RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey
The gardens at RHS Wisley are justifiably world famous and there is arguably no finer time to take a jaunty walk around the grounds than in May, when there is colour, colour everywhere! Catch the last of the spectacular late-flowering magnolias and welcome in the flashy, showbiz rhododendrons in Battleston Hill and the Wild Garden as they reach their peak. The white, yellow, deep-pink and red peonies enjoy their brief but dazzling time in the sun in May while the dwarf bearded and Dutch iris on the Trials Field are worth the trip out by themselves, out in the Alpine Meadow along the ponds. In the orchards, trees are smothered in the soft pinks and whites of the apple blossom and head over to Weather Hill for blue meadows of camassias.
WHERE TO STAY
Woodlands Park Hotel, near Cobham and Leatherhead, is the perfect overnighter. Classy, stylish, with good restaurants and in landscaped grounds.
Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire
Home to the country's largest private collection of trees and shrubs, Batsford is a glorious place to visit in May, when the spring flowering bulbs are in full swing. The collection here is truly international but has a Far Eastern bent and the arboretum has held the national collection of Japanese Flowering Cherries since 2002 - a sight to behold. In spring, aconites, hellebores, daffodils and narcissi are still in bloom and flowering cherries repaint the landscape to glorious effect. Look out for swathes of wild garlic, shady glades of bluebells and grape hyacinths plus the stunning pocket handkerchief tree, Davidia.
WHERE TO STAYCrowne Plaza Heythrop Park – Oxford, just outside Chipping Norton places you ten miles from the arboretum and close to all the other Cotswolds hotspots.
The Blossom Trail, the Vale of Evesham
As April fades and floral May takes hold, there are few better places to fill the soul and smell the flowers than on this walking or cycling trail. A 40-mile AA sign posted route of natural beauty starts just off the Evesham Road at Church Lench and heads along roadsides ablaze with colour (think the soft pinks of cherry and apple blossom), linking stunning villages and excellent pubs and restaurants to sample along the way. The area, famous for its apples, pears and plums, is a must-see in May.
WHERE TO STAYBefore you set off, treat yourself to a spot of luxury and stay at the Wood Norton (a mere 12 minutes from the trail by car), built originally as a hunting lodge for European royalty and now a boutique splendour.
The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland
Pop into Alnwick Castle for a bit of history (and a smattering of Harry Potter mania – it's where the young wizards learnt to fly) and then park your broomsticks around the corner at Alnwick Gardens, stuffed to the brim with Clematis Montana come May. The bruised blues and purples of the wisteria snaking everywhere in the Ornamental Garden is my particular favourite, however, at this time of year. In any season, the children will adore the world's largest wooden tree house in the grounds. Watch them in the poison garden though!
WHERE TO STAY
Eshott Hall, near Morpeth and Alnwick, is a classic Georgian beauty hidden in the Northumberland countryside and perfectly located, about 13 miles away.
Nymans National Trust, Handcross, Sussex
I have visited Nymans on numerous occasions in spring to admire the quite simply outrageously beautiful creamy white and pastel pink magnolias which stretch through the gardens but there is an awful lot more I should pay more attention to – the cherry trees turn the tennis lawns into spectacular displays of horticulture while the rhodos and camellias seem to colour in every corner of the grounds. Do not forget to pop onto the Messel family home, either, which offers up a fascinating slice of history and was the childhood home of Princess Margaret's former husband Lord Snowden.
WHERE TO STAY
Quintessentially English Highley Manor, Balcombe, sprawls across seven acres in the gorgeous Sussex countryside and is just seven minutes away by car.
Kew Gardens, Surrey
From its iconic glasshouses, picture-perfect formal gardens, and regal water features to its stunning historic buildings, Kew is, of course, worthy of a day out at any time of the year but there is something very special about this national treasure in May. Take the Cherry Walk from the Rose Garden behind the Palm House to King William's Temple, and then mooch further on to the Temperate House for a riot of Japanese Cherry Trees, first planted in 1909. The Great Broad Walk Borders, only opened in 2016, stretch for 320 metres either side of the Broad Walk path and form the longest double herbaceous border in the country – and its simply out of this world in May.
WHERE TO STAY
Set on Nightingale Lane in Richmond, the Petersham Hotel has panoramic views over the Thames and offers stylish rooms mixing Victorian splendour with contemporary luxury.
Waddesdon Manor Gardens, near Aylesbury, Bucks
Created by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 1880s from nothing more than a bare hilltop space, these gardens have wonderful seasonal displays , colourful shrubs and grand nature trees with lovely bedding creations lovingly developed on the parterre each season. It may be a little early in May, but come June the rose garden, planted with 600 roses in the year 2000, is a sight no gardener can resist. With kids? Take in the great collection of exotic birds in the aviary and the wildlife area.
WHERE TO STAYHartwell House Hotel, a gorgeous stately home with Georgian and Jacobean features, is just west of Aylesbury in Lower Hartwell (and has significant gardens of its own to admire).
The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Falmouth
Who can resist this wonderfully mysterious name? One of the country's most famous restorations in the UK, the gardens were rescued from a neglected wilderness and now are a must-see in Cornwall. Don't miss the jungle walk with exotic plants and tree ferns, the terrific rhodo displays and the woodland trail and carpets of bluebells. The pretty Italian Garden and rainbow-coloured herbaceous borders are a delight too. Visit at dusk and you can sit and watch the pipistrelles flitting between the batboxes and watch the kingfishers swooping over the two lakes. Gorgeous.
WHERE TO STAYThe Cornwall Hotel, Spa and Estate near St Austell sits in 43 acres of parkland – the food is award winning, the spa bang up to date and world-class and the beach-ready setting perfect.
Compton Acres Gardens near Poole
Right from the entrance to Compton Acres, your breath is taken away by the wonderful Italian Garden with its ornamental lake and water lilies surrounded by the formal borders, flashed with colour in the spring. You will also find one of the largest rock gardens in the UK here plus a lovely Japanese garden with thatched temple and a koi-filled pond which reflects the fabulous flora all around it. The woodland garden has lovely little water features, with pools and cascades and bridges creating a really Zen-like contemplative space.
WHERE TO STAYDrop in for the night at the Hotel du Vin, Poole, where the food is always good, the rooms pleasingly chic and the location just a few miles from the gardens.
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