One of Rudyard Kipling’s poems begins, “Our England is a garden.” If you think the famous writer might have been exaggerating, a trip to the English countryside in summer will surely change your mind.
We have read about English gardens for decades, studied their history and the people whose names we still revere: from Lancelot “Capability” Brown to Vita Sackville-West and Rosemary Verey. Our bookshelves are filled with English garden books: cottage gardens, water gardens, topiary gardens, walled gardens, Italianate gardens, kitchen gardens, royal gardens, and – of course – country house gardens.
Every casual gardener knows a long list of common flower names. But identifying all the plants and flowers we see in a summertime English garden? Impossible! Walk down an English garden path in June and everything else vanishes except the abundance of blooms, the range of colors, the nuance of shades, the shapes of flowers, the fragrances, and the ever-present background drone of busy bees.
It’s also virtually impossible to count all the gardens in England. Britain’s Good Garden Guide lists over 1,200 of the best ones and the authoritative 2014 National Garden Scheme Yellow Book includes 3,800 gardens in England and Wales.
While researching great houses in the English countryside in June, the grand old historic heaps with their dark rooms, priceless art and exquisite furnishings were certainly fascinating. But they couldn’t hold us for long when the most glorious gardens waited just outside their ancient doors.
Blickling Hall is a magnificent Jacobean mansion located in Norfolk, England on a 4,000-acre estate. It’s believed that Anne Boleyn was born in the manor house that once stood on Blickling’s site. Fifty-five acres of gardens have been developed here over four centuries. Highlights include the double borders, the wilderness and the Parterre with its ancient yew hedge topiary, fountain, and old rose garden. Lush stands of catmint bloom throughout the property.
Ickworth in Suffolk is best known for its impressive rotunda, part of this Georgian Italianate palace set in an idyllic landscape. There are seventy acres of gardens, including an Italianate garden, pleasure gardens, a walled garden, and a Victorian “stumpery.”
At Sandringham, the much-loved Norfolk retreat of the Queen, expansive lawns blend into landscape gardens, lakes and woodlands. The formal North Garden includes pleached lime avenues made memorable by a smiling Buddha statue. Blousy roses adorn the west walls of the house and there’s a romantic rockery and grotto on the grounds.
Houghton Hall is a massive mansion built in the 18th century for Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole. Located adjacent to the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, this lavish Palladian hall was built to impress. The estate contains a thousand acres of parkland, woods and gardens. Most stunning is the five-acre walled garden with a double-sided herbaceous border, Italian garden and formal parterre with 150 varieties of roses.
Felbrigg Hall is considered one of the most elegant country houses in East Anglia noted for its unaltered 17th century Jacobean architecture and Georgian interior. It has a very fine walled garden with a lovely dovecote housing a flock of white doves. In summer the double borders and herb beds are thick with the scents of lavender, sage and mint. Red, pink, yellow and purple poppies bloom amid the hydrangea and daisies.
Not far outside Cambridge is Anglesey Abbey, a former priory converted into an English county house. The house and gardens are set in ninety-eight acres of landscaped grounds. There are wildflower meadows, a sweeping herbaceous border and a formal garden, along with the most striking stand of white birch trees perfectly planted to stop visitors in their tracks. In January, the snowdrops are spectacular, but in June the heady scents and vibrant colors of hundreds of hybrid tea roses in the rose garden steal the show.
Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don’t come,
You get a tan from standing in the English rain.
— John Lennon
All photos are the property of David White and may not be used without permission.