While there’s much to love about the manicured lawns and precise planting of Britain’s traditional gardens, what of the groundbreaking gardeners who had other ideas?
We’ve chosen seven of our favourite gardens to visit for something a little different – think modern sculpture, brutalist architecture and clever ideas you can steal for your own outdoor space...
Fans of modernism should make a pilgrimage to Turn End in the village of Haddenham, where architect Peter Aldington designed three RIBA award-winning homes in the 1960s.
Coaxed from less than an acre, the lush surrounding garden showcases an architect’s sense for space – and Aldington’s belief that ‘architecture and landscape design are an indivisible whole’ – with its central courtyard, glade and woodland area reminiscent of rooms in a house.
It’s open monthly on Garden Sundays. turnend.org.uk
It seems somewhat apt that Camberwell’s South London Gallery chose an artist, rather than a garden designer, to transform a ‘largely inaccessible’ paved area behind its main building in 2014.
Created over two years by Gabriel Orozco, with support from 6a Architects, its swirling geometry sees bricks of York stone – some salvaged from what was once the gallery’s rear façade – map notional rooms, shallow pools and platforms for sitting and showing artists’ works.
Creepers, ferns and fragrant shrubs selected by horticulturists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, speak to Orozco’s ultimate vision of an overgrown ‘urban ruin’.
It’s open every Saturday and Sunday. southlondongallery.org
‘My garden’s boundaries are the horizon,’ said the late filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman of the remarkable plot he created at Prospect Cottage, on the otherworldly headland of Dungeness.
It’s certainly an unlikely place for such a sanctuary, with its vast expanse of shingle and views to the nearby nuclear power station, but therein lies an almost mythic appeal.
A garden of great resourcefulness, it’s planted with clumps of sea kale and gorse that can weather the wind and salty air, and dotted with Jarman’s talismanic arrangements of driftwood and flotsam from the beach. In summer, foxgloves, red valerian and sprays of yellow poppies burst into life. artfund.org
Though it’s no longer the hidden gem it once was, the Barbican’s remarkable conservatory is surely the closest thing to tropical brutalism you’ll find on UK shores.
A lush landscape of over 2,000 creepers, palms and other temperate plants wrapped around the fly tower (the monsteras here will put your houseplants to shame), it was planted in 1980-1981 and is the second largest conservatory in London, after Kew.
It was once only accessible on Sundays – and not all of them – but since spring 2021 has been open almost every day. barbican.org.uk
With its arboretum, orchard and woodland alongside rose and bamboo gardens, this expansive estate is not short on glorious green spaces.
At its heart is the walled garden, designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, with a moniker that perhaps doesn’t do justice to the three stepped terraces within – especially as only two sides are actually enclosed. Here, a meadow-like tapestry of Mediterranean flowers and grasses is punctuated only by pillars of yew and a stone rill, which funnels water into a sleek pool below.
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation
Dumfries and Galloway
That the Scottish estate of late landscape architect and cultural historian Charles Jencks and his wife Maggie Keswick is open to the public for just one day a year only serves to fuel its air of fantasy.
The 30 acres of land surrounding their home, Portrack House, was a hotbed of Jencks’ cosmological ideas: a heady tour takes in great spiralling landforms, a terrace warped by a black hole, dizzying sculptures and – the spectacular centrepiece – a zig-zagging stairway (pictured) that recounts the story of the universe at each descending step.
Scotland’s Gardens Scheme had to scrap the spring open day, but hopes it can take place in autumn 2021. scotlandsgardens.org
Surely few gardener designers have spent as much time atop a digger as Keith Wiley, who has created a sensational space from a nondescript field in Devon.
The plantsman, with his late wife Ros, poured a lifetime of experience into these three acres, having spent 25 years as head gardener at nearby The Garden House.
The name says it all – Wiley’s naturalistic planting sees drifts of unfettered texture and colour trace the sculpted contours of the land, and in high summer its perennials are nothing short of riotous. ‘Especially good are the agapanthus, crocosmias, daylilies and grasses,’ he says.
Check for opening times. Upcoming dates include 10–13 and 28–31 July 2021. wileyatwildside.com