The National Trust is re-opening more and more of its gardens. Here are some of our favourites for a blast of fresh air.

You can always rely on The National Trust to reassure when the chips are down. NT properties speak of our childhoods running about in walled garden, and our adulthoods appreciating all that we missed as gadding youngsters.

When, then, it had to close its doors to the public on account of coronavirus, for many it was an especial blow. Now, as we all slowly close our doors and our lives again, the Trust is, thank goodness, doing so too. The situation is a rolling one, with more sites opening all the time, so do keep checking the websites before visiting, especially since at many properties you will need to book a timed parking space. There are, of course, many more to explore – do check the NT’s website for details – but here are seven of our very favourites. Thank you National Trust.

Sheffield Park and Gardens

East Sussex


There are few better places to lift the spirits than at Sheffield Park. There are 250 acres, four stunning lakes complete with the miniature Pulham Falls, while the landscaped gardens – wrested into the sublime vision you see today in the 18th-century by the prolific Capability Brown and later Humphrey Repton – are a work of art, bordered by wider expanses of parkland that are ideal for spring time rambles. You must currently book your visit for the gardens, though not for the parkland.

Sheringham Park

North Norfolk


North Norfolk has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to NT properties. We adore the nearby Jacobean Felbrigg Hall, with its donkeys, its woodlands and its intriguing ice house, and we never fail to be stunned by the Blickling Estate, former home of Anne Boleyn. Both are grander than Sheringham Park, but we have a lifelong soft spot for this beautiful 1812 Humphrey Repton-landscaped idyll. Firstly, its house is still occupied which means it’s never open anyway and thus you’re not missing out. Second, it’s an easy walk from Sheringham, through the picturesque flint cottages of Upper Sheringham village. But mostly it’s because the views across to the North Sea and the north Norfolk coastline are just so life-affirming, invigorating and sublime. There is a gazebo from which to survey the whole shoreline, complete with its dotted windmills, and at this time of year, the white flowers of the rhododendron polar bear are stunning. Its 50 acres were developed around core planting of Scots pine and oaks, which are aged and reassuring. There’s nowhere better for blowing away the cobwebs. You must book in advance.

Osterley Park and House

London


Horace Walpole described Osterley as ‘the palace of palaces’. As you duck through Hounslow, you’d be forgiven for wondering, pre-emptively, if that description might be an anachronism. And yet as soon as you set foot or tyre upon its long tree-lined drive, the description immediately feels entirely apposite. You’ll spot the grazing Charolais cattle first, and then proceed through the park and farmland to the more formal gardens. And though you cannot, of course, go inside at the present time, the shadow of the resplendent Robert Adam mansion, designed in the 18th-century for the Child family to entertain, presides over all here and is wholly magnificent. Do pause a moment to take in the uplifting scents of the herbaceous borders and the abundant roses. One of the last surviving Georgian country estates in the capital. You must book by 3pm the previous day.

Cliveden

Buckinghamshire


Cliveden is one of the grandest National Trust houses – few places make us feel like donning an empire line dress and wafting about like we’re in a Jane Austen adaptation more. It has a rich (and somewhat chequered) history, from having been burned down in both the 18th- and 19th-centuries; to housing the prodigiously wealthy American Astor family (William Waldorf Astor was the richest man the US, and his wife Nancy became the UK’s first female MP); to, most scurrilously, being the site of the infamous Profumo Affair. But right now we’re here for the garden. And there’s a lot to choose from, from the glorious formal Parterre to the Water Garden, the Long Garden and the woodlands. Dogs, too, are welcome. The gardens and woodland are open and you must book in advance.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden

North Yorkshire


A World Heritage Site, these ancient abbey ruins and water garden are a sight to behold. The site also boasts a 300-acre deer park with its very own river canyon and lake – and typically very few people. It’s all thanks to the landscaping ambitions of one John Aislabie, a disgraced one-time Chancellor of the Exchequer who spent some time behind bars for an ‘infamous corruption.’ He, then, knew what it was like to be isolated; this, we guess, was his freedom fantasy post release. The abbey and the water garden are now open, and you must book in advance.

Croome

Worcestershire


The gardens at Croome were the prolific Capability Brown’s very first commission in 1751. He replaced the marshland with parkland, and today the views he created across to the Malvern Hills remain every bit spectacular now as then. Much later it was requisitioned as an RAF airbase. Today, whilst the house is closed, the parkland is open for those wishing for a gulp of fresh air. Do try the self-guided four-mile walk to hear birds singing and spot bluebells and daffs. You must book in advance.


Colby Woodland Garden

Pembrokeshire


Colby just inland of Amroth, is a delight for walkers who like their NT gardens on the magical side. This has the feel of a secret garden, secluded as it is by trees and carved through by little streams. It is, too, covered in wildflowers for anyone needing reassurance that the world – and the seasons – are marching on despite lockdown. Nature lovers will be enchanted by the birdsong – and may even spot the occasional otter. You must book.

By Nancy Alsop
July 2020

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