Five stunning National Trust gardens to visit this spring

Five stunning National Trust gardens to visit this spring


The first tree blossoms have burst into flower; the air is humming with the sound of nature hard at work; and the promise of warmer, brighter days is within touching distance. Could it be that spring is finally here?

What better time of year than to experience some of the finest and wildest National Trust gardens in the UK? Our pick of five beautiful outdoor spaces to visit are sure to dazzle and rejuvenate even the sleepiest of visitors as we emerge from our winter slumber. So, lace-up your walking boots, kick-open your door, and make way for a day spent exploring these breathtaking National Trust grounds in bloom.

The Weir

Swainshill, Hereford, Herefordshire

A picturesque curve of the River Wye, and an accompanying patchwork of fields and woods stretching away towards the Black Mountains, provide the setting for this individual garden of trees, bulbs and wild flowers. It encompasses more than 10 acres of high, steep riverbank – with its plain grey-painted villa, now a retirement home, perched above, and its old boathouse sitting idle by the water – and you explore it by a network of meandering and plunging paths, stairways and adventurous bridges. The sense of exploration is heightened by the pockets of more formal gardening that reveal themselves between the trees: clipped tumps of yew and box and laurel hedges bordering the river, and a rock garden of Cheddar limestone, spangled with pools (fed by a hydraulic ram) and shaded by Japanese maples.


Stourton, Warminster, Wiltshire

Here we have probably the most bewitching and beautiful of this country’s landscape gardens, an eighteenth-century Arcadia of hills and hanging beechwoods, water and classical architecture, but dashingly overlaid with a late collection of exotic broad-leaved trees, conifers and richly coloured rhododendrons. The valley is tucked between folds of chalk downland and divorced from the grand Palladian villa, which stands back on the ridge to the north. One way of entering is to bypass the house by walking immediately downhill from the car park and arriving at the lakeside through the little estate village of Stourton, with its inn, church and row of cottages. The most dramatic approach, however, is to descend the wooded hillside across the lawn from the house, and have the first surprises sprung from above.

Scotney Castle

Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

In early spring, waves of primroses and daffodils succeed the snowdrops, and large specimens of Magnolia stellata bloom in the quarry. This area, now cleared and with its rock face exposed, has opened up many more dramatic planting opportunities. In late spring, it is the turn of rhododendrons and scented azaleas, in shades of yellow, cream and orange, accompanied by a mass of wildflowers. In June, the pink bells open on impressive mounds of Kalmia latifolia, to be succeeded in late summer by hydrangeas. Behind the house, the terrace lawn is managed as a wildflower meadow and is home to a wonderful population of green-winged orchid, Orchis morio; a vulnerable species that produces its spikes of speckled magenta-purple flowers in early summer.

Hill Top

Near Sawrey, Ambleside, Cumbria

Anyone familiar with Beatrix Potter’s stories will feel immediately at home in her village farmhouse and cottage garden, since the scenes are just as she painted them. Restored by the Trust, the garden is planted and maintained in the neat but muddled style of an old-fashioned cottage plot, its contents and arrangement based on old photographs, Beatrix Potter’s paintings and journal notes. The long borders either side of the sloping, slate-flagged path contain a haphazard mixture of fruit bushes and flowering shrubs, annuals, perennials and herbs. Spikes of foxgloves, mulleins and hollyhocks rise between clumps of lady’s mantle, geranium and sweet William, while lilac and goat’s beard foam and violets, snapdragons and poached-egg plants self-sow merrily – Potter loved ‘happy accidents’.


St Dominick, Saltash, Cornwall

Here is an estate full of Cornish character. The approach is along narrow, plunging, high-banked lanes, affording sudden views across the Tamar Valley over the hilly expanse of Dartmoor. The garden, divided into a series of intimate enclosures and sheltered walks is equally inviting. An avenue of young sycamores opposite the old barn take up the colour of the walls in their clean grey trunks, and in spring this opening scene is cheered by a swathe of daffodils growing on the bank. Beyond the two cobbled courts, one with walls hung with wisterias and Rosa bracteata and lapped with Algerian iris, and the other flaunting camellias, is a gateway leading into an enclosed acre of sloping meadow.


Discover more glorious National Trust green spaces in this fully updated edition of Gardens of the National Trust by Stephen Lacey, which features almost 170 must-visit outdoor sanctuaries, and is available to buy online and from all good bookshops.