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Smell the roses: 10 gorgeous summer gardens to visit

Need some glorious garden inspo or just an indulgent day out? Here's your check list of must-see National Trust rose gardens, with art, photography, poetry and plenty of cake along the way.

GREYS COURT, OXFORDSHIRE

©National Trust Images – Hugh Mothersole

The gorgeous gardens of Greys Court are real summer gem, whether you’re a kid racing through the ‘hide and reveal’ drama of the walled gardens or a green-fingered grown up tip-toeing to get the scent of one of the gazillion roses. So pretty that it’s been used as a backdrop in Downton Abbey, the roses here are particularly stunning, from the ramblers scaling the brick and flint exterior of the house to the rose garden room, which traces the history of the rose from early damask varieties to modern hybrids.

The Greys Court gardens are all the more impressive when you discover that they were virtually derelict when the Brunner family, the current incumbents, arrived in 1937 (no excuse not to get your border up to scratch then). Alongside the roses, there are blousy peonies of every shade. I’ve always found the lower end of the walled gardens to be the most peaceful – perfect for finding a spot under the crab apples and indulging in a cuppa and cake from Grey Court’s Cowshed tearoom.

©National Trust Images – Hugh Mothersole

What else can I see at Greys Court?

The house itself is open all summer, and is very manageable for young kids – I’ve taken mine around before and they really enjoyed it. For a wilder wander, the orchard is filled with ox eye daises and wild flowers at the moment or there’s the woods, which this summer hosts a tree trail complete with activity sheet and prizes.

There’s art too – the Oxford Sculptors Group currently in situ for its fifth year, until June 17, exhibiting in the walled gardens and Cromwellian building. It’s always a diverse show and the pieces will even be up for sale.

WADDESDON MANOR, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

©National Trust Images – Chris Lacey

Waddesdon is a real Muddy favourite, not just for its vast and impressive gardens but also its events, from nationally-acclaimed and edgy art installations to drool-worthy food markets. It’s a day out that works for every age.

In summer, I’ll always head straight to the rose garden near the Rococo style aviary (worth a visit in itself). This year it is undergoing a rejuvenation, with Waddesdon’s team of gardeners refreshing the beds and gradually introducing more varieties to create an even more bountiful mix of roses in this mid-summer haven. It makes for a dreamy Insta backdrop.  

You can also see a display of roses on the Parterre, Waddesdon’s French-inspired formal garden which is set against the backdrop of the Manor. For summer 2022, ornamental roses in delicate peach tones will frame a colourful mixture of Victorian bedding plants, including scrolling beds of Geraniums, Bidens and Verbenas in an array of pinks, purples and yellows.

The chateau’s former owner, Alice de Rothschild, was a keen gardener and the rose garden was planted in 2000 in her memory. There’s even a ‘Miss Alice’ rose created by David Austin Roses no less! 

What else can I see at Waddesdon Manor? If you have kids in tow, you can’t deprive them of a visit to the adventure playground, which cleverly clings to a wooded slope with obstacles from tube slides to zip wires hidden among the trees. For grown-ups, the walled garden tours each Wednesday are fascinating, as are the weekday talks by the aviary keepers. There’s also outdoor theatre, concerts and open air cinema planned for this summer, which will take your visit nicely through from afternoon to evening.

BASILDON PARK, BERKSHIRE

©National Trust Images – James Dobson

Basildon Park was saved from demolition in 1952 by Lord and Lady Iliffe who gave as much love to the gardens as they did the striking Bath stone house. Both are considered absolute gems and even featured as Bridgerton backdrops – the Garden Room for an evening party scene and the rose garden, which was filled with 5,000 artificial flowers to make it appear as if in the height of summer. Head there now and there’s no need for fake blooms – the place is in full swing and rich with roses and their scent.

©National Trust Images – Chris Lacey

The rose garden includes quirky varieties like the Mutabilis, which changes colour over the season from peachy yellow to watermelon pink, and finally a rich dark red, as well as classics such as Rosamundi, which smells divine.   

What else is there to see at Basildon Park?

There’s a real English cottage garden feel elsewhere with sweet peas and blue delphiniums, and you can also find spotted orchids if you look hard in the hidden valley on the walk marked in blue on the map. The house itself is stunning and well worth a visit.

MOTTISFONT, HAMPSHIRE

©National Trust Images – Clive Nichols

Rose season is a BIG thing at Mottisfont – there’s over 500 varieties, making up the National Collection of pre-1900 old-fashioned roses. It’s hard to choose a favourite but Malmaison, an opulent pale pink bourbon rose inspired by the Empress Josephine’s famous garden is a cracker, as is the powerfully fragrant double-petaled Quatre Saisons damask rose which dates back to Roman times.

To dig deeper and get the all-important intel as to how to recreate this splendour at home, head to the Gardener’s Cottage, which is tucked away next to the kitchen garden.

©National Trust Images – Clive Nichols

It can get busy during Rose Season (30 May – 2 July) so you need to book a parking space if you’re visiting before 3.30pm. Early evening is the best time when it’s quieter (it’s open until 8pm, Monday to Saturday) and the heady scent of the roses is at its peak.

Although much of the house is closed at the moment (reopens 4 July), you can discover some of Mottisfont’s history by visiting the spooky medieval Cellarium, and learn about the transformation from priory to family home. But, a gorgeous spot I always head to on a sunny day is the riverside pathway, running alongside the clear, cold babbling water, heading out into meadows with views of the house and countryside.

What else can I see at Mottisfont? Aside from the roses there’s an impressive kitchen garden to inspire the allotment brigade, there are plants to buy and take home as well as a cute shop for gifts, a well stocked second-hand bookshop and a grassy paddock area that’s great for family games, plus loads of space for kids to run, play and hide.

HINTON AMPNER, HAMPSHIRE

© National Trust Images – John Miller

The rose collection at Hinton Ampner – some 90 varieties – is the obliging sort – repeat flowering to put on quite the show throughout June and July. New to the garden this year and running until 10 July to help you navigate it all is a rose trail and leaflet which has info about the blooms and growing tips from the pros. 

The most popular marker on the trail is the bed of 100 highly-scented tea rose shrubs in pale pink beside the pond. Visit after it’s rained for the best scent. Here you can also seek out my favourite sight – the pretty pink water lilies that grow in early summer in the sunken garden’s shimmering fish pond.

National Trust Images – Chris Lacey

Also look out for the gorgeous creamy-white rambling rose over the shop doorway, and the early summer rambler, Lutea, which sprawls right up to the roof of the house.

What else can I see at Hinton Ampner? The pretty walled kitchen garden is a real summer highlight, full of salads and bright floral colour. There are panoramic views to seek out too – over the parkland and beyond. You can visit the house Tues-Fri – the entrance hall and elegant library are my favourites. You’d never know that it was rebuilt after a fire in the 1950s, with its flawless Neo-Georgian façade and aspects like the marble entrance hall and fancy Regency drawing room all lovingly restored. Aside from exploring the house you can exercise your creative side with one of the summer art classes, or take the less hands on option of watching outdoor theatre – check the homepage for more.  

CHARTWELL, KENT

©National Trust Images – David Sellman

There’s 80 acres surrounding  Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s family home near Westerham. It’s all gorgeously landscaped and remains much as it was when he and his family lived here, including over 500 of his paintings. There’s also an exhibition that tells the story of his life through 50 objects. 

The grounds include the lakes he created, the kitchen garden and the Marycot, a playhouse he built for his youngest daughter, Mary. It’s especially magical for kids with looped trails and natural play areas, the Canadian Camp complete with hammocks, dens, a bomb crater to climb out of (now there’s something they’ve not done before) and a treehouse with slide. New for this year, a set of swings at the Old Quarry, each engraved with the names and nicknames of the Churchill children. 

©National Trust

It’s thanks to Churchill’s offspring that the Golden Rose Avenue exists – a gesture to celebrate Winston and Clementine’s golden wedding anniversary in 1958. Look out for the masquerade  rose, whose yellow blooms turn pink then red over the course of the summer.   

This, together with Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden, heavy on the pinks, and just gorgeous, will be celebrated in Chartwell’s first ever  Rose Festival  (25 June – 30 July) featuring walks, talks, and photography and painting workshops. 

What else can I see at Chartwell? Long after the roses have faded there’s still much to see including a spectacular cutting bed in the Walled Garden, which is rich with vintage dahlias come late summer. Other highlights are the orchard and the picnic spots around the lakes, plus the countless walking trails including trips up to Toys Hill and beyond to Emmetts Garden.

EMMETTS GARDEN, KENT 

©National Trust Images – David Sellman

Chartwell’s neighbour, Emmetts, is an Edwardian estate created by Frederick Lubbock, famous for exotic trees and shrubs, far-reaching views across the Weald and of course its rose (and rock!) gardens. 

The Italianate rose garden is the only formal part of the gardens at Emmetts, in blush shades of pink and white surrounding a cherubic stone fountain. The Rose Festival at Chartwell, above, is running concurrently at Emmetts Garden from late June and celebrates these blooms with various events including a rose photography workshop. 

©National Trust Images – Andrew Butler

There’s no property to explore here but there is a superb tea- room serving light lunches, tea and cakes, which is all the more appealing if you’ve undertaken one of the many walks around the estate and beyond. The route that takes in National Trust site Toys Hill and the Greensand Ridge has unreal views across the Weald of Kent. 

What else is there to see at Emmetts? This summer there’s also some outdoor theatre on the agenda and for the first time, the garden will host the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition with work displayed until 13 July. Children will love the wild play area with den building, balance beams, stepping logs and swings. 

BATEMAN’S, EAST SUSSEX

©National Trust Images – Andrew Butler

The summer garden at Bateman’s, the former family home of writer and poet Rudyard Kipling, features roses high on the agenda throughout the garden, but no more so than in the garden designed by Kipling himself. Here the roses are a riot of colour, as you’d expect from the quirky author, alongside a pond and bubble fountain. Kipling’s ink and watercolour plan of the garden is divine in itself, including the somewhat lavish label scrawled down one side that reads: ‘140ft hedge of yellow roses and clematis’. 

©National Trust Images – John Miller

It’s best viewed from the Wild Garden gate, from which you’ll look back to see the rose garden with its statues poking their heads above the blooms.  Grab one of the gardeners for their tips on keeping the roses healthy including advice – did you know that some roses don’t get deadheaded? (oops)- plus other pearls of wisdom.   

A good way to explore is to follow the ‘Glory of the Garden’ poetry trail, which takes you inside and out and is inspired by Kipling’s poem of the same name. Special events such as storytelling, poetry reading and gardener talks will help to link the house to the garden and his career with the help of treasures from the collection.    

What else is there to see at Bateman’s? Also on this summer is outdoor theatre, guided walks to the watermill, and painting and poetry workshops.  Keep up to date with what’s on here. 

NYMANS, WEST SUSSEX

©National Trust Images – John Miller

The pretty family home of the Messel’s is open from 1 Aug but until then, there’s plenty to see in the gardens. Nymans Head Gardener Joe Whelan reckons there are over – get this! – 600 rose bushes in 115 varieties in the rose garden, from old fashioned types to the modern shrub roses that flower repeatedly. That’s a glorious spectacle.

©National Trust Images – Gary Cosham

He recommends perching on one of the benches to enjoy the sight and smell of the roses as well as the sound of the fountain.

If it’s more insider info you’re after, join a tour with one of the gardeners (daily at 11am and 2pm), which not only takes in the roses but the vast herbaceous borders, orchard, walled garden and wilder areas. Every Friday in June and July, the garden is open from 6pm – 8.30pm for balmy evening visits and new for 2022, the former Riding House has been converted into a tearoom with gorgeous views of the Weald. 

What else is there to see at Nymans? Also fascinating is a new exhibition that tells the story of the recovery of the Messel family home from a devastating fire. There’s also open air theatre and art workshops that can tie in with your visit to the roses. Check online for more about what’s on.

POLESDEN LACEY, SURREY

©National Trust Images / John Howlett

This imposing Edwardian home was something of a party pad, hosting royalty and celebrities of the time in its glittering gold saloon. The gardens had to match up to the glam interiors and so feature a lavish array of roses – over 2,000 in total including over 100 rambling roses on a single pergola. The blooms including hybrid tea roses, floribunda and hybrid musk types, flower well into the summer.

©National Trust Images – Eddie Hyde

The bold party planting also includes red hot pokers, orange day lilies and purple Nepeta in front of pink clematis, proving there’s no such thing as a colour clash in nature.   

There’s a Rose Festival here from June 11 to July 17, with sculptural installations, floral displays, Jazz performances, flower arranging workshops and a ‘pot pourri’ bar where you can fill your own bag to take a bit of Polesden home with you.

What else is there to see at Polesden Lacey? There’s four waymarked trails around the estate’s woodland and hills and ranger-led walks on various weekends throughout the summer to explore the chalk grassland surrounds. Inside the house, there’s a new exhibition showing off one of the National Trust’s most glamourous collections, including precious objects by Cartier and Fabergé.

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