For those who - like me - are curious, today we travel across southern England to visit seven gardens where we can find inspiration as Alice.
Editor: Elena Fortunati
Our journey begins at Arundel Castle in West Sussex. For centuries the location has been home to the Earls of Arundel and the Dukes of Norfolk who still inhabit the place. Visionaries and great admirers of the gardens, the current Dukes of Norfolk are allowing the castle park to continue to evolve.
Since 2009 Martin Duncan has been called in as head gardener and landscape architect, and he and his team take care of these immense spaces admirably. Among the wonderful corners to explore: the recently restored "Water Garden", the tropical gardens, the organic vegetable garden with the original 1852 vine and peach house, and the tropical greenhouse "Messenger”.
Not far from London, in Kent, a region full of beautiful houses and landscapes, we can find Hever Castle. The gardens of this enchanting site were laid out between 1904 and 1908 by Joseph Cheal. He transformed the surrounding marshes into the gardens we can observe today.
The gardens cover 125 acres of land and are divided into many magnificent areas that are a pleasure to visit at any time of the year. Such as the Italian Garden, designed to display William Waldorf Astor's collection of Italian sculptures — more than 1,000 men worked on the grand project —, the colourful walled Rose Garden which contains over 5,000 bushes, and the Tudor Garden, the Rhododendron Walk and the Anne Boleyn’s Walk, with its collection of trees planted more than 100 years ago.
The jewel of this trip. Here lived the gardener and garden author Christopher Lloyd, who died in 2006. The property was purchased by his family in 1910, who commissioned Lutyens to design the garden. Incorporating many medieval buildings, the gardens at Great Dixter surround the house, each complementing the other. The original plantings were by Mr and Mrs Nathaniel Lloyd and later Christopher Lloyd. In many ways he was, like his mother and Gertrude Jekyll, a practical gardener. He said, "I couldn't design a garden. I just carp about it."
Today the garden, which is always on the move, is under the care of head gardener Fergus Garrett, who, with his team, changes and improves the layout of the plants, letting them inspire him precisely.
Any English travel guide will tell you that it is absolutely one of England's must-visit places. We are still in Kent, where, between the 12th and 16th centuries, on two islets of an artificial lake in the village of Leeds, a large medieval-style castle was erected. Leeds Castle has always been a palace to entertain and impress, with every generation leaving its mark.
Around 500 acres of beautiful grounds and gardens, now house water features, mazes and caves. Among the most distinctive sites is the Culpeper Garden, named in honor of herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, which was renovated by famed garden designer Russel Page in 1980. With its informal layout and low boxwood hedges as a border, this very English garden features roses, lupines and poppies with exotic blooms mixed to create a profusion of colors and scents.
Francis Bacon believed a well-designed garden was one that contained within it many gardens, one for each month of the year. A productive garden in which Elizabethan man could control the beauty of nature at his pleasure. It was probably with this in mind that in the 1930s Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West built their garden around the wreckage of an old Elizabethan tower. The garden of this enchanting place is designed in architectural rooms: a room for all seasons in which flowers and scents change from month to month in a continuous mutation.
To make it even more romantic, there is the story of its owners: Sir Harold Nicolson, was a British writer who became famous for his biographies devoted to authors of the past, while Vita Sackville-West, an English poet, writer and botanist, became famous for her tempestuous relationship with Virginia Woolf.
Here things become more serious. Wakehurst is a house and botanical garden in West Sussex, owned by the National Trust but used and managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens — the famous Kew in London that we will discuss in a moment.
The property includes a 16th-century mansion, a 490-acre garden, and in a modern building, their greatest boast: the Millennium Seed Bank. It is the largest and most diverse genetic resource of wild plant species in the world. It stores 2.4 billion seeds from all over the world in safe underground chambers at sub-zero temperatures.
We could simply call it a mecca for botany lovers. Located between Richmond upon Thames and Kew, about 10 km southwest of London, the gardens were officially granted National Botanical Garden status in 1840. One day will not be enough to see all the wonders there: in its 326 acres, between greenhouses and thematic areas, you'll find tropical plants, carnivorous plants, water lilies, herbaceous perennials, shrubs and more.
Its symbol is the Palm House, opened in 1844, designed by Decimus Burton (one of the most important English architects of the 19th century). It was the first greenhouse of this immense size at that time, and to do so the architects borrowed techniques from the shipbuilding industry. In 2003, Kew Gardens was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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