Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire
The castle-like mansion is closed until spring, but the Victorian gardens are open daily with their aviary, grotto and sidewalk cafes. Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild created the gardens when he began building Waddesdon Manor in 1874. The grounds are now a galanthophile’s paradise with 120,000 snowdrops. In March, Daffodil Valley will be a lake of yellow; three quarters of a million daffodil bulbs have been planted on the estate. Blue squills and golden aconites are already budding under the tall bare trees. Lots of evergreens too, including palms around the parterre and miles of neatly trimmed hedges.
The grounds are open Wednesday-Sunday from February 2, £13.20/£6.60 for adults/childrenfree for NT, RHS, Historic Houses and Art Fund members, waddesdon.org.uk
Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire
Mottisfont’s jasmine-scented winter garden is ablaze with stems of scarlet dogwood and bright pink cyclamen; the low sun shines through the loose, papery bark of the Chinese red birches and makes it glow like amber. A February stream of snow-blue glory under pollarded lime trees echoes the trout-filled Test River nearby, where swans glide along glades of naturalized snowdrops. Waves of early spring flowers, including masses of different narcissus, begin blooming from March. Living in Mottisfont from 1934, Maud Russell’s eclectic circle of friends included Ian Fleming, Rex Whistler and Russian émigré artist Boris Anrep. Anrep, whose work includes the mosaic floors of the National Gallery in London, created the mosaic angel with Maud’s face near the entrance to the house under a tangle of wisteria. This is a well-signposted 2.5km walk through fields from Mottisfont & Dunbridge station to the Abbey, passing nesting towers, an orchard and a 12th century church.
Open daily, £16 adults, £8 children, free for National Trust members, nationaltrust.org.uk
Ardkinglas Woodland Garden, Argyll
Home to one of Britain’s tallest trees, a 64m silver fir, Ardkinglas Arboretum has red squirrels in the garden all year round, views of misty Loch Fyne from the shore at top of the garden and walks through the wider estate. This is the area where some of the recent BBC dramas A Very British Scandal were filmed, and Inveraray Castle is just across the water. Spider-yellow witch hazel blooms from January, followed by the first pale purple rhododendron flowers and first primroses on the south-facing banks above the crumbling, mossy walls of the old mill. In March, the garden is full of birdsong, blooming rhododendrons and the honey-apricot scent of osmanthus, a Chinese evergreen shrub with delicate white flowers. Ardkinglas has recently renovated its garden paths to remove steep steps. You can warm up by a fire at the nearby Cairndow Stagecoach Inn with a choice of over 40 whiskeys, Loch Fyne scallops or haggis, neeps and tatties.
Open garden all year round, from dawn to dusk. £5/£2 for adults/children (50% off until end of February) ardkinglas.com
Myddelton House, London
This gem of Enfield in the north London suburbs has a small rocky valley at the end, which is covered in snowdrops every winter, and a sloping meadow nearby which becomes a sea of spring daffs. Botanist EA Bowles lived at Myddelton House all his life and was an avid collector of plants, including dozens of crocuses and a corkscrew hazel. He also salvaged architectural features like the old Enfield Market Cross, which stands in the middle of the Rose Garden, and two lead sculptures of ostriches. The gardens are a 15-minute walk from Turkey Street station and a short walk along Bull’s Cross from Forty Hall, another great spot for a winter stroll and a cup of tea.
Open every dayfree, visitleevalley.org.uk
RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
There is a faint scent of violets from the miniature groves of dwarf irises, which bloom from late January to early March at Harlow Carr, and a subtle vanilla scent from the flower candy box. Hellebores hang their green and lilac heads under slender crimson stems of Siberian dogwood along the wintry promenade. Nearby, the lake steams gently under a pale sun and two wicker hares box on the lawn. On foot from Harrogate station, you can stroll through Valley Gardens, a lovely winter park in its own right. For a hot drink and a fat cherry-stuffed rascal, there’s a branch of Bettys Tea Rooms in the gardens.
Open daily, £8.95/£4.75 for adults/children without a car (£12.95/£6.55 with a car), free for RHS members, rhs.org.uk
Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire
The poet Byron lived from 1808 to 1814 at Newstead Abbey, once home to 12th century monks. With snowdrops in the woods, peacocks wandering past lakes and waterfalls, ruined archways and topiary, the grounds are spectacular. The heather is already blooming among the bright green deer’s tongues in the fern; there are stepping stones and waterfalls in the Japanese garden. Interesting trees are everywhere: a gnarled weeping birch or a moss-rooted beech and, especially good for winter, the terrain is full of flourishing conifers: conical boxwoods, tunnels of yew, old lake cedar, miles of rhododendrons (already abundantly budding) and variegated holly in the small Italian garden behind the abbey. Nearby, Byron’s epitaph for his beloved dog Boatswain is engraved under an urn.
Gardens open daily, £6 per car or £2 for walkers and cyclists, newsteadabbey.org.uk
Powis Castle Gardens, Powys
From Welshpool’s streamer-adorned High Street, you can wander through rugged landscaped parkland, with herds of antlered deer, to the red gritstone walls of Powis Castle. First built on a high rocky outcrop in the 13th century, the castle now boasts famous terraced gardens with views that stretch to the hills of Shropshire. Balustrades surmounted by urns and dancing shepherdesses line the aisles; an Ozymandian stone foot stands in woodland with views through bare trees to the castle terraces, patrolled by brilliant peacocks. In the formal Edwardian garden, there are century-old apple trees covered in lichen between arches of box hedges and topiary yews.
Garden and cafeThey are open every day until February 18, £10/£5 for adults/children, nationaltrust.org.uk
Dawyck Botanical Garden, Borders
A leafy regional offshoot of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, Dawyck was the UK’s first carbon-neutral botanic garden, with rapid combustion powering hydroelectricity. February snowdrops form a ghostly mist on the gently sloping banks. Dawyck’s geographic themed areas, among the forested hills, feature a worldwide collection of plants: there are Chinese dawn redwoods, Serbian spruces, Korean arborvitae, and Chilean plum yews. There is also a trail of rare Scottish plants, including the woolly willow which was threatened by overgrazing. The cafe offers seasonal soups and scones as well as sweets like triple chocolate orange brownies. International mushroom researchers are drawn to the Dawyck Wild Fungi Sanctuary, an area of semi-native forests home to hundreds of species of fungi among mosses, lichens and liverworts.
Open daily from February 1£7.20 adults/under 16s free, rbge.org.uk
Audley End, Essex
This majestic beacon of English heritage in rural North Essex has interiors by neoclassical architect Robert Adam (several of which feature as locations in The Crown) and large picnic-ready grounds by Capability Brown. Waterfowl come up from the widened River Cam and you can buy duck food from the store. An organic walled garden with a vine house, evergreen shrubs, cloud-like topiaries and snowdrops under the lime tree promenade add winter interest. The teahouse’s changing menu features dishes like chickpea and eggplant dhal; there’s also Walden saffron ice cream, made just down the aisle.
Open weekends and February semester, then Wednesday to Sunday, free for English Heritage members, £19/£11.40 for adults/children, english-heritage.org.uk
Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey
The National Trust’s only arboretum is already a riot of color in early spring. Extraordinarily tall trees of pink camellias dominate the flower-filled paths in February and March, and glades of daffs and primroses brighten the steep, muddy walkways leading to a reed-lined lake. The 42 bus from Godalming stops outside the gates and the cafe is open until 3pm to warm up after a walk in the woods.
Open daily, free for NT members, £11/£5.50 for adults/children, nationaltrust.org.uk