Other counties might be extolled as the garden of England but the county of Surrey where we have our office is rightfully the home of some of the best gardens in the British Isles. A brief glance at many a best gardens list and Surrey gardens will often appear.
The best known are the large gardens opened by organisation such as the Royal Horticultural Society and National Trust. The former’s RHS Garden Wisley is rightfully one of the most visited in the country. It can at first glance seem a mix of botanical garden with ‘features’ thrown in but after many visits you understand that this garden stands apart as both scientific collection and centre as well as giving inspiration season by season. If you have limited space in your own garden this is a great place to see how borders can be designed to give year round interest. Or if you’re interested in a specific species then you’ll likely get something from a particular area. A top tip, check out the orchards in the spring when they blossom, its an oasis from the crowds that hover down in the main body of the garden.
The National Trust is well represented in Surrey as well. Clandon Park, a Palladian mansion is set in 7 acres of garden, Claremont however os probably more widely known. Claremont is a beautiful garden surrounding a small lake and featuring an unusual grass amphitheatre. The garden’s creation and development has involved great names in garden history, including Sir John Vanbrugh, Charles Bridgeman, William Kent and ‘Capability’ Brown. In 1726 it was described as ‘the noblest of any in Europe’ and the garden today is of national importance. For something more subdued Runnymede is the riverside site of the sealing of the Magna Carta, historically significant with one of the few easily accessible designs of Jellicoe.
These gardens are significant and you can sometimes get inspiration from them, especially for planting but if you want some ideas for smaller gardens than a year of visiting the Surrey gardens open under the National Gardens Scheme is well worth a try. They won’t always be to your liking but some will strike a chord. Small gardens such as Stuart Cottage in East Clandon, Heathside in Cobham, Walton Poor House in Ranmore and Chinthurst Lodge near Guildford are all interesting for the plantaholic in you. Vann in Hambledon and Cleeves near Haslemere are Surrey gardens worth a look for their design ideas for older buildings. And there are other gardens such as Timber Hill near Chobham, a garden that glories in fine trees as well as great planted borders.
And of course these Surrey gardens are all owned by enthusiastic gardeners so it’s always good to go back and see what has happened over the years. A garden such as that at The Round house in Loxhill is constantly evolving often, in this case because of an owner gradually creating a new garden from once neglected market gardens. So the National Gardens Scheme gardens in Surrey are well worth an exploration but be prepared to be both delighted and exasperated. They are private gardens, created by their keen owners, not you, so don’t be surprised if occasionally you see the plants you’re not so keen on. But from experience these gardens will also turn you on to new plants and new ideas that you can twist for your own uses!
Of course we don’t all want the maintenance that is so often involved with these gardens that open for the public. Sometimes it’s good to just see what other people are creating and revel in the seasonal colour whilst going back to our own simpler gardens where we can manage the changes in our gardens. If that’s the case don’t forget about the many resources in the county. Of course many of the gardens mentioned above will sell you some great plants and in the case of some you’ll find something unusual to impress your friends. The other thing you will find in abundance are garden designers for Surrey supports a profession second to none drawn by the great climate, an eager audience and a network of great nursery and landscape suppliers. Looking out of the window of my office it’s almost impossible not to see a local landscape van pass by every hour!