Image Courtesy of Annabelle Thorpe
Gardening is not for everyone. While there are millions of us who love to grub around at weekends, transplanting seedlings, weeding veg beds and pruning over-enthusiastic shrubs, there are millions more who look out of the window, shrug and return happily to the sofa. But even those who wouldn't normally know a daffodil from a delphinium are lured into gardens in spring; unable to resist the blaze of colours, and the uplifting sense of a world waking up after the long dark months of winter.
The beauty of gardens is that they're everywhere; whether you're on a citybreak in Europe, a learn-to-surf weekend in Cornwall or a romantic cottage break in the Cotswolds, there will be blossom to walk beneath and swathes of azaleas and rhododendrons, blazing scarlet and pink between the green. Here are some of Europe's best.
Stay at Whatley Manor in the heart of the Cotswolds, and you don't have to stir far from your suite to be surrounded by spectacular spring colour. The 12 acres of hotel grounds are divided into 26 different areas, including a rose garden, herbaceous borders and a kitchen garden, where guests can have lunch. Beyond the hotel, there are some world-class gardens to visit; Painswick Rococo Garden - the only complete rococo garden in the country, Hidcote Manor - famous for its glorious herbaceous borders and swathes of tulips - and Bourton House Garden, with a parterre walk and beds filled with a unique mix of exotic blooms.
Further south, Essex is surprisingly rich in gardens to visit; base yourself at the lovely Maison Tolbooth for walks along the River Stour and a visit to Hyde Hall, owned by the Royal Horticultural Society. The range of plants is world class; the Hilltop Garden is the place to go for spring colour - the herbaceous borders blaze with lupins, delphiniums and classic English blooms - while the Australia and New Zealand garden has a contemporary feel, designed around Eucalyptus trees.
The sub-tropical microclimate that characterises the southern tip of Cornwall, warmed by the Gulf Stream, makes this region one of the best in the whole of the UK for gardens. Boutique Retreats has a fantastic selection of cottages dotted around the county, close to world-famous gardens such as The Lost Gardens of Heligan - 200 acres of rare plants, blazing borders and giant rhubarb and banana trees, that have been planted and restored over the last 25 years. The iconic Eden Project is a must-visit for those who like to understand the science and environmentalism of gardening, while the National Trust's Glendurgan spans three valleys, filled with blooms.
Further afield, there are few spring gardens to rival the Keukenhof, one of the world's largest flower gardens. Approximately seven million bulbs are planted each year, and the garden opens from mid-March to mid-May, with vibrantly-coloured tulips hyacinths and gerberas forming blocks of colour between the trees. Alongside the floral areas, there is a water garden and a Japanese country garden, as well as an English country garden. Book a weekend in the quirky city of Antwerp with Great Escapes, and the gardens are an easy 1hr 45 mins train ride away.
Known as the 'floating garden,' Madeira's warm, wet climate means that every almost every inch of green space on the island bursts with flowers, fruit and shrubs. Book a holiday with Classic Collection, and spend days strolling through the beautiful Botanical Gardens, boasting over 2,500 different plants from every continent, or the lovely Funchal Municipal Garden, right in the middle of the island's capital. The Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, once a private estate, is not to be missed, and the Quinta das Cruzes Gardens has spectacular sculptures among the blooms.
Annabelle Thorpe is Short Breaks Editor of 101 Holidays
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