|The fountains at Ascott were designed by Thomas Waldo Story|
There are many wonderful gardens within easy driving distance of London, and in the first of a new series, which replaces my annual "Alphabet" round-up, I'm going to review the notable gardens within the various counties I've visited over the last three years. Every year, the list grows and although this year has been a battle against the elements, I thought it would be helpful for readers to be able to see an overview of notable gardens by geographical area for future reference. Today I step into the Home Counties of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire to show what's on offer.
Ascott in Buckinghamshire, is one of the great landscape gardens, with magnificent views over the Vale of Aylesbury - a mix of formal gardens and innovative new design and one-time home of Baron Mayer de Rothschild. Main features of the garden include impressive topiary - particularly the huge sundial of golden box and yew (above); wonderfully OTT fountains sculpted by the American art historian, Thomas Waldo Story; stunning borders along the formal Madeira Walk; a wild garden and the Long Walk designed by Arabella Lennox-Boyd. Open April to September in the afternoons - check website for details (National Trust - free to members).
|Chenies Manor House has a spectacular spring tulip display|
Chenies Manor House is a wonderful spring garden - renowned for its fantastic tulip displays in the Sunken Garden adjacent to the 500-year old, Grade I listed, brick house. There are five acres of grounds here, including a Physic garden, white garden, kitchen garden and a labyrinth maze. It's also worth taking a tour of the house, which has hosted both Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth in the past. In the summer months the tulips are replaced with bedding plants, so there's always a good display here. But opening times are VERY restricted - Wednesdays and Thursdays only from 14.00-17.00, plus Bank Holiday Mondays.
|Claydon House has a magnificent two-acre walled garden|
Claydon House has been home to the Verney family since 1620 and is a fine Georgian house with Rococo interiors, but head for the gardens here and you'll have a wonderful surprise. They are operated independently from the National Trust house and are open Saturdays through Wednesday, from March until the end of October, 12.00-17.00. Highlights here include the two-acre walled kitchen garden, a new Florence Nightingale garden and magnificent rose garden created by the current Lady Verney. Just half an hour's drive from Ascott (above), if you want to combine both properties in a day.
|Cliveden - Thomas Waldo Story was commissioned to design this fountain too|
Another "grand" Buckinghamshire garden is Cliveden - rich in scandal during the 20th century and burnt to the ground twice in the past, but now restored to its former glory and operating as a hotel. The gardens are operated by the National Trust and are open throughout the year. First laid out in the 18th century as landscape gardens, William Waldorf Astor added his own particular stamp when he acquired the property in 1893 and added some of his impressive statuary to the grounds. You'll find formal gardens here and an impressive parterre at the front of the house, plus a Japanese garden, and another fountain commissioned from Thomas Waldo Story (see Ascott above). The grounds here extend over several hundred acres.
|The Swiss Garden has fine rhododendron and azalea displays in springtime|
The Swiss Garden is a hidden Bedfordshire gem and a fine example of a Victorian garden. Named after the bewitching thatched cottage at the heart of the garden, which was reputedly built by former owner, Lord Ongley for his Swiss mistress. You won't find borders and flower beds here, but you will find traditional wrought ironwork, stained glass windows, a impressive grotto and several interesting buildings dotted around the very green landscape. Located next door to the Shuttleworth Collection, which features an array of vintage planes, you could distract non-gardeners with these, while you wander round the grounds. Open throughout the year, but particularly impressive in springtime when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in flower.
|Waddesdon Manor has one of the finest parterres in the country|
You'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd sauntered into French chateau country when you arrive at Waddesdon Manor. The house was commissioned for another de Rothschild - this time Baron Ferdinand - and has fine formal gardens and one of the best parterres in the country, which is replanted throughout the year to ensure that its seen to best advantage throughout the seasons. Features here include 160 acres of grounds, including the formal gardens, and a Rococo aviary, recently restored, which was commissioned at the end of the 19th century to house the Baron's birds. Operated by the National Trust, Waddesdon remains open throughout the year.