Lovingly tended, serene and very, very pretty, Cheshire has some of the finest gardens in the country. What makes the county an excellent destination for a short break is not the quantity nor the quality of the gardens on offer (though there are many, and they are fabulous) but the sheer variety of the places to visit. Each unique garden has its own special identity, and all of them are well worth seeing.
As you might expect, spring is the best time of year to visit Cheshire’s Gardens of Distinction, but the proud and passionate gardeners of the region do a fantastic job of keeping their gardens beautiful throughout the summer and well into autumn too. A training ground for exhibitions such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Cheshire’s gardeners are stalwarts of the top national shows. Even a novice such as myself can’t fail to appreciate the beauty to be found in this part of the world – it’s simply a great place to reconnect with Mother Nature.
The big daddy of Cheshire’s Gardens of Distinction, Tatton Park has some of the region’s – and the country’s – most popular visitor gardens. Inflected by the influences of successive gardeners over the course of several hundred years, Tatton Park was donated to the National Trust by the charismatic Lord Egerton on his death in 1958. Between the impressive walled Kitchen Garden, the utterly stunning Japanese Garden – first seen in the Edwardian era – and a series of glasshouses and pleasure gardens set in over fifty acres of grounds, Tatton Park is endlessly fascinating and absolutely primed for exploration. It’s also an ideal place for spotting impossibly sweet Bambi-esque deer too!
Home to one of the most important annual RHS shows in the calendar, and over 100 events throughout the year, Tatton Park is without doubt one of the most interesting and exciting places to visit in the region. The singularly impressive mansion house – built in a distinctive looking Neo-Classical style – is well worth a visit too, and I couldn’t recommend the tearoom at the Gardener’s Cottage more thoroughly; no trip to the Park is complete without trying Margaret’s wonderful cakes, perfected over twenty years of working as Tatton’s resident baker!
Owned by the Ashbrook family since the 15th Century, Arley Hall is an incredibly pretty estate. The present Lord and Lady Ashbrook have done much to make the Hall’s picturesque gardens accessible to the public, and have been passionately involved in the upkeep of the grounds with the help of their award-winning and friendly team of gardeners. Set over 11 acres, perhaps the most famous feature of the garden is its Herbaceous Border – one of the first in England, this walkway is very often used as the most fabulous aisle for weddings held under the marble-white Alcove. The influence of the former Lady Ashbrook – the first to open the gardens to the public – can be seen around the gardens, never more so than in the pretty walled Rose Garden, home to her upmost favourite flower. With three generations of the family living onsite, the wonderful sense of tradition is ever-present and the special gardens are certain to be safeguarded for the future.
The third stop on my tour of Cheshire’s best gardens was a rather surprising one – Chester Zoo. Renowned as one of the best zoos in the country, it’s ginormous; set over 100 acres you need hours (if not days!) to explore it all properly and the forthcoming Balinese-inspired section of the zoo ‘Islands’ is the size of Bristol Zoo all by itself! Before you even enter the zoo proper you have the chance to admire some of the animals – if you’re lucky, you might see the incredibly sweet baby elephants playing in the mud. But besides being awe-struck by the elephants and the giraffes and the monkeys, it’s worth taking the time to see the zoo’s gardens too.
The recent BBC drama series Our Zoo chronicles the story of George Mottershead – the man behind Chester Zoo – and his life in the impressive Oakfield Manor (which stands in the centre of the park) and his vision of a zoo without bars. The vast expanse, with its 11,000 animals, wouldn’t be the same without the pretty gardens to fill it too – and with plenty of organic fertiliser onsite the plant life at the zoo can’t help but blossom.
Ness Botanical Gardens
Owned by the University of Liverpool, the stunning Ness Botanical Gardens are a less surprising feature on the list of Cheshire’s Gardens of Distinction. First set up by Liverpool cotton merchant Arthur Bulley over a hundred years ago, Ness has a proud history; home to the North-West’s finest collection of Rhododendrons and Azaleas, it is one of the foremost botanical gardens in the country. In contrast to the superbly maintained gardens, the wildflower meadows are another, naturally pretty feature – left largely untouched, staff hope that the flora and wildlife can thrive as nature intended. With over forty acres of ornamental gardens to explore, and stunning views to the rolling Clwydian Hills of North Wales and the Dee Estuary, Ness Gardens is a photographer’s paradise. Be sure not to miss the fairy-tale like beauty of the rock garden – popular with weddings, there’s nowhere more picture-perfect than here.
Bluebell Cottage is something completely different. The home and gardens of former BBC Gardener of the Year Sue Beesley, it’s run on a much smaller scale than many of Cheshire’s gardens. Small, but perfectly formed, Sue’s slice of Cheshire countryside has the peaceful and intimate feel of a domestic garden, but it’s much more than that; her private tours reveal a vast swathe of influences, a gorgeous collection of plants, grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees and the passion behind the project. The personality of the gardener herself can be felt all around the garden. Popular with gardeners keen to gain insight to improve their own gardens, and buy plants from the excellent onsite nursery, non-gardeners can enjoy the vibrant colours, the serenity of a seat by the pond, or watching Sue’s cat Smoky frolicking in the bushes.
After a long day of sightseeing and exploring it’s entirely necessary to have a nice hotel to return to once evening rolls around. Cranage Hall is just about the perfect choice – ideally situated within easy reach of all of Cheshire’s fabulous Gardens of Distinction, it guarantees a roomy suite, a comfy bed and, best of all, an excellent onsite restaurant great for a replenishing meal. Our two night dinner deals allow for a just enough time to see the best of the Cheshire countryside, and the chance to relax in the hotel’s vibrant bar and terrific spa facilities too!
Planning a break in the pretty North-West this year? Tell us about it in our comments section below!