Getting tickets to the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival was no mean feat this year. Social distancing means that fewer visitors can access the grounds than before, and with many people facing a year without this horticultural staple, it’s a challenge to recreate the feel of this beloved event.
So where do you go if you can’t make it? Well, that’s easy. We’ve listed some of the best alternatives and our favourite must-see floral places in the south west below.
Chelsea Physic Garden
The venerable Chelsea Physic Garden starts our list - the oldest botanical garden in London. Once a world leader in natural medicine, the garden was opened by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries to grow plants used in healthcare. 5,000 different edible medicinal plants now grow within its walls, including the world’s most northerly outdoor grapefruit tree!
Its rock garden is also the oldest English garden devoted to alpine plants. Featuring one of the most eclectic mixtures of rocks for plant growth anywhere, you’ll find basalt used as ballast in historic sailing ships, clam shells from Tahiti brought back by Captain Cook, and pieces of Tower of London masonry – a superbly British collection.
Kew Gardens is one of the most famous botanical gardens in the world, and a World Heritage Site to reflect its status as the foremost authority on all things botanical and horticultural. A bucket-list item for lovers of gardens and flowers, you’ll need at least a day if you want to explore it properly as it sits at more than 300 acres in size! We recommend changing for the Overground at Richmond for the quickest journey to this remarkable place.
Must-visit attractions include the Treetop Walkway, the Palm House, the Waterlily House, Kew Place itself & its Royal Kitchens, the Redwood Grove and of course the beautiful gardens surrounding it all. Keep an eye out for the Kew Constabulary who look after the gardens as its own dedicated police force.
Holland Park, Kyoto Garden
The perfect place for a peaceful stroll, the Kyoto and Fukushima Gardens make you feel like you’re wandering in a Japanese fairytale. Picturesque waterfall, peaceful rock pool, peacocks and koi carp – it’s all here. While it might only take an hour to visit, it’s worth every moment to admire the beautiful flowers and wildlife in this tranquil corner of London.
Richmond Park, Isabella Plantation
First opened to the public in 1953, The Isabella Plantation is 40 acres of woodland garden set within a Victorian woodland plantation that was first planted in the 1830s. Notable for its collection of Rhododendrons and Camellias, it’s at its peak in May, but there’s colour all year round thanks to the many other exotic and rare plants, trees and shrubs.
Of course, all this is set in the stunning Richmond Park – making it ideal for walks amongst the herds of deer and beautiful nature. Make a day of it with a picnic, or add some activity to the day with off-road cycling, horse riding, or even power kiting! It’s all just a few minutes from Richmond station too, so tired legs don’t have far to walk at the end of the day.
Wisley, near West Byfleet, was given to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1903, and since then has grown to be a hub of horticultural excellence. Home now to some of the largest plant collections in the world, RHS Wisley specialises in showcasing inspirational gardening, and its planting schemes are constantly evolving to ensure there’s always something new.
Key highlights within the 240 acres of garden include the Glasshouse, Rock Garden, Rose Garden, Mixed Borders and the new Exotic Garden. Colour is found throughout the year thanks to spring crocus carpets, spectacular summer rose collections, and autumn colour provided by the remarkable collection of trees and shrubbery.
Sir Harold Hillier Gardens
One of the region’s hidden gems, the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens near Romsey are a sanctuary of natural beauty – a perfect escape from all the stresses of the outside world. Experience the finest parts of nature as you explore 180 acres of gardens, wildlife preserve and playgrounds for the little ones. Colour can be found in every season with specialist seasonal gardens that each come into bloom as the seasons pass by.
On top of this there’s also 80 different species of bird and 25 species of butterfly to discover – as well as the incredible Centenary Border – the longest double mixed border in the world when planted in 1964 by Sir Harold Hillier. While you’re walking around, keep an eye out for snuffling Woodland Pigs, who help keep the garden’s scrubland clear.
One of the world’s finest collections of rhododendrons and azaleas is housed at Exbury Gardens, so spring is a guaranteed riot of colour. But there’s lots to see between March and October while the gardens are open – from summer in the Iris Garden and the exotic flowers to the acers showing their vibrant red and orange foliage in the autumn. The team at Exbury even keep a rolling guide of what to expect on your visit!
Exbury’s other big draw is its remarkable narrow-gauge steam railway – running over one-and-a-half miles of track, it takes you around – and through – some of the beautiful gardens, giving you a new perspective on the stunning Exbury grounds.
Three miles east of Dorchester lies Kingston Maurward – which includes a 35-acre Grade II listed formal garden created in the late 1910s. Within the gardens you’ll find Italian Renaissance styling, a Greek temple, the national collection of penstemon flowers, and the Japanese Garden, featuring a mature Magnolia denudate – the Lily Tree.
But all this is less than half of the features that you’ll find at Kingston Maurward, which also houses an animal park and regular outdoor theatre events – and even weddings at the stately eighteenth-century manor house.
Ventnor Botanic Garden
Last – but certainly not least – is Britain’s most tropical botanic garden. Nestled in the cliffs and downs of the Isle of Wight is a microclimate that brings 25% more sun to Ventnor than you can expect on the mainland (as well as making it five degrees warmer). So it’s ideal for the sub-tropical plants that adore the weather here – which is why the National Collection of Puya is here, grown outdoors rather than in greenhouses as would be required anywhere else in the UK.
But you’ll also find plants here from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan – plants that would be too tender to grow anywhere else in Britain. This includes Giant Amazon Waterlilies, and the Botanic Garden boasts some of the biggest in the world – with floating leaves more than eight feet across!
Tempted to explore and fill that horticultural void? Book your tickets today, or sign up for a cheap ticket alert to be the first to know when the cheapest tickets go on sale.