dahlias.

I’m nothing if not a practical gardener and I always get little tips about different ways to grow veg. I go and absorb their techniques and take them home. It has improved my own veg garden, there’s no doubt about it. It’s what my garden would look like in my dreams!

Words: Naomi Slade

Forde Abbey and Gardens, Chard, Somerset, TA20 4LU


'It feels like an extension of our family garden'

Laetitia Maklouf is an author, garden writer and blogger. Her ‘Virgin Gardener’ podcast is at www.laetitiamaklouf.com/podcast and she gardens for five minutes a day on Instagram stories.


The first thing that captured my imagination was the pagoda; as a child I used to think that it belonged to an amazing emperor or king. It’s always been in a state of danger and disrepair, and the sense of mystery was enough to pull me in.

I’ve been going ever since I can remember, I think that we used to put a coin in a turnstile – but that could be something that I was told. It was always where we went for a picnic to celebrate birthdays and so on. We’d spend a lot of time looking for the perfect spot – of which there are many. And, of course, you don’t have to worry about dodging dog poo!

© Jill Mead

© Jill Mead

We got married in the Temperate House. It was a very cold December wedding and it was spectacular to be there with all the beautiful plants. Then, when I got into gardening, it took on another significance. I went there to swot up and learn about plants, and the wonderful thing is that anywhere you go there’s a label!

There’s a thing that happens when you enter Kew, where time almost stops. For a Londoner who’s not used to the countryside, it’s as close as you can get to a country garden; manicured without being controlled. That’s the look I go for in my own garden – I’ve tailored my aesthetic to accommodate my laziness and the fact that I’m time-poor.

When I had children, Kew became my respite. If it’s cold or raining there are the glasshouses, The Princess of Wales glasshouse is always warm and lovely. And I love running along the long borders, the drifts of plants are such an amazing addition.

Now when I go to Kew by myself it’s a feeling of freedom that can’t be matched. It’s different now, with the freedom and lightness to just wander around. I’m mean to myself when it comes to free time, but this feels sanctioned because it’s about work. It’s an amazing place to be because it’s me time, but guiltless – and that’s a rare combination.

Words: Naomi Slade

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, London, TW9 3AE. Visit www.kew.org or tel: 020 8332 5655 for information, tickets and opening times.

‘It makes me quite emotional’

Horticulturist and community garden founder Sara Venn chooses Great Dixter in East Sussex as her favourite place in the world. To get involved in a local community Incredible Edible project visit www.incredibleedible.org.uk


The first time I went, I was in my early twenties and I was thinking about a change of career. I found myself looking at horticulture and questioning why I had not been pushed that way before. It was a real escape for me as a young mum; I used to go with my own mum who adored it and after she died, I visited all the places that we’d been to together. Great Dixter was particularly calming.

Dixter sits so well in its landscape. It’s an early Arts and Crafts garden with garden rooms and a long border; the planting in the pool garden is stunning – really full – and, leading down to the stream there are beautiful meadows with old apple and pear trees.

I save the nursery for a special treat at the end of the visit – it’s a bit like having pudding! But if I could only visit one part of Great Dixter it would be the exotic garden – at the right time of year it is enough to blow anybody’s mind.

I get really excited about the compost heaps and the Japanese method they use to build them. They create these enormous ten-foot heaps with a framework to keep it all in place – and I think they plant the occasional squash in there, too. It makes a huge, interesting addition to the garden, even if it is just a compost heap.

It’s a weird moment of feeling like you’re at home but everything has been redecorated – like when you go back to your parents and things have changed in subtle ways. I like the excitement of seeing how the planting changes from year to year.

The pot displays have very much influenced my garden. It’s a tiny urban space and you literally couldn’t swing a cat. Great Dixter has big pots, and they fill each one with one variety of something like tulips, then squeeze them all up, which makes the display looker big and full – it is small-scale block planting for people who don’t have any soil.

Words: Naomi Slade


‘It’s rugged and unspoilt, you can feel the calm...’

Louise Danks works as Production Manager at the National Dahlia Collection, but when the day is done and the plants dealt with, she heads to her favourite place, Portholland Beach on the Roseland Peninsula.

Dahlia expert Louise retreats to Portholland beach in Cornwall. The National Collection of Dahlias is exhibiting in the Great Pavilion at RHS Chelsea, 21st – 25th May.

Dahlia expert Louise retreats to Portholland beach in Cornwall. The National Collection of Dahlias is exhibiting in the Great Pavilion at RHS Chelsea, 21st – 25th May.

I first went to Portholland Beach when I was about four years old. I grew up around the corner, it was before Cornwall became really touristy, and we went all the time. It was ages later when I realised that not everyone went straight to the beach after school!

It is very small and there are just two rows of squat stone cottages, little terraces with steep gardens stretching up behind. I was always terribly envious of the people who lived there. Each cove is fairly narrow and the beaches are very flat. The water is clear and it’s amazing to swim, and, because it’s on the south coast there are no waves.

You get there along a long, winding Cornish lane; the sort with high hedges and where you have to do a lot of reversing. The banks are covered in pink campion, violets, stitchwort and valerian at this time of year. The anticipation builds as you go, waiting for that first glimpse of the vista, unfolding at the end of the road.

There is a sign that says ‘Temporary Road Surface’ which has been there for at least 35 years. I shall be quite sad when it finally goes! Between the two coves you can scramble over the rocks, and there are rock pools; higher up there is a view over the sea from the stony, shaley track.

At this time of year, the two peaks of our business collide. We are sending out rooted cuttings and also doing the final preparations for RHS Chelsea. People don’t realise, but it’s very pressured and exciting, there are so many variables in getting a plant that flowers in July to perform in May. You worry about whether plants will make it in time and if the judges and public will like the display. When I feel stressed, even thinking about Portholland is incredibly calming.

The beach is such a gentle, quiet place. We went there in January, it was my birthday and we had a picnic. You can sit and think, allow yourself to recharge. There is nowhere else that I would rather be.

Words: Naomi Slade


'The Common is a silent friend who lets me ramble on'

Award-winning garden designer Paul seeks sanctuary on Selsley Common, above his home-town of Stroud, Gloucestershire. Paul opened a new branch of his shop, Allomorphic, in Tetbury on 30th March.


In the last 20 years I’ve spent a lot of time on Selsley Common, mulling things over. It’s quite high and at the top it rolls in two directions, five valleys running down towards Stroud on one side and the Severn Estuary on the other. Sometimes you can see Wales but other times you can’t even see your hand, it’s quite dramatic.

For me it has a lot of character. Historically, there’s been stone extraction, so there are traces of human activity in the wilderness. I often walk the dog there – well, it has been a series of dogs, really. I recently rescued a spaniel called Netta; she loves running and hopping around. You can look down onto the town below and it gives a lot of perspective.

On a grim day there’s just grass and nothing else, with no visual noise. Sometimes I need to remember that, in the scheme of things, the things that I find stressful are straightforward. The Common is a silent friend who lets me ramble on about whatever I need to, and just seems to get it.

If you have to work hard at something, it’s not meant to be that way. If you keep trying to force your way forward you just get stressed; it’s easier to follow a more natural flow of things and accept new ideas. It also makes life more exciting, sometimes unnecessarily so!

I like that sense being in a big-scale, dramatic landscape, as it helps remind me how little and fragile our own existence is. It’s the opposite of my job, like two sides of a coin. I can’t just design gardens, I need a connection, and it’s important, mentally, to hold on to somewhere that provides a sense of liberation.  

Over time I have developed a very personal relationship with Selsley Common. It grounds me and ideas can come and go. You can go back and see yourself in different points in time. It was there a long time before me, and it’ll be there for a long time after and that’s an antidote to the craziness.

Words: Naomi Slade


'Gardens that get to your heart are hard to pin down'

Clare Foster is an author and gardening editor, but of all the fabulous gardens she visits, mediaeval Cothay Manor near her parents’ home in Somerset is dearest to her heart.

Clare Foster is an author and gardening editor, but of all the fabulous gardens she visits, mediaeval Cothay Manor near her parents’ home in Somerset is dearest to her heart.

Gardening writer and editor Clare Foster adoresthe magical Cothay Manor in Somerset. Clare’s new book The Flower Garden: How to grow flowers from seed is published by Laurence King.

I first went with my parents about 20 years ago, but I’ve returned several times since. As you arrive you come through a field of cows to a small lake; the manor is on the other side and it is reflected in the water, it’s all very romantic.

The place has an air of faded splendour about it and a sense of mystery. The house has that patina of age and the garden unfolds behind it, made up of lots of different compartments. You don’t see it beforehand so there is a real element of surprise.

I love the fact that it’s not very formal. There is good structure with lots of clipped evergreens but, within this, the planting is loose and flowing, which adds to the romanticism. All the different plants are the sort of things that I would use, soft and naturalistic, and it is comfortable because it is so relaxed.

There are lots of ancient crumbling steps, with erigeron daisies spilling out over the stones.  Areas of gravel are softened with self-seeded plants and in one place Dierama has been left to self-seed among the pebbles, it is absolutely beautiful.

You get there along tiny, winding country lanes. It feels like the middle of nowhere which is quite rare now. There is nobody on the gate; it is very much a private garden that the public are allowed to visit.

You stop thinking about everything else that is going on in the world and just relax into it. Many gardens are accomplished, but they don’t speak to you. Those that get to your heart are hard to pin down, they just have an air of intrigue about them.

What sticks in my memory is a simple avenue of clipped Robinia pseudoacia 'Umbraculifera' underplanted with nepeta. The way the nepeta catches the dappled light from the trees is wonderful, you just don’t need anything else. All the different areas are full of planting detail and contrasts; I can wander around for hours and not get bored.

Cothay Manor, Greenham, Wellington TA21 0JR;
Tel: 01823 672283

'With texture, scent and colour, it’s a feast for the senses'

Mark Lane is a garden designer, TV presenter and Ambassador for gardening charities Greenfingers and Thrive and, for him, a visit to the Savill Garden in Berkshire was a revelation.

Gardening personality Mark was blown away by visiting the Savill Garden near Windsor. Mark’s series on the history of gardens and garden design is on BBC Gardeners’ World on Friday nights.

Gardening personality Mark was blown away by visiting the Savill Garden near Windsor. Mark’s series on the history of gardens and garden design is on BBC Gardeners’ World on Friday nights.

I discovered it quite recently, but I absolutely fell in love with the place. The structure of the Savill building is incredible, it looks like a crumpled fallen leaf, with a living roof and a spectacular vaulted ceiling above you as you go into the garden.

Considering how young it is, dating only from the 1930s, it is extremely mature. It looks like it has been there forever. I discovered it in winter, and the amount of colour and scent was phenomenal. The Cornus and Salix have brilliant, coloured stems which shine against the dark-green lawns and the gunnera in their winter shrouds looked magical.

It is very well kept, I couldn’t for the life of me find a weed! The garden is almost triangular, with the Cumberland Obelisk and Autumn wood in one corner, the Summer wood in another and, finally the very beautiful Queen Elizabeth Temperate House.

For me, the Temperate House is such a calming, relaxing place. There is the sound of water from the little fountain and fig trees trained up the walls, and the spiral staircase is beautiful, although it is not very good for wheelchairs.

As a plant-lover, I think it is somewhere that everyone should go.  The vast collection of magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas comes alight in a tapestry of colour, and there is a surprise around every corner. When I got to the viewing platform, the bold swathes and contrasting planting opened up in front of me, it was really exciting.

The plants are so well chosen and they are carefully placed so they relate to each other well. The way they catch the light is incredible and it has taught me how beautiful gardens can look even in autumn and winter.

I have not felt like this for a long time. I visit lots of gardens, and they are what they are, but the Savill Garden really hit me. It is a place that has grown through the years and mellowed into the landscape. It is a real credit to all the gardeners involved.

Words: Naomi Slade

The Savill Garden, Wick Lane, Englefield Green, Egham TW20 0UU;

'There's a joyful sense of being overwhelmed'

Ed Ikin studied biology before training at the Crown Estate and at RHS Wisley. Before joining RBG Kew’s sister site, Wakehurst, he worked in prominent gardens including Chelsea Physic Garden and Nymans.

Ed Ikin studied biology before training at the Crown Estate and at RHS Wisley. Before joining RBG Kew’s sister site, Wakehurst, he worked in prominent gardens including Chelsea Physic Garden and Nymans.

Wakehurst’s Deputy Director and Head of Landscape, Horticulture & Research, Ed chooses Cambo garden in Fife.

The first time I went to Cambo, I had that feeling of being a guest in someone’s private home. Not aimed at the masses and all the better for it. It’s an intimate and playful garden, which gives an insight into both the desires of the owner and the skills of the horticulture team.

You go through the small door into the walled garden and it’s like stepping into an alternative reality. It manages to be naturalistic, loose and open in a way that works in that space, while the walls and glasshouses add structure. You can hear water runs through the centre and there are big beds of tulips, planted among perennials and set into a matrix of grasses.

I think it’s one of the best practical uses of the European style of prairie planting. The gardeners at Cambo have made it their own; it is not dominated by external design influences. Every new development oozes confidence and assurance and there is an intangible sense of house style

The magic is in the connection to the wider landscape. The garden quickly turns into a dense wooded valley, then suddenly the wood stops and you are on an exquisite little beach next to the wild North Sea. Last time I was there eider ducks were swimming in the waves.

It makes me feel incredibly excited and reconnects me to the early days of being a gardener. This is the thrill of being in a really good garden, you can’t quite rationalise what’s in front of you and there is a joyful sense of being overwhelmed.

When the sun is out in that part of Scotland, the light is brilliant, almost glassy. The spirit of the garden is revealed in sharp relief. It verges on the surreal; your brain does nothing more than process and take it all in.

Gardens should be thrilling and at Cambo it’s the overarching sense of place rather than the individual plants that give it its magic. Bringing a sense of this to a large, public garden, and avoiding looking institutional, is the challenge; it’s what I aspire to for Wakehurst.

Cambo House & Estate, Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 8QD

'This garden really does have just about everything!

Advolly Richmond is an RHS-qualified garden, landscape and social historian. Her lecture subjects span the 15th – 20th centuries and she’s passionate about her own garden.

Advolly Richmond is an RHS-qualified garden, landscape and social historian. Her lecture subjects span the 15th – 20th centuries and she’s passionate about her own garden.

Garden Historian Advolly chooses Winterbourne House and Garden, Birmingham University. Her ‘Introduction to Garden History in 10 Objects’ is at the garden on April .

I first went to Winterbourne House for a meeting regarding the Capability Brown tercentenary celebrations. The elevated terrace in front of the beautiful Arts and Crafts House looks down on to the pergola, the herbaceous borders and sunken garden. Down the steps is a large lawn, then a lime tree walk and yew trees. The walled garden has a crinkle-crankle wall; I use an old picture of it in my lecture and people always ask what on earth it’s for.

As a typical Arts and Crafts garden, everything is compartmentalised. Each one works in its own right and this allows you to experience a section at a time. It is a bit like reading a trilogy, each book stands alone but the story is better if you read all three!

Winterbourne was laid out in 1903 and is contemporaneous with Hestercombe in Somerset, which dates from 1902. Its original owner, Margaret Nettlefold, had a number of books by Gertrude Jekyll; you can really see that influence in the design and this taps into one of my specific periods of interest.

The glasshouses have the most amazing collection of cacti, and succulents and orchids as well. I was delighted, I hadn’t realised this place existed! The nut walk leads to a geographical collection of trees, a magnolia border and a beautiful alpine garden, too. People think Birmingham is just built-up and urban but Winterbourne is an oasis. It achieves what many places struggle with – year-round interest.

Everything is really well labelled and the interpretation is very good. I like discovering new plants and gardeners and volunteers are very knowledgeable. You look at something and think ‘that’s nice, what is it?’ and then realise that somebody has helpfully put a sign next to it.

Their dahlia selection is fabulous and I’ve found some brilliant plants there. They really have had a resurgence and it’s inspired me to create a dahlia border at home this year. I looked at it and just thought, ‘oh my God, I want some of that!’.

Winterbourne House and Garden, 58 Edgbaston Park Rd, Birmingham, B15 2RT

‘When the sun comes up you feel like you’re in heaven’

Award-winning photographer Clive Nichols chooses Pettifers in Oxfordshire as his favourite place to visit. He has been described as ‘Britain’s Best Garden Photographer’ by Canon Photo Plus Magazine.

Pettifers, Oxfordshire

Pettifers, Oxfordshire

Clive Nichols has photographed some of the best gardens in the world.

Clive Nichols has photographed some of the best gardens in the world.

I first visited Pettifers in 2000. On the recommendation of fellow photographer, Jerry Harpur, I contacted Gina Price the owner and she invited me to take a look. Now I live in the same village, which is a gift, as I can go any time and know that I can get great shots.

I was struck by the combination of formality and planting, it was absolutely beautiful.
It slopes downhill to the east and the morning light floods into the bottom of the garden. In midsummer I set my alarm so I am there for sunrise – as early as 4.30am – when the sun back-lights the plants with an incredible orange glow.

Being there in the ‘golden hour’ is a celestial experience;
it doesn’t last for very long, but the adrenalin starts to flow and the hairs on the back of your neck start to stand on end. It is a feeling of being somewhere special and magical that you don’t get very often.

It isn’t that big, I’m guessing only a couple of acres.
The front garden is quite small and unobtrusive, but to the rear is a generous lawn, flanked by two large colourful borders of perennials, bulbs and grasses dropping to the parterre, so there are nice changes in level.

The garden changes throughout the season so there’s always something of interest. There are the snowdrops, then waves and waves of daffodils. There are fritillaries and Anemone blanda, and she is really good with tulips. The box and yew parterre gives structure, especially noticeable in the winter, and Gina and her gardener Polly are constantly updating and tweaking the borders.

Pettifers is where I learnt the most about light and colour. It taught me that the bones of a garden need to be strong, it isn’t just about the planting. And, also, that every element should be to the same high standard, or it detracts from the whole. I took to it straight away and it still excites me now, 20 years later.

Words: Naomi Slade

Pettifers, Lower Wardington, Banbury, Oxford, OX17 1RU
Tel: 01295 750232, Email: virginiaprice@btinternet.com
Open to groups by appointment

‘I love this amazing garden because of its imperfections!’

Huw Richards is aged just 20 but already has almost 120,000 subscribers to his youtube gardening channel. While he’s very much a 21st century gardener, he is always drawn back to the traditional feel of the walled gardens at Llanerchaeron in his native Wales.

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Llanerchaeron was the first walled garden I ever visited!
We live about half an hour away and we used to go with my parents. I suppose I was too young to even remember the first time I went! But when I was a bit older I can remember my dad explaining how a walled garden can create a microclimate and extend the growing season. I just loved all of the old apple trees and the fruit and vegetables, and I fell in love with it.

It has so much character
Sometimes in gardening I think there’s a trend towards too many straight lines, too much perfection. I look at some of the Chelsea gardens, for example, and I think they look a bit artificial - they don’t have any personality. But Llanerchaeron has been the way it is today for 200 years - I love it because of its imperfections! I just think it’s an amazing place.

I think my favourite time to visit is early spring
Just when it’s coming to life. Everything starts that little bit sooner, because of its south-facing walls, so that’s when I think that my garden won’t be long in getting going itself. You know that when the apples are in blossom at Llanerchaeron then everyone else’s apples won’t be far behind!

It’s most famous for its apples and they are incredible
The way they have been shaped over the years is wonderful and they just add to the character of the place.

You really do feel at one with nature

There’s a lovely walk if you go through the garden and head down to the River Aeron. There is so much wild garlic along there and you just get hit by the scent. It’s incredible. We live up the valley from Llanerchaeron; there’s a stream that runs by my garden and eventually it runs into the Aeron, so whenever we’re there it’s as if the water in the river has come from ‘our stream’. 

Llanerchaeron, Aberaeron, Ceredigion, SA48 8DG
Tel: 01545 570200

'It's just the most exquisite place in the garden'

Jekka McVicar is best-known as one of the UK's foremost herb experts, but had no hesitation in choosing RHS Garden Rosemoor in her native south-west as her favourite place. 

RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon

RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon

Renowned herb expert Jekka adores RHS Garden Rosemoor in Devon. Jekka's book,  A Pocketful Of Herbs , is released on March 5 by Bloomsbury.

Renowned herb expert Jekka adores RHS Garden Rosemoor in Devon. Jekka's book, A Pocketful Of Herbs, is released on March 5 by Bloomsbury.

I first visited RHS Rosemoor soon after it opened in the early 1990s, with my two young children and a girlfriend and her toddler. I thought it was very linear, with some very new hedges all lined up, and I just couldn’t see how it would ever work. But over the years I’ve watched it evolve into just the most exquisite use of space.

It's linear, of course – it follows the river – but wherever you are in the garden it gives the sense of rooms. I think that’s the thing that draws me to it the most, this idea of different rooms that all have different feelings. It was first designed by Elizabeth Banks (later RHS president) in its current form and it’s a remarkable feat.

One of the things I really like about Rosemoor is it’s not too big. There’s an awful lot to see but you can get around everything easily. It’s hard to say what my favourite part is – the vegetable area is superb, the roses are spectacular, the hot beds are something else. All of the different garden rooms give you something else and there's really something for everyone here. The planting is just wonderful throughout.

It's a genuine year-round garden.There's something to interest you at any time of year; the winter foliage, for example, is just spectacular. But you can go there in any month and always see something new.

I was inspired to plant hedges by seeing them at Rosemoor. I'd never really thought of using hedges before but now I have them around my vegetables – they keep animals out but  they're wonderful for the birds. Finches and blue tits love to hide out in the hedges, and you see dunnocks on the floor underneath them. Birds are one of the best ways to keep an organic balance in the garden.

It feels very much as if it's a West Country garden, which of course it is. But I'm from the West Country and it's important – it's rooted in its community and the whole look and feel of it is true to that.

RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon
Tel: 01805 624067;