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.

  • County: without a car
  • Great for: flowers and gardens | historic buildings | parks | scenic bus and train |
  • Refreshments: lots of fabulous cafes and restaurants
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. Powis Castle gardens, Powys

    First built on a high rocky outcrop in the thirteenth century, Powis Castle now has celebrated terraced gardens with views that stretch as far as the Shropshire hills. Urn-topped balustrades, dancing lead shepherds and shepherdesses line the walkways and an Ozymandian stone foot stands in the woods, near spring glades of common spotted orchids. In the Edwardian formal garden, there are century-old lichen covered apple trees between box-hedge arches and topiaried yew. In the wooded wilderness, there are little clumps of cyclamen and views through the sculptural bare trees back up towards castle terraces, patrolled by jewel-bright peacocks.

    • Check opening times.
    • Getting there: Regular trains from Birmingham and Aberystwyth stop at Welshpool Station. From the bunting-strung High Street, not far from the station, Park Lane leads to the wrought iron gates of Powis Castle. Walk up through the steep landscaped park, with herds of antlered deer, to arrive at the red, gritstone walls.
    • Food and drink: Hot lunches in the Courtyard Restaurant and cream teas from the Garden Coffee Shop.
    • For more adventures in the area, see our car-free guide to Welshpool.
  1. Ardkinglas Woodland Garden, Argyll

    Home to one of Britain’s tallest trees, a 64m-high silver fir, the arboretum at Ardkinglas has red squirrels in the garden all year round and views across misty Loch Fyne from the bank at the top of the garden or the walks across the wider estate. By March, the garden is full of birdsong, rhododendron blossom and the honey-apricot smell of osmanthus, an evergreen Chinese shrub with delicate white flowers. Ardkinglas have recently renovated their garden paths to take out steep steps and there’s a Gruffalo trail for familes.

    • Garden open all year round, dawn to dusk.
    • Getting there: The garden is a long but scenic bus ride from Glasgow on bus 926, beside Loch Lomond and through the glens to Dunoon Road End junction.
    • Food and Drink: The loch-side stroll from the bus stop takes you past the Cairndow Stagecoach inn, where you can warm up by an open fire with a choice of more than forty whiskies, Loch Fyne scallops or haggis, neeps and tatties.
  1. Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

    The chateau-style manor house is closed until spring, but the Victorian gardens, with their aviary and grotto, are open every day with outdoor cafés for hot chocolate. Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild created the gardens when he built Waddesdon Manor from 1874 and the grounds are now a galanthophile’s paradise featuring 120,000 snowdrops. By March, the daffodil valley will be a lake of yellow; three-quarters of a million daffodil bulbs have been planted across the estate. Blue scillas and golden aconites are already budding under the tall bare trees.

    • Check opening times. Free for NT, RHS, Historic Houses and Art Fund members.
    • Getting there: Follow Good Journey’s directions. There are various ways to get to Waddesdon car-free, including a cycleway from Aylesbury Vale Parkway.
    • Food and Drink: There are fresh hot and cold meals and drinks to takeaway until 8pm from the Manor Terrace. At weekends, there are fabulously crisp fish and chips on offer in the Stables Courtyard with some indoor seating.
    • For more adventures in the area, see our car-free guide to Aylesbury.
  1. Audley End, Essex

    This English Heritage flagship stately in rural North Essex is a grand Jacobean house. It has interiors by neoclassical architect Robert Adam (several of which feature as locations in The Crown) and big, picnic-ready grounds by Capability Brown. In the lovely gardens at Audley End, water birds come wandering up from the widened River Cam and duck food is for sale in the shop. There’s an organic walled garden with a vine house and a little ferny, waterlily-floating Pond Garden. Evergreen shrubberies, cloud-form topiary and snowdrops under the linden walk add to the winter interest.

    • Open weekends and February half term, then Wednesday to Sunday.
    • Getting there: Follow Good Journey’s directions. It’s also a pleasant walk from Saffron Walden, which is on bus routes from Cambridge and Bishop’s Stortford.
    • Food and Drink: The Servants’ Hall tearoom has a changing menu offering things like chickpea and aubergine dhal or carrot and coriander soup. There’s Saffron Walden ice cream too, made just down the lane.
    • For more adventures in the area, see our car-free guide to Saffron Walden.