When is the best time of year to do an English Garden Tour?

In our experience, the peak time of year for an English garden tour is June, July and September. Here's how to enjoy English gardens throughout the summer months.

Here's a month by month guide to help you decide.

  • April would be the first month I would contemplate visiting gardens, even then it can be too early if we have had a cold spring.
  • May for Azalias in those gardens with acid soils. Perennial borders will be producing leaves with a few plants such as geranuim, peony and aquilegia starting to flower.
  • Mid June into July for roses.  Perennial borders are getting going with a wide variety for plants in bloom. Flowering shrubs such as philadelphus are also in full bloom. This is also a good time to see private gardens large and small in the National Garden Scheme that are not otherwise open to the public.
  • July is the time to visit if you want to see English perennial borders at their best. 
  •  August still has a lot of colour from July but can be a bit flat and dried out if we have hot weather compared to what I call the full blast of June/July. August is also summer holiday time for the UK and gardens can be busier than at other times.
  • September is one of my favourite months to visit gardens as the later flowering species such as asters, rudbekia, dahlias etc are producing the late season orange, yellows and deeps reds we associate with the onset of autumn. Also a very good time for ornamental grasses. Weather in early September can be very mild and calm and gardens are generally quieter.
  • The latest I would suggest visiting gardens would be the middle of October. There is some colour carried over from September and some of the trees turn autumn colours but perennials are just about done now with the foliage and flowers turning brown as the gardens start the wind down for winter.

Month by Month Guide to Visiting English Gardens

England is well known for its variable weather. We are influenced by the westerly winds from the Atlantic Ocean and our proximity to Continental Europe. The Gulf Stream carries water warmed in the Bay of Mexico to our western shores and this gives a warmer climate then we would expect at our northerly latitude. All this has consequences for gardeners and visitors alike. Gardeners in England have a very gentle climate and can grown a wide range of plants from around the globe - so the English garden has something to offer at most times of year.

The aim of this guide is to help you find out what’s happening in the English garden through the year. Month by month you can see which are the highlight plants and find out what the weather might be like from the viewpoint of a visitor taking an English garden tour. It is by no means a comprehensive guide because the number of species performing in the English garden at any one time is huge – this is just a guide.

The charts below are for Poole which is a Dorset town close to the coast.  Convertion 10C = 50F and 20C = 68F

January

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

This is the coldest month of the year and the time when we notice how short our winter days can be. Sunrise is well after 8.00 in January. For gardeners, it’s a time for watching and waiting -  a good time to put food out for the garden birds. The snowdrops start to flower in January and will usually continue for four weeks or so. The snowdrops are rarely accompanied by snow in the mild climate of southern England. The yellow winter jasmine flowers and the grey tassels of Garrya eliptica decorate the wintry scene. This is a month when we rely of a backbone of evergreen shrubs and the skeleton of shrubs like Cornus that glow in the late sun.

Temperature: 36 – 45 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 4.25 in

 

February

Hellebore

Hellebore

This is the month of the hellebore, the most stunning of which is the Lenten rose or Helleborus orientalis. This elegant plant produces buds at ground level, which then extend on long stems yielding beautiful nodding flowers. Flower colours can be white, cream, and shades of pink through to deep purples depending on variety. The daffodils bloom in February and raise hopes for the coming spring. The sweet scented shrubs such as Mahonia, Daphne odora aureomarginata and Sarcococca create a delicate perfume that wafts through the garden on a sunny day. Camellias are at their best in this month and thrive in those areas of England where the soil is neutral to acid.

Temperature: 36 - 45 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 2.8 in

 

March

Camelia

Camelia

Daffodils

Daffodils

Primrose

Primrose

Pulmonaria

Pulmonaria

March is associated with strong winds that come in with the Atlantic weather. Early cherries such as Prunus subhirtella autumnalis create clouds of pink against the March skies. More spring flowers start to come such as lungwort (Pulmonaria), which flower in white, pink and dark blue varieties in my garden. The narcissi in all their variety start to bloom in March and suddenly there are flowers in the garden to gather and fill vases in the house! The native primrose flowers in March and fills banks and roadsides with gentle yellow, sweet-scented blooms. If you do not weed your Dorset garden too vigorously, primroses will seed themselves into all sorts of nooks and crannies. In this month we often have a cold spell linked, in weather lore, to the flowering of the blackthorn, a native hedgerow species. When the ‘blackthorn winter’ fades, the sun warms the soil ready to start planting the kitchen garden.

Temperature: 37 -50 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 2.4 in

 

April

Luly of the valley

Luly of the valley

Tulips in a meadow

Tulips in a meadow

fritillary

fritillary

More bulbs put on a show in April and many gardens are a beautiful picture of spring renewal at this time of year. Yellow is a predominant colour with Erythronium, Fritillariea imperialis, Kerria japonica and Doronicum the first perennial to flower. Sweetly perfumed lily of the valley comes in April and a fine show of tulips can be expected wherever you go. The flowering trees come into their own this month with cherries and Amelanchier putting on a show. The very first rose of the season flowers now – Rosa banksia Lutea is a tall climbing rose with clusters of tiny lemon-yellow flowers and its worth going out of your way to find one! The trees and hedges of the English countryside start to come into leaf.

Temperature: 41 – 55 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 2.4 in

May

Stourhead landscape garden

Stourhead landscape garden

May is the month of the rhododendron and azalea and there are specialist gardens on acid soils where you can see a fine show of colour. Things start to happen in the herbaceous border and flowers are seen on Aquilegia, Paeonia, Hemerocallis, alliums and Papaver orientale – to name but a few!  The lilac comes in May as does Wisteria and the early Clematis.  Rosa Canary Bird sports pretty single yellow roses on its arching stems. All the garden and countryside trees will be in leaf by the end of May and the variety of shades of green is a pleasure to behold. This is the month to visit the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower show in the third week of the month. The Malvern Spring Gardening Show takes place early in the month against the backdrop of the Malvern Hills

Temperature: 46 - 60 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 2.9in

bluebell woods

bluebell woods

rhododendron

rhododendron

wisteria

wisteria

June

In June the English garden is in full swing. This is the month for roses and time to visit a garden specialising in roses such as Mottisfont Abbey. The flowering shrubs Deutzia and Philadelphus make good foils for the roses. The herbaceous perennials are at their most prolific in this month and you will see delphiniums, foxgloves, geraniums and irises and much more. The penstemons start to flower now and continue into the autumn. More clematis bloom and are joined by Solanum crispum and the richly scented honeysuckles. The days are at their longest in this month and in southern England it is still daylight at 10.00pm. In June the BBC Gardeners World Live show takes place in Birmingham.

Temperature:52 - 66 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 2.5 in.

roses at national trustmotisfont

roses at national trustmotisfont

national garden scheme

national garden scheme

Rose arch at national trust motisfont

Rose arch at national trust motisfont

July

In July the days get warmer and some quite hot days (over 75 Fahrenheit) are to be expected. Delphiniums continue to put on a show thought the roses will be fading. Other plants coming to their best include, the annual Cosmos, the dahlias which will continue well into the autumn, Echinacae, Phlox and Agapanthus. The beautiful golden oat grass flowers and sets seed along with many of the ornamental grass species. Hardy Fuchsias start to flower and the tubs and containers that have been planted with tender annuals will be looking superb. On 15 July falls St Swithens Day – whatever weather falls on this day will be repeated on the subsequent 40 days. This is the month to visit the Royal Horticultural Society Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in West London or RHS Tatton Park Show in the North of England.

Temperature: 54 – 68 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 3.5 in.

Harold Peto garden at iford manor

Harold Peto garden at iford manor

hydrangea walk abbotsbury garden

hydrangea walk abbotsbury garden

perrenial border forde abbey

perrenial border forde abbey

August

border at cothay manor

border at cothay manor

August is the hottest month in the English gardening calendar and it marks the end of the summer and the beginning of the autumn season. Hardy annuals such as Cosmos and Nicotiana will still be flowering freely and will be joined by some of the more autumnal characters such as Sedum, Helenium and Hydrangea. Dahlias start to flower and make good cutting flower until the first frost.

Temperature: 55 - 70 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 3.8 in.

dahlias at forde abbey

dahlias at forde abbey

summer border at forde abbey

summer border at forde abbey

mixed border at highclere castle garden

mixed border at highclere castle garden

September

The days start to cool in September and the month is often characterised by calm sunny days with a quality of light that makes the autumn garden pleasing. The repeat flowering roses will have a second flush of flowers in these cooler days and the hues of many different asters start to make an impression. The stronger oranges of autumn start to appear from Rudbeckias and Knifophias. Some Hebes flower again and provide valuable food for butterflies. Many half-hardy annuals continue to make a valuable contribution to the scene. The first three weeks of the month are an excellent time to visit the English garden.

Temperature:52 - 65 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 3.9 in.

knoll garden border

knoll garden border

harold peto garden at iford manor

harold peto garden at iford manor

harold peto garden at iford manor

harold peto garden at iford manor

dahlias at forde abbey

dahlias at forde abbey

October

the pantheon and autumn acer at stourhead landscape garden

the pantheon and autumn acer at stourhead landscape garden

There are some real specialist plants that put on an amazing show even as late as October, when day-length is shrinking and the air feels fresher and cooler. Cyclamen hederifolium produces attractive flowers at ground level and the bulb Nerine bowdenii will flower all month if situated in its preferred position against a sunny wall. The Schizostylis cocineum, a native of South Africa and known as the Kaffir lily, produces a series of flowers in shades of pink and orange along a slender stem and will flower until the first frost – which just might come in October! The trees in garden and countryside adopt their autumn colours in this month and it’s a time of real beauty.

Temperature: 46 – 57 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 4.3 in.

November

autumn acer colour

autumn acer colour

If the weather has been mild then many of the stars of October will still be producing colour in the garden. November is though, the nadir of the gardening season when the days are shortening quickly and there is not much happening in the garden. Its time to tidy up, leaving some dead stems and seed-heads for the birds to feed on over the winter. Some early Camellia varieties may start to flower in sheltered spots and Arum italicum pictum will start to product the attractive leaves beloved by flower arrangers.

Temperature: 41 - 50 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall :  4.6 in.

church house late autumn garden

church house late autumn garden

December

the stour valley, dorset in flood

the stour valley, dorset in flood

December is another quiet month in the English garden. The days are short and the weather cool and wet. It’s a time to think about Christmas and being indoors. The careful gardener will have planted her garden with plants that will help decorate the house and it’s a joy to eschew all the commercial trimmings of the season in favour of leaves from the garden.

Temperature: 37 - 47 Fahrenheit.

Rainfall : 4.3in.