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A hillside covered in pink and purple flowers at the National Botanic Garden of Wales
Photograph: Billy Stock / Shutterstock

9 botanic gardens in the UK that probs beat your local park

Wake up and smell the roses at these properly spectacular botanic gardens in the UK

Rosie Hewitson
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Rosie Hewitson
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Gardening seems to be having a bit of a boom (or should that be bloom?) at the moment. Perhaps it’s down to everyone deciding to sort out that yellowing patch of grass that constitutes their ‘garden’ during last year’s lockdowns. Maybe it’s something to do with that brief time in early spring when the garden centre was just about the only thing allowed to open.

Either way, the nation seems to have discovered an appreciation for all things horticultural, and that extends to gardens that other people have planted too. After all, there aren’t many better ways to spend an afternoon than lazily strolling through fragrant flower beds, inspecting weird plants and lounging on manicured lawns. Here are some of the lushest places in the UK to do just that.

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Best botanic gardens in the UK

The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland
Photograph: wonderlustpicstravel / Shutterstock

The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland

Right next to the town’s huge castle, this garden was first planted in 1750 by the Duchess of Northumberland. Reimagined in the 1990s, the new garden – the most ambitious in the UK since WWII – opened to the public in 2001. It’s home to the world’s largest Japanese cherry-tree orchard, a huge treehouse restaurant and a vast collection of deadly plants in the famous Poison Garden.

National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire
Photograph: Billy Stock / Shutterstock

National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire

On the site of an eighteenthcentury landscape garden, this idyll features the largest singlespan glasshouse in the world: a magnificent space designed by Norman Foster. Elsewhere, there’s an arboretum, a bee garden, a recreation of an Edwardian apothecary and the British Bird of Prey Centre.

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Levens Hall Gardens, Cumbria
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Levens Hall Gardens, Cumbria

On the grounds of a manor house in the Lake District lies the world’s oldest topiary garden: Levens Hall, a rather surreal collection of geometric shapes crafted out of old trees. Its ten-acre gardens are populated with more than 30,000 plants and flowers grown in on-site greenhouses. Kids will love the labyrinth of yews.

Wrest Park Gardens, Bedfordshire
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Wrest Park Gardens, Bedfordshire

Three centuries of landscape design are on display at these Grade I-listed gardens on a Bedfordshire estate. Stroll up the Long Water canal and discover an eighteenth-century bowling green and follies including a Chinese bridge and a marble fountain. Or simply head along one of the woodland paths for spectacular views over the surrounding fields.

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The Eden Project, Cornwall
Photograph: Nicole Kwiatkowski / Shutterstock

The Eden Project, Cornwall

Opened in 2001 on the site of a former clay pit near St. Austell, the Eden Project has since become one of Cornwall’s most popular tourist attractions. Traverse the treetop walkway for epic views over the largest indoor rainforest in the world or take a zip-wire ride – not for the fainthearted – across crops, a prehistoric garden and various wildflower fields.

RHS Bridgewater, Manchester
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RHS Bridgewater, Manchester

Manchester might not sound like an obvious place to reconnect with nature, but it’s home to a beautiful new destination in RHS Bridgewater. The Royal Horticultural Society’s fifth opening is a grand 154-acre patch in the grounds of Worsley New Hall. Visitors this summer will be among the first to discover its ancient walled garden and woodland.

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Botanic Gardens, Belfast
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Botanic Gardens, Belfast

These free-to-visit public gardens cover 28 acres near the city’s Queen’s University. The location means it fills up with students and office workers as well as tourists. Notable features include the Palm House and Tropical Ravine House, while the Stranmillis Embankment plays host to concerts.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
Photograph: Pamka / Shutterstock

Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh

A peaceful spot away from the bustle of the inner city – but with fantastic views looking out over it – Leith’s botanic gardens sprawl out from a particularly grand Victorian glasshouse. It has a vast collection of more than 13,500 plants and sweet-smelling areas including arboretum, a ‘Chinese hillside’, a rock garden and alpine house. The on-site Inverleith House gallery is excellent too.

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Kew Gardens, London
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Kew Gardens, London

The gardens at Kew date back to 1759 when they started out as a considerably smaller plot behind George III’s fave royal palace. Famed for its grand old greenhouses – the bigger of which is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse – the gardens feature an 18-metre-high treetop walkway, a Chinese pagoda dating back to 1762 and artworks by the likes of Henry Moore and Eduardo Paolozzi.

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