Gardens to visit in early springwithout a car
No need to drive when you visit these beautiful gardens, where winter interest mixes with the colours and scents of early spring. Not only can you can get to them all by public transport, but the journey there is beautiful in its own right. There are waterfalls and ruined walls, evergreens, winter blossom and bulbs to brighten the greyest days of the year. And greenhouses too, where colourful orchids, creepers and leafy palms bring a blast of tropical sunshine to the winter months.
Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey
The National Trust’s only arboretum, Winkworth is already a profusion of colour in early spring. Extraordinarily tall trees of pink camellias tower over the flowering paths in February and March and glades of yellow daffs and primroses line the steep muddy walkways down to a reed-fringed lake
- Open daily until 4pm.
- Getting there: Bus 42 from Godalming station stops outside the gates every couple of hours. To get from the station to the bus stop, head left towards the church and right up Church Street, passing handsome old houses.
- Food and drink: The arboretum’s tea room is open until 3pm to warm-up after a woodland walk. Bring a reusable cup for 25p off your hot drink. Heading back through Godalming, you can also have tea and homemade cakes at the Changing Perceptions café.
Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire
The poet Byron lived from 1808 to 1814 at Newstead Abbey, once home to twelfth-century monks. With snowdrops in the woods, wild peacocks wandering past lakes and waterfalls, ruined archways and topiary, the grounds are dramatic. The heather is already blooming among the bright green harts’ tongues in the fernery; there are stepping stones and cascades in the Japanese garden and cheerful, shade-loving mahonia to brighten the greyest day with its yellow flowers and scent like lily-of-the-valley.
- Gardens open daily; and charge more for cars than walkers and cyclists.
- The regular Pronto bus from Nottingham to Mansfield stops at the gates of the wooded grounds in Ravenshead. From there, it’s a mile’s signed walk through the woods to the abbey.
- Interesting trees are everywhere in the grounds: a gnarled weeping birch or moss-rooted beech and, particularly good for winter, the grounds are full of flourishing evergreens: conical box trees, tunnels of yew, an ancient lakeside cedar, miles of rhododendrons (already budding abundantly) and variegated hollies in the little Italian garden behind the abbey.
- Nearby, Byron’s epitaph for his beloved dog Boatswain is carved under an urn and concludes: “To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;/ I never knew but one — and here he lies.”
- For more adventures in the area see our car-free guides to Nottingham here and here.
Dawyck Botanic Garden, Borders
A leafy regional offshoot of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, Dawyck was the UK’s first carbon neutral botanic garden with the fast-flowing burn powering hydroelectricity. February snowdrops form a ghostly mist over the gently-sloping banks of rocky Scrape burn with its picturesque stone footbridge. Dawyck’s geographically-themed areas, set among wooded hills, showcase a global collection of plants. There are Chinese dawn redwoods, Serbian spruce trees, Korean arborvitae and Chilean plum yews. There’s also a trail of rare Scottish pants, including the woolly willow that was threatened by overgrazing. Later in spring, azaleas erupt along the terrace and a lake of blue Himalayan poppies blooms under the trees.
- Open daily from in Spring and Summer.
- Getting there: Bus 91, running from Peebles to Biggar every couple of hours, stops outside the garden on request.
- Food and Drink: The café does seasonal soups and scones plus sweets like triple chocolate orange brownies, raspberry and passion fruit marshmallows, or classic whisky tablet.