The mark of a fantastic garden is not just the number of human footfalls it attracts, but the number of pawprints, wingbeats and splashes of webbed feet or fins. The UK is truly lucky to have some incredibly beautiful gardens, and this list is only the smallest snapshot of the kind of variety on offer.
The following gardens have been chosen on the basis of research, personal experience and wildlife benefits. Time to clean out the car and plan a garden weekend roadtrip. In no particular order, here are our favourites to get you started!
1- Fast Rabbit Farm, Dartmouth
Fast Rabbit Farm is a privately-owned garden which opens between 11 and 5 each day. It is 42 acres set in two intersecting valleys, including a section of the River Black, streams, lakes and ponds. It has been lovingly cultivated since 1991 and now welcomes an abundance of wildlife. Birds, bugs, mammals, and, of course, rabbits and hares (fast rabbits!). Walk through established gardens and the wildflower meadow and tiptoe quietly to discover the animal visitors tucked away between the colourful flowers. For those who like to get close to nature, the garden welcomes naturists on their clothing-optional days, too.
2- Culzean Castle and Country Park, Ayreshire
Perched on the Ayreshire cliffs, Culzean is a mammoth site to explore. Castle aside, the gardens consist of 260ha of woodlands, swan ponds, formal gardens and the bluebell trail, not to mention the beach. Expect seabirds as well as garden wildlife. However, recent years have seen an increase in visitors, and unfortunately, in litter, as a result. This place is marvelous, so if you do visit, take litter home or even go to the next level and bring a bag with you to help out and set a good example - the wildlife will thank you!
3- The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Falmouth
These gardens had been forgotten about in the post-war period and fallen into complete disrepair and wilderness. However, the place has been lived in and treasured by people since 1200. It was only a matter of time before the unique charm of the place would be rediscovered and re-cultivated. These incredible gardens place a huge importance on wildlife and supporting the natural environment. With beehives, birdboxes, batboxes and even a tropical garden, the variety of plants and wildlife is truly magical.
These gardens have been designed with nature in mind. They opened in 2009 having been planted only the year before, and are described as 'naturalistic' gardens - guests are by no means required to stay on the woodchip paths and the flowerbeds are just waiting to be explored. Wildlife is kept happy by the huge variety of perennials as well as the pools planted with lily pads and occupied by great big carp.
These family-run gardens have enjoyed a lot of success - well-deserved considering that they have been lovingly planted and created from scratch by the family who moved into the farmhouse on the grounds back in 1975. Organic, sustainable growth is of high importance and Stillingfleet and bees, birds, rare poultry, butterflies and other insects all call the garden home. The gardens also host classes in everything from gardening to floral photography.
6- National Botanical Garden of Wales [caption id="attachment_7169" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Image: National Botanical Garden of Wales Facebook[/caption] Now for a rather larger garden, the Welsh Botanics are home to the worldâ€™s largest single-span greenhouse, as well as some forward-thinking initiatives when it comes to wildlife friendly ideas for the long-term. The garden buildings are heated using biomass, you can enjoy a butterfly house, bee garden, dipping ponds and aqualab, and, of course, thousands of plant varieties. Itâ€™s a veritable paradise. 7- Greencombe Gardens - Somerset [caption id="attachment_7171" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Image: Greencombe Gardens Website[/caption] These gorgeous gardens are entirely organic and the work of one visionary: Joan Loraine. Started in 1946, these gardens adorn a hillside and are a wildlife haven due to their organic provenance. The gardens produce, and then use, 25-30 tonnes of compost and leaf mulch per year. They open for several months in the summer and are well worth a visit. 8- Cambo Country Garden Estate - Fife [caption id="attachment_7170" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Image: Cambo Estate Facebook[/caption] Weâ€™ll finish in Scotland, as we are slightly biased! Cambo House estate sits in stunning grounds, and while the house is not open to visitors, there is more than enough to see in the gardens. For formal garden fans, the walled garden is a delight. The 70 acres of woodland have been planted with snowdrops by the family for generations, and are home to an established and thriving ecosystem of birds, bugs and animals. What do you think of our list? Please comment with your favourite wildlife gardens and let us know where you want to visit next! Bio: Sara works for Stewart Timber, a shed and timber specialist based in Scotland. We are passionate about gardens and the great outdoors. Check out our website here to find out more about our services. (www.stewart-timber.co.uk) Shop the Green&Blue range of British made products for wildlife, like bee houses, bird feeders and birdhouses on our website here.