Why Britain is famous for beautiful gardens

Hidcote garden

Britain is famous for its gardens. Places like Sissinghurst, Hidcote and Stourhead have an international reputation. Because of this, sometimes the British are called “a nation of gardeners”.

This phrase makes it sound as if all British gardens are wonderful. But to anyone who has actually seen ordinary British gardens, this will seem strange – because most are just grass, a shed and some bushes. So what’s the story?

There is no denying that gardens are very popular. A survey in 2017 found that 55% of people would not consider renting or buying a home without a garden. This is because gardens offer ways to relax and make friends. People love doing small jobs in their garden, talking about gardens, watching programmes about gardening and visiting garden centres. This isn’t always because they love digging and weeding however – most garden centres are a good day out, with gifts, books, clothing, food and a café (find a list of garden centres on the British Garden Centres website).

During the COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown, gardening became even more popular. Garden centres were shut at first, so some people swapped plants or seeds with neighbours. Others enjoyed watching the wildlife or bought things that didn’t need the effort of actual gardening, for example hot tubs or table tennis tables.

Perhaps the reason we’re famous for our gardens is because of our climate. Plants from different places can grow here quite easily, so many different types of garden are possible. If people want to, they can create something amazing, even in their back yard – a talent known as having ‘green fingers’.

It is worth remembering that beautiful gardens of all sizes do not happen without time and effort – and often lots of money. Throughout history, gardens were a way for kings, queens and rich people to show their power and wealth. Expensive exotic plants, expensive garden designers (like Capability Brown) and the efforts of hundreds of workers were needed to keep their gardens looking smart. For example, it’s worth remembering that before lawnmowers were invented, lawns had to be cut by hand.

If you love looking at gardens, the Great British Gardens website has a very comprehensive list. Other places to find great gardens:

  • Most British country houses have beautiful gardens, and many are open to visitors. Try the National Trust website, or the website of the National Trust for Scotland, or the Historic Houses Association website.
  • Some famous British gardeners have gardens that are open to the public. This include’s Christopher Lloyd’s garden at Great Dixter, East Sussex; Beth Chatto‘s garden in Elmstead, Essex; and Geoff’s Hamilton’s garden Barnsdale in Rutland.
  • There are botanic gardens across the country that specialise in displaying a wide range of plants. Famous examples are in Edinburgh, Cambridge, Oxford (pictured) and Kew in London.
  • It is also possible to visit small local gardens. On ‘Garden Open Days’, ordinary people open their gardens to raise money for charity. In 2018, the National Gardens Scheme raised over £3million from these events. See the National Gardens Scheme website for details.

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