One of the highlights for me, something that elevates a good day out to a great one, is finding a stately home with a walled garden. There’s something very special about a walled garden – they’re usually planted with vegetables, fruit, herbs… useful things – and I find that both appealing and fascinating. So, without further ado, here is the list of my top 5 walled gardens within a 90-minute drive of London.
Number 1 on my list is Cliveden. Just 30 minutes from London, Cliveden is a gift that keeps on giving and will sustain several visits with something new to explore every time. We spent a few hours there and still didn’t manage to see everything. Gardens give way to more gardens, and every scrap of space is used to its fullest potential. My favourite quirk of this National Trust place however, is its car park. Yes, I love the car park. The high walls are lined with espaliered fruit trees and the beds at their bases are filled with veg. It’s a wonderful example – whether intended or not – of how we could easily fit permaculture principles into modern life. Cliveden takes a space that is often neglected or left to grow wild, and puts it to work.
My second favourite is Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. Down House is in Downe, a 90-minute drive from London. This is a little longer in the car for a day trip, but well worth the effort if you’re at all interested in science history. A numb bum is a small price to pay to see the home of one of the most influential scientists of all time! The highlight of our visit for me was Darwin’s greenhouse. It’s a pretty blue lean-to that houses orchids, carnivorous plants, and… drying onions. What I loved about Down House was the English Heritage’s commitment to keeping Darwin’s experimental spirit alive. It is very much a living museum, and wandering through the potting shed I saw paper bags and trays full of drying seeds that gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
Third on my list is Hughenden. A mere 40 minutes from London, the home of Benjamin Disraeli is at once welcoming and informative, with one of the most picture-perfect walled gardens I have ever seen. It’s recently been replanted and returned to its former glory, complete with a bug hotel and pair of old boots nailed to the wall as a planter. (National Trust)
Coming in at number 4 is Greys Court, which you can reach in a little under an hour from London. This National Trust home is a rare treat with a homely, lived-in feel. When we were there the kitchen was in full use and they were baking fairy cakes, with everything laid out just as its former owner had left it. The gardens are a joy, and lead you on a magical journey through one tiny cast iron door to the next, each garden with its own character. The kitchen garden, with artichokes the size of Darren’s head, was of course my favourite. (My head isn’t miniature, they were huge – Darren)
Last but by no means least is the Walled Garden at Cowdray at number 5. Another 90-minute drive, we stumbled across this gem on our way home from a weekend in the New Forest. Although we arrived too late to walk around the gardens, this independent venue deserves an honourable mention for its wonderful surroundings, which include a ruined castle and a Tudor building on toadstool stilts.