The Lake District has many treats in store for the green-fingered amongst us! 2016 is VisitEngland's Year of the English Garden, and from the formal plots of historic homes to natural gardens undergoing restoration, there's something in the area for everyone to enjoy.
Here's a roundup of our favourite horticultural days out in the Lake District!
1. Holehird, near Windermere
Holehird has to be one of the Lake District's best kept secrets! The 17-acre hillside gardens, run by volunteer members from the Lakeland Horticultural Society, feature a fabulous walled garden, alpine houses, rock gardens, herbaceous borders and three national collections, as well as woodland pathways and a walk to and around the lower tarn. With seats and benches placed throughout, you'll want to spend hours exploring Holehird's paths and planting, and sit and drink in the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful views across Windermere to the fells. Holehird doesn't have a café, but there are a couple of picnic benches in the lower garden and toilet facilities onsite. 015394 46008, holehirdgardens.org.uk
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2. Rydal Hall, Rydal
Rydal Hall is a conference and retreat centre owned by the Diocese of Carlisle, and its beautiful formal Edwardian gardens were designed in 1911 by the world-famous landscape architect Thomas Mawson. You must visit the 'Quiet' Garden too, which leads to a delightful little building called the 'Grot' - this is a small viewing station built in 1668, which overlooks the lower Rydal waterfalls and was recently featured on BBC1's Secret Britain! You can also explore the estate's sculpture trail, which follows what is believed to be the first permanent outdoor exhibition of textile sculpture in Britain, and pay a visit to The Old School Room Tea Shop, with seating by the river. 015394 32050, rydalhall.org
3. Holker Hall, near Grange-over-Sands
Holker Hall is home to the Cavendish family, and its part-formal, part-woodland gardens cover 25 acres, and are surrounded by a further 200 acres of parkland! Holker has something to see in every season, although the rhododendrons create a particularly stunning display in the spring. Look out for features such as the labyrinth and the great Holker Hall lime tree, one of The Tree Council's 50 Great British Trees! You can also sit outside on a warm day with lunch or afternoon tea from the Courtyard Café. Holker is home to the renowned annual Holker Garden Festival, which in 2016 is taking place from 3rd-5th June. 015395 58328, holker.co.uk
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4. Dalemain Mansion and Historic Gardens, Penrith
Just two miles from Ullswater, Dalemain means 'manor in the valley' and its five acres of pretty and sheltered gardens first come to life with thousands of snow drops and aconites in spring. In June and July, over 200 old-fashioned roses can be found at their best on the beautifully scented Rose Walk, and other features include a Tudor knot garden, gazebo with 18th century seating, stumpery, children's garden and wild garden, as well as ancient apple trees and herbaceous borders - don't miss the sleeping giant! 017684 86450, dalemain.com
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5. Levens Hall, near Kendal
Levens Hall dates back to the 13th century, and its world-famous topiary gardens were laid out in the 1690s by Guillaume Beaumont. According to the Guinness Book of Records, this makes it the oldest topiary garden in the world! Many of the 100 or so topiary shapes are abstract, but there are a number of chess pieces for you to look out for too! The 10 acres of garden at Levens also feature an orchard, rose garden, herb garden, 17th century-style garden and herbaceous borders. There's a lovely play area for the children, and a willow labyrinth which is great fun for everyone! You can also sit out overlooking part of the garden with something delicious from the Bellingham Buttery tearoom. 015395 60321, levenshall.co.uk
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6. Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass
Spring is the best time to pay a visit to Muncaster Castle, which is home to one of the largest rhododendron collections in Europe! The gardens cover around 70 acres, and are surrounded by beautiful views of the Lake District fells. After the daffodils and magnolias, the vivid colours of camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons emerge, and Muncaster is also famous for its bluebells, which make their appearance between mid-April and mid-May. Muncaster is home to the Himalayan Gardens, featuring a number of plants rarely seen in the West, and as if all that isn't enough, you can visit the castle itself (reputedly one of the country's most haunted!), the hawk and owl centre, the MeadowVole Maze for children, Creeping Kate's Café, and Muncaster Church. 01229 717614, muncaster.co.uk
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7. Lowther Castle, near Penrith
If you're looking for manicured lawns and planting perfection, Lowther might not be for you, but it has a wonderful charm all of its own and makes a perfect day out for those with imagination and a wish to explore! Lowther Castle, now a romantic sandstone shell, was once home to 130 acres of grand gardens which are undergoing restoration. Lowther describes itself as 'a hidden place waking from hibernation'! You can walk through its series of outdoor 'rooms' and look for clues as to what might have been 350 years ago, and there are some lovely woodland walks leading to fantastic Lakeland views (look out for the red squirrels!). Enjoy lunch or sit back with a cup of coffee at the Café in the Courtyard.
8. Acorn Bank Garden & Watermill, Temple Sowerby
Acorn Bank is well known for its herbs and fruit orchards. This National Trust property has pretty linked gardens surrounded by 17th century walls, and is home to the National Trust's largest collection of culinary and medicinal herbs. You can take a short riverside walk to the working watermill, which dates back to the early 19th century and was restored in the 1980s, and sit outside in the garden courtyard with a snack or lunch from the tearoom. 01768 361893, nationaltrust.org.uk/acorn-bank
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9. Hutton-in-the-Forest, Penrith
In the north east of the Lake District, Hutton-in-the-Forest is surrounded by beautiful woodland and is home to Lord and Lady Inglewood. Its Walled Garden was built in the 1730s, and now contains herbaceous planting, roses and fruit trees. The terraces show off topiary dating back to the 1890s, and lead to the Low Garden, Cascade and the lake. There is also a peaceful woodland walk, with some trees more than 200 years old. Look out for the 17th century Dovecote, which once housed around 400 pigeons!
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10. National Garden Scheme (NGS) Gardens
Cumbria NGS has a strong following, with a huge number of commercial and private Lake District gardens opening for charity each year. Grab a brochure from a tourist information point across the Lakes, or you can search online for gardens due to open when you're in the area. ngs.org.uk
Other gardens and nurseries to look out for in and around the Lake District include:
• Brockhole on Windermere - walk round a Mawson-designed garden at the Brockhole Visitor Centre, brockhole.co.uk
• Giggle Alley - the remains of a Japanese garden in woodland next to the village of Eskdale Green, forestry.gov.uk/gigglealley
• Sizergh Castle - delightful gardens including a rock garden with acers, at the gateway to the Lake District, nationaltrust.org.uk/sizergh
• Larch Cottage Nurseries, Melkinthorpe - a charming nursery with daytime restaurant near Penrith, larchcottage.co.uk
• Hayes Garden World, Ambleside - a garden centre with something for everyone. Just make sure you've plenty of room in the car! hayesgardenworld.co.uk
We hope that our post will inspire you to explore some of the Lake District's finest and unique gardens during your stay! To find your perfect cottage in the ideal location from which to begin exploring, visit our search facility online. And for more about some of the area's stately homes, take a look at our post featuring the Lake District's top 10 historic houses.