Britain's most enchanting secret gardens for autumn

Tamara Hinson
·6 min read
Step through the ornate brick archway into Felbrigg Gardens and you’ll find a fragrant paradise - ANDREW BUTLER / NATIONAL TRUST
Step through the ornate brick archway into Felbrigg Gardens and you’ll find a fragrant paradise - ANDREW BUTLER / NATIONAL TRUST

The release this week of a new film adapation of The Secret Garden, starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters, has reignited our love affair with the lesser-known green spaces often eclipsed by botanical behemoths such the Eden Project and Kew Gardens. Here are nine often-overlooked gardens with lots of surprises in store.

Rivington Terraced Gardens, Rivington, Lancashire

If you like your gardens wild and rambling, Rivington Terraced Gardens are for you. Created by Lord Leverhulme (the soap magnate who founded Lever Brothers, now known as Unilever), these 45-acre gardens were badly neglected after the house was demolished in WWII, but a recent restoration project has revealed its various treasures, whether it’s the stone stairways tucked into the gardens’ wildest corners, mushroom-carpeted caves or the rock faces carved into the stonework which borders the Italian lake – once the location for Lord Leverhulme’s daily swims.

rivingtonterracedgardens.org.uk

If you like your gardens wild and rambling, Rivington Terraced Gardens are for you - JONATHAN ELLISON
If you like your gardens wild and rambling, Rivington Terraced Gardens are for you - JONATHAN ELLISON

• The best hotels in Lancashire

Kyoto Friendship Garden, Lauriston Castle, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle is the first port of call for many visitors to Scotland’s capital, but you’ll find it much easier to escape the crowds at this hidden hideaway near the base of nearby Lauriston Castle. It’s not just tourists who overlook this Japanese gem – most locals don’t know it exists either, despite the fact it’s regarded by many as Britain’s top Japanese garden. My favourite areas include the wide, cherry blossom-lined avenues and the numerous water features. The elegant bamboo shelters double as the perfect picnic spots – I recommend snacking on some sushi as you take in the uninterrupted views over Cramond Island and the Firth of Forth.

edinburghmuseums.org.uk

Many Edinburgh residents don't even know this garden exists - MICHAEL BRYANT
Many Edinburgh residents don't even know this garden exists - MICHAEL BRYANT

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Goodnestone Park Gardens, Kent

Visit Goodnestone Park and you’ll be in good company – the estate’s gardens were a regular hangout of Jane Austen, who loved to wander along the twisting Serpentine Walk, famous for the wide range of fungi which lines the route in autumn. It’s a place filled with hidden corners, partly for wildlife reasons, and gardeners’ recent creations include dedicated hedgehog nesting areas to keep the creatures warm during autumn and winter. In the often-overlooked walled garden, you’ll find some of the world’s rarest roses and a tangle of ancient, climber-covered stone walls. Our favourite spot is the woodland garden – in autumn, it’s a colourful explosion of hydrangeas, autumn foliage, Michaelmas daisies and perennial grasses.
goodnestoneparkgardens.co.uk

Visit Goodnestone Park and you’ll be in good company – the estate’s gardens were a regular hangout of Jane Austen
Visit Goodnestone Park and you’ll be in good company – the estate’s gardens were a regular hangout of Jane Austen

The best hotels in Kent


Botanical Gardens, Royal Victoria Park, Bath

A delightful, crowd-free alternative to well-trodden gardens such Kew and Wisley, Bath’s Botanical Gardens, created in 1887, cover nine acres – although the highlight is the Great Dell, where a former quarry has been transformed into a secluded woodland retreat. In autumn it’s a fiery, forested burst of colour, with thick clusters of conifers and evergreens, and a winding footpath designed to showcase the garden’s weird and wonderful sculptures. Look out for the bust of Jupiter, which weighs six tonnes and was carved from a single lump of Bath stone.

visitbath.co.uk

Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, Horsham, West Sussex

Leonardslee’s woodland gardens were created by Sir Edmund Loder, one of the Victorian era’s greatest plant collectors. There are plenty of surprises in store, whether it’s the tribe of wallabies, introduced in the late 1800s, or the network of interlaced lakes, dug out by iron smelters to provide material for cannonballs used during the English Civil War, and now surrounded by 75 species of maple tree. The lakes are also home to colourful emperor dragonflies and damselflies, which share the gardens with various migratory and native birds, including kites, tree creepers, nuthatches, woodpeckers and nightingales.

leonardsleegardens.co.uk

Leonardslee’s woodland gardens were created by Sir Edmund Loder, one of the Victorian era’s greatest plant collectors - KEVIN MURRAY
Leonardslee’s woodland gardens were created by Sir Edmund Loder, one of the Victorian era’s greatest plant collectors - KEVIN MURRAY


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Felbrigg Hall Gardens and Estate, Felbrigg, Norfolk

Although the gorgeous walled garden at Felbrigg Hall is easy to miss, it’s surprisingly large. Step through the ornate brick archway and you’ll find a fragrant paradise filled with neatly-pruned double borders and rare plants, such as Umbellularia Californica, a heavily scented hardwood tree hailing from California. The herb border is where you’ll find some of the garden’s oldest plants, including several figs. In 1847 James Grigor published a book about the gardens and referred to these very plants, now believed to be almost 300 years old. Don’t forget to check out the huge octagonal dovecote, either. Built in the 1750s, it’s one of the oldest in the UK.

nationaltrust.org.uk

Kyoto Garden, Holland Park, London

The Kyoto Garden is tucked into an often-overlooked corner of Holland Park. Created in 1992, it’s a secret slice of Japan in central London, with marauding peacocks, zen-inducing water features and Japanese maple trees, making it the perfect place for a colourful autumn stroll.  It’s not the only tribute to Japan here – Holland Park is also home to the beautiful Fukushima Garden, which opened in 2012 and signifies Japan’s gratitude for the UK’s support following the devastating events of 2011.

Holland Park's Kyoto Garden - getty
Holland Park's Kyoto Garden - getty

The best hotels in Norfolk

rbkc.gov.uk

Wildlife Garden, Natural History Museum, London

Few people know that there’s a rambling wildlife garden tucked away on the National History Museum’s grounds. Created as a home for Britain’s most important flora and fauna, over 3,000 species have been identified since it was created in 1995. Explore it on a self-guided tour with the museum’s handy guide, or go it alone – but don’t be surprised if you bump into one of the garden’s two Dartmoor sheep. Fanatical about fungi? You’re in luck. The thick carpet of leaves which blankets the garden in autumn provides the perfect environment for beautiful inkcap and earthstar mushrooms, while candlesnuff and hairy curtain crust fungus thrive on the gardens’ dead wood.

nhm.ac.uk

Myddelton House Gardens, Enfield

There are plenty of surprises in store at these sprawling gardens, created by self-taught botanist Edward Augustus Bowles in the early 1900s. A multicoloured maze of kitchen gardens, glasshouses and wildflower meadows, the eight acres include four different climate zones and exotic species collected from far-flung corners of the world. Don’t miss the seven million-year-old petrified tree in the Stone Garden, or the weird and wonderful plants in the greenhouse referred to by Bowles as the Lunatic Asylum. He christened these specimens his “demented plants” due to their unusual shapes – you’ll see contorted hazel trees and untamed triffid-like ivy bushes.

visitleevalley.org.uk