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Escape to a peaceful coastal garden

​As a nation of garden-lovers, it is little surprise that the English coastline is strewn with beautiful gardens. From small ‘secret’ gardens to lavishly designed formal lawns of stately homes, no matter where you holiday on the coast there’ll be a place of tranquillity to relax in.

Discover your own leafy oasis

Cross a lonely tidal causeway in the northeast of England, then walk or cycle beneath the shadow of an ancient church and a castle and you will find a small walled garden that provides an unexpected explosion of colour on the windswept shores of Holy Island in Northumberland

This leafy oasis is Gertrude Jekyll’s garden created by the eponymous arts and crafts designer. 

Jekyll (pronounced ‘jee-kal’) planted the garden with hardy annuals, perennials and heritage vegetables on a former vegetable patch that once provided food for soldiers at Lindisfarne castle. 

‘A garden is a grand teacher,’ Jekyll once said, ‘it teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.’ 

In a country that offers visitors a wide choice of stunning coastal gardens, it says a good deal that Jekyll’s walled garden won the 2019 BBC Countryfile magazine award for best garden.

Escape to a peaceful coastal garden Escape to a peaceful coastal garden
Escape to a peaceful coastal garden

Enjoy some of England’s finest coastal views

At the opposite end of the country, in South Devon, you will find Overbeck’s House, an Edwardian villa and former home to Otto Overbeck, a chemist and eccentric inventor. 

The gardens here can make a fair claim for some of the best views along England’s entire coastline. 

Enjoying a sheltered cliff-side location, the garden is positioned high above the Kingsbridge estuary in the South Hams. The stepped terraces are full of palms, magnolias, an olive grove, Japanese bananas, Mediterranean herbs and sub-tropical shrubs, as well as a gazebo and discreetly positioned statues that spring themselves upon you as you explore.

For a day trip from London to a coastal garden, a fine choice is the Beth Chatto Gardens at Elmstead Market, just inland from Mersea Island and close to Colchester in Essex. The gardens were founded by the award-winning gardener, author and lecturer Beth Chatto, who won 10 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Rather like Gertrude Jekyll, Chatto took an overgrown wasteland of brambles, parched gravel and boggy ditches and transformed it using plants adapted by nature to thrive in different conditions. The gravel garden, for example, was once a car park but now provides a stunning display of drought-tolerant plants (the garden is never watered) including agapanthus and aliums.

Nor do you need to escape an urban area to find delightful coastal gardens. In Eastbourne, you will find a couple of hidden gems at the western end of the promenade in the shape of the Helen Gardens and the Italian Gardens both of which offer fine views across the English Channel.

The Helen Gardens are laid out on the top of the cliff overlooking the sea; the Italian Gardens are found lower down at Holywell. These unusual and secluded lawned gardens sit in a wooded amphitheatre carved out of the cliff face just metres from Holywell Retreat Beach, Eastbourne. The hollow in the chalk cliff face is due to the Garden's former use as a chalk quarry. The Italian Gardens also provide a setting for open air theatre in Midsummer.

By Mark Rowe