The Royal Horticultural Society’s Must-Visit Gardens
Take inspiration from these fabulous Royal Horticultural Society's show gardens.
As gardeners, we’re always looking for inspiration for our own backyards. As the premier UK garden society, the Royal Horticultural Society has four (soon to be five) show gardens that are packed with glorious blooms, inspirational planting and innovative ideas to whet the appetite of any gardener.
Let’s take a tour.
RHS Wisley, Surrey
RHS Wisley in Surrey is the society’s flagship garden, and it’s certainly a show-stopper. After a walk around this stunning garden, you’d have enough ideas to keep you going in your own backyard for years.
Established in 1878, this is the most historic part of Wisley, consisting of beautiful woodland walks on paths lined with hostas, hellebores, primulas and trilliums. Hostas are a great choice for a shady woodland area – here’s how to get the best from your hosta display.
Covering 20 acres, this area was originally given over to Scots pine, but 80% of them were destroyed in the Great Storm of 1987, and the resulting debris took two years to clear! Since then, Battleston Hill has been replanted with flowering shrubs like rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and hydrangeas.
The Rock Garden
This is another of the garden’s oldest parts. It’s lavishly planted with a variety of trees, all set among picturesque rocks and lakes. Here you’ll find a larch tree that is over 200 years old! The best time to enjoy the Rock Garden is in the fall when the leaves display their most stunning colors.
The Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden
Imagine dead-heading over 4,000 roses! That’s what the gardeners in Wisley’s rose garden have to do each year once the blooms have faded. This deliciously scented garden is named for Sir David Bowes-Lyon, the younger brother of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who was President of the RHS from 1953 – 61. And if Japanese beetles are feasting on your precious roses, see if this radical response could work for you.
Wisley’s mixed borders are no ordinary mixed borders – they stretch for 140 yards and they’re nearly 20 feet wide. That’s some area to plant! But Wisley has risen to the challenge, with a spectacular vista of plants beginning with cool colors at the top, transitioning to hotter in the middle, then cooler again. Unusual for formal English borders, they’re not planted symmetrically.
Opened in 2017 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of RHS, this immense structure is nearly 40 feet high and covers the same area as 10 tennis courts. It’s separated into three distinct zones – moist temperate, dry temperate, and tropical – with the climate strictly controlled in each. It also features a variety of orchids.
RHS Rosemoor, Devon
Nestled in a valley in the heart of south-west England, you’ll find RHS Rosemoor. This show garden has a host of features to interest every kind of gardener, and it’s specifically designed to have year-round interest.
Cherry blossom and roses
In spring, the cherry trees are festooned with beautiful pink and white blossoms. And among the trees is one very special variety – a Great White Cherry Tai Haku, once extinct in Japan, but reintroduced after a single tree was discovered in an English garden by cherry tree specialist Collingwood Ingram. And cherry trees aren’t only prized for their blossoms – see what this reader did with a fallen cherry tree from his backyard. Later in the spring and early summer, the roses come into their own, and the rose garden is filled with the heady scent of blooms and the buzzing of bees.
In summer, the hot borders take over, showing off their planting based on the prairies of North America, with grasses taking pride of place. If you’d like to mimic this planting, here are some ornamental grasses you should get to know.
The vibrant autumnal colors of turning tree leaves, including deciduous species such as acers and maples, are the best feature of the fall.
If you think a garden looks dead in winter, RHS Rosemoor will convince you otherwise with its striking Winter Garden. Here you’ll find winter flowering shrubs, like witch hazel and daphne, colorful stems of dogwood and willow, and bright foliage like euonymus and mahonia to brighten a dull day. All these are underplanted with bulbs for early spring color.
Add to these a Stone Garden, Croquet Lawn, Mediterranean Garden, Lady Anne’s Arboretum, and a Stumpery, and this garden is hard to fault.
Hyde Hall, Essex
RHS Hyde Hall is the society’s most easterly garden, close to the Thames estuary and the North Sea coast. The land had formerly been a farm when the Robinson family bought it in 1955, and there was no garden and exactly six trees. The Robinsons worked hard to create a beautiful garden, which the RHS took over in 1993. There are many special features at RHS Hyde Hall.
The Dry Garden
Established in 2001, the Dry Garden is populated with drought-tolerant species foreshadowing the need for gardeners to consider climate change when choosing their plants. The RHS has included euphorbia, verbena and echium, as well as focusing on plants that attract bees.The Dry Garden is a true success story as it’s now survived several very dry summers.
The Robinson Garden
This is the garden originally planted by the Robinsons and contains some unusual species within three boggy areas. From here, there are panoramic views across the Essex countryside and the garden is a haven for wildlife.
The Woodland Garden
The Woodland garden is home to rare species of camellia, pieris, magnolia and rhododendrons, all of which grow well in the shade.
The Hilltop Garden
In the Hilltop Garden you can wander among ponds, rainbow planted flower beds and gold-themed borders, and scented rose borders, too. But the masterpiece is a magnificent pergola draped with wisteria and clematis. Check out our instructions for building a pergola in your own backyard. The Farmhouse Garden here is overlooked by a seventeenth-century farmhouse.
Harlow Carr, North Yorkshire
In the north of England, RHS Harlow Carr is a shining example of a beautiful show garden for everyone to enjoy. As always, there are several different areas to explore, meaning there’s something for everyone here.
The Streamside garden is one of the longest anywhere in the UK, and runs the entire length of Harlow Carr. Plants that love damp and shade thrive here, including darmeras, hostas, ferns, irises, and the giant prehistoric gunnera. This area also features an unusual blue poppy.
The Winter Walk
This distinctive garden, planted in 2006, is designed to be at its best in the depths of winter. It features plants known for their shapes, textures, and winter colors, and is intended to look superb in low morning or evening sun. Topiary hedges create a formal feel, with dogwood and willow for color, and winter flowering shrubs such as daphne and box for added seasonal kick. Everything is underplanted with spring bulbs, snowdrops, and daffodils for a superb early spring show.
Haven’t planted your spring bulbs yet? Here’s how to plant them successfully.
The Kitchen Garden
This garden proves that a fruit and vegetable garden can be beautiful as well as functional. The planting takes advantage of seasonal vegetables and their wide variety of natural colors, and a lovely willow walk makes navigating the beds a pleasure. Willow and dogwood are pruned in the traditional coppice style to provide natural structure for climbing vegetables.
The Hedgehog Garden
The friendly hedgehog, once a common sight in English gardens, is now in serious decline, so the RHS is working to encourage us all to garden with this little mammal in mind. Simple practices like leaving tunnels in fences and under dense hedging, using compost and log stack to encourage insects, and attracting insects by leaving hollow-stemmed plants to overwinter will all help. Ditching the chemicals will also make a difference, as hedgehogs are good at natural pest control!
The Alpine House
RHS Harlow Carr also boasts a fabulous 80-foot enclosure, entirely given over to alpines. Designed to keep these little plants dry, free of frost and cool, Alpine House is set high on a hill with sweeping views of the nearby woodland. Stone raised beds, fashioned from recycled Yorkshire limestone, make the perfect natural backdrop for the alpines. If you fancy trying your hand at growing alpines, these 14 tips for growing succulents will get you off to a flying start.
Bridgewater, Greater Manchester
And now a sneak peek at the RHS’s newest garden that doesn’t even open until 2020. RHS Bridgewater will eventually cover 154 acres in Salford, making it the largest gardening project in Europe. It’s the first new RHS garden in 17 years, so they’re pulling out all the stops. The first stage of the project focuses on an 11-acre kitchen garden and a learning center for local schools. Then the RHS will move on to restoring historic features like a tree-lined garden approach, the Lost Terraces, and also create lakes, enclosures, an arboretum, and a flower meadow – by the way, growing your own flower meadow is easy when you know which wildflowers do well in gardens.
This show garden is intended to benefit the local community too with a therapeutic garden and shared allotments for growing vegetables and fruit. Maybe they’ll be following our tips for preparing the ground for growing vegetables?