|The Beth Chatto Gardens remain open throughout the year|
Essex has more than its fair share of wonderful gardens and arboretums and although few of us think of this arid county as being a garden destination, it is home to some of the most popular and unusual plots in Britain. Beth Chatto, plantswoman extraordinaire settled outside Colchester and created a garden from nothing; Sir Frederick Gibberd chose Harlow as his home and filled his garden with unusual statuary and sculpture; while Hugh Johnson, noted tree (and wine) expert has made a garden nearer to the Suffolk border.
|Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden has become a source of inspiration for gardeners in a changing climate|
At the Beth Chatto Gardens near Colchester, the world-famous plantswoman has created a seven-acre horticultural oasis from a neglected hollow in the middle of nowhere over the last half century. Beth Chatto is renowned both for her plant philosophy and her best-selling books dedicated to either shade-loving or drought-tolerant plants. This garden is a delight and draws visitors from all over the world. The Gravel Garden (above) is a relatively new addition to the property, and is devoted to drought-tolerant plants. It's an inspiration to gardeners seeking new ideas to deal with climate change. There's also an excellent nursery. Open throughout the year, opening at 9.00 Monday-Saturday and 10.00 on Sundays.
|Green Island is a striking triangular plot, offering stunning garden "rooms" and a woodland paradise|
If you're in this neck of the woods, you can't miss Green Island - another plantsman's paradise created by Fiona Edmond at nearby Ardleigh - and open daily (except Monday and Saturday) from February for the snowdrops, right through to the end of November. This is a 20-acre triangular garden, with a series of "rooms" close to the house and woodland borders further afield. Planting is designed for year-round interest and work is ongoing in the woodland areas. Themes for the smaller gardens include Japanese, seaside and dry garden planting schemes. Quite different from other gardens you'll see and a terrific venue for children because there's so much space for them to run around in.
|RHS Hyde Hall remains open throughout the year and is an inspiration to amateur gardeners|
Hyde Hall is the RHS garden of the East and is well worth visiting if you're in the vicinity of Chelmsford. One of four Royal Horticultural Society gardens nationwide, this is designed and planted with the amateur gardener in mind, providing inspiration for planting schemes throughout the seasons. The land here was bequeathed to the Society by private donors as recently as 1993 and although there was already a flourishing garden here, much has been done to improve the planting and provide year-round interest for visitors. As with the two previous Essex gardens, there is an interesting Dry Garden, which actively demonstrates how carefully chosen plants can thrive in this arid part of the country. Open daily throughout the year.
|Marks Hall is an arboretum with a wonderfully renovated 18th century walled garden|
Marks Hall is more arboretum than garden, but has an amazing new walled garden, which opened to the public in 2003. With more than 200 acres here and the trees planted on a geographical basis, representing the world's temperate zones, there is plenty to see throughout the year. A fantastic place to walk, although only open Friday to Sunday during midwinter. It's the newly-designed walled garden that really draws visitors during the summer months - the 18th century brick walls have been retained on three sides and the fourth side opens onto the lake, but this creates a micro-climate and exotic plants flourish here.
|Hugh Johnson has created a Sylvan landscape at Saling Hall in Essex|
Heading north towards the Suffolk border, world-renowned wine critic Hugh Johnson has created a Sylvan landscape at Saling Hall. But wine is not his only area of expertise and Johnson is also a tree lover, who has spent the last 35 years creating an unusual garden that opens throughout the high-season summer months for the NGS. You'll find many rare trees and shrubs here and it's a joy to wander throughout the 12 acres, sit by one of the many ponds or pretend you're back in ancient Greece in the mini temple of Pisces.
|You'll find ancient architectural artefacts alongside modern sculpture at The Gibberd Garden|
Hugh Johnson also played an active part in saving The Gibberd Garden, created by the architect and master planner who was responsible for putting nearby Harlow on the map in post-war Britain. This is an extraordinary garden, well worth visiting, not just for the spectacles you see - with more than 80 pieces on display - modern sculptures alongside ancient architectural effects, including four urns from Coutts Bank (above). This rolling landscape is like a stage set, filled with terraces and patios, and an impressive lime avenue. Make the effort to get here - you won't be disappointed. Open from April to September at weekends and on Wednesdays.