With Chelsea and other famous horticultural shows going virtual in lockdown, we decided to take a tour of the most exceptional UK spa gardens, which will all be in their finest fettle now. Picture the purple lavender in bloom, roses rich with scent and colour, herbs and vegetables ready to pluck.
As the wellness industry recognises the health benefits of nature as well as the importance of sustainability and green living, more spas are taking the outside in (with glass walls overlooking bucolic scenery) or the inside out (outdoor spa facilities allowing you to bathe al fresco).
Spas in country hotels may have access to the kitchen garden, providing fresh and sustainable produce from plot to plate in your spa restaurant. Some spas use ingredients from their gardens in treatments. Forest bathing, or simply immersing ourselves in our green spaces, mindfully drinking in the scenery, is said to be good for our mental health, too.
While many modern spas are wowing us with spa gardens – beautiful outdoor pools enveloped in nature, such as Carden Park and South Lodge – here we are focusing on the kinds of gardens that will delight horticulturalists as well as spa-istas. Without further ado, here are eight of our favourite spas with beautiful gardens.
This modern health spa is set among the dreamily romantic English Heritage Listed Thorpe Hall Gardens, 12 acres (within 120 acres of grounds) designed by Lady Byng almost 100 years ago. JM Barrie used to write in the summer house by what is now known as Peter Pan Walk, and another summerhouse is named after regular guest Rudyard Kipling. Queen Mary and Winston Churchill also loved the gardens and have summer houses named in their honour, too.
Today, you can roam around the gardens en robe after enjoying treatments or as part of your health retreat. Wander along woodland paths lined with snowdrops or bluebells in season, over bridges, through sunken gardens and rest beside one of many lakes and watch the wildlife. Slip off your shoes and feel the grass between your pampered toes. Look out for the Early Spotted Orchid, the Green-winged Orchid and large-leaved Helleborine.
At the end of a long, arrow-straight drive lined with 400 towering lime and beech trees – you can imagine arriving in your horse-drawn carriage – Lucknam Park is your quintessential manor house country pile. The gardens spread over five acres within an estate of 500 acres. The Walled Garden dates back to the 1830s and contain tall sculpted yew hedges, low box hedges and houses the spa as well as a listed Dovecote from the late 18th Century.
The Rose Garden, planted in 1996, is based on the design of a French courtyard, with espalier fruit trees and a small pool in the centre. There is a formal lavender garden on the west lawn. The Arboretum, which can be viewed from the outdoor spa pool, is filled with 200 rare trees. The Old Vinery was restored in 2012, containing over 30 varieties including strawberries, rhubarb, runner beans, brassica crops and edible flowers.
Rudding Park has a quadruple-whammy garden-wise: the immaculate estate gardens that surround the hotel; a spa garden on the roof; a woodland glade where a shepherd’s hut doubles up as a treatment room, listening to bird song and immersing yourself in the forest; and a kitchen garden with over 500 varieties of edible plants. There are 300 acres of landscaped gardens and woodland to get your shinrin-yoku (Japanese for forest bathing) fix. Guests can follow the Kitchen Garden map to identify the ingredients.
The striking modern planting around the Clocktower Terrace was designed by Gardener’s Question Time regular Matthew Wilson, who also designed the Roof Top Spa Garden. Here, guests can recline among the salvias, or bubble away in the infinity edged hydropool overlooking the formal gardens and trees.
With its natural wellbeing ethos, beautiful forest scenery and Raw & Cured raw food café, no wonder Herb House at Lime Wood country house hotel is a popular bolthole for the urban-weary spa-ista. The ozone-treated lap swimming pool overlooks the gardens, while the rooftop decked herb garden – or Herbery – overlooking the majestic New Forest trees doubles as a fragrant yoga studio. Most of the herbs grown here make their way into smoothies and juices at the spa cafe and restaurant.
It’s all about the forest at Herb House, with forest walks, pavilions and forest lodges in the grounds for guests who totally want to escape into nature. The gardens, which also boast a lake with an island, are designed to complement the arboreal setting, with the focus on sustainable living and bringing the outside in.
The Greenhouse, a traditional Victorian glasshouse, grows the fresh ingredients for the café, HH&Co restaurant, from pot to plate. It also hosts cookery classes and events amid the lemon and olive trees and herbs, fruits and vegetables.
Guests at Barnsley House can wander among the splendid gardens designed in the 1950s by legendary horticulturalist Rosemary Verey, who has also worked with the Prince of Wales and Sir Elton John. Cast your eye over perfectly manicured lawns across topiary and flowering boarders; stroll down stone pathways lined with miniature sculptured hedges, or beneath the leafy canape of the Laburnum Avenue. There is much to be impressed by, including the exquisitely detailed mini knot garden, the statues by Simon Verity and the neat vegetable patches which supply the kitchen.
The spa is set in a walled garden away from the hotel, surrounded by trees and ornate shrubs. Enjoy the outdoor hydrotherapy pool, enveloped in nature, and the botanical elements from the garden that echo throughout the spa – indoor plants, tables crafted from tree trunks, and lavender n the treatment beds. Relax in the spa lounge and soak up the enchanting views of the surrounding countryside.
Infamous for the Walled Garden – the setting for many notorious parties and political scandals in the sixties: now part of the renovated luxury spa – there’s so much more to delight glamorous gardeners at Cliveden. One of the garden’s most dramatic features, the Parterre has 16 triangular beds lined with box hedging and yew topiary, topped by a sweeping semi-circular bed: each season the planting scheme is painstakingly refreshed by a team of gardeners. It’s so impressive, the Astors would pitch a tent with two open sides in the summer so guests could enjoy the view.
When the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland purchased Cliveden in 1849, they worked with Head Gardener John Fleming to create the gardens that have become famous in horticultural circles the world over and is now part of the National Trust. One of the first to be transformed was The Water Garden with its large lily pond filled with Koi carp, formal Japanese planting and a gold and green Chinese pagoda. There is also The Long Garden, The Round Garden and The Rose Garden and The Cliveden Maze -- two metres high with 500 metres of path to lose yourself in.
The herb gardens at this Norfolk countryside hotel on the edge of the Sandringham Estate are famous – they’ve been on TV, featured in calendars, magazines and books such as Crabtree and Evelyn’s Fragrant Herbal. Enthusiasts can come and admire over 400 varieties of herbs, including rare medicinal varieties such as goats rue and a wild legume that was used to treat the plague (let’s hope it doesn’t give Donald Trump any ideas…). The gardeners here pick culinary herbs daily to flavour and garish the seasonal dishes served in the hotel restaurant: a summer herb salad here might contain sweet cicely, salad burnet, lovage, herb flowers and oriental mizuna. There are also ancient orchards and working kitchen gardens set amid 300 acres of gardens and woodland: pop over to Houghton and Oxburgh gardens nearby on your visit.
Horticultural spa-istas should book in for the Herb Garden Signature Treatment, designed in collaboration with Elemental Herbology and using Congham herbs. Take an aromatic walk in the gardens after to savour the scents: help yourself to an apple from the orchard. Make sure you enjoy the outdoor hot tub overlooking the orchards and fields beyond: the perfect spot to watch wildlife.