The English passion for gardening is renowned throughout the world, spanning centuries in age and taste, from grand country vistas to colourful cottage borders. There is a saying that if you scratch the surface of an Englishman, you'll find a gardener. There must be some truth in it. Visiting gardens is a national pastime; after all, what better way is there to gain inspiration for your own keenly cultivated patch!
Visitors seeking inspiration in Essex gardens will not be disappointed. The county's mild climate, the driest in the British Isles, coupled with its gently rolling landscapes speckled with picturesque villages, have inspired a range of well-known and lesser-known gardeners to work their magic. Some of their creations have been faithfully preserved or restored, like Saling Hall and the admired work of Isabel Lady Carlyle, who moved to Saling in 1936 and ‘Capability' Brown's vision of temples, lakes and tranquil vistas, immortalised at Audley End. Others, like Harold Peto's Easton Lodge or the lost gardens of Hylands House, have been lovingly restored to their former glory.
Yet what is also outstanding in Essex is the number of more modern creations that have carried forward the county's garden-making tradition. Take Beth Chatto's Water Garden with its huge menacing gunnera towering above a hundred shades of emerald and Sir Frederick Gibberd's intriguing design near Harlow, where crumbling Roman columns soar skyward in a secret woodland glade. Or visit RHS Garden Hyde Hall, created by Dr and Mrs Robinson from a windswept hilltop farm, and let the heady scents and hazy hues of the Dry Garden carry you away to Mediterranean shores. Now that's what I call inspiration!
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