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Hampton Court Gardens, High Fidelity and glow-in-the-dark aliens

Posted by Dawn Isaac on 02 Nov 2009 at 01:16 PM

Hampton Court Gardens 

I'm not very good at top 10 lists. I didn't even manage my list of five celebrities that, you know, you're allowed to, well... didn't you see that episode of Friends? Anyway, I only ever get as far as George Clooney and John Cusack before I run out of inspiration. I think, as Nick Hornby ably demonstrated in High Fidelity, lists are really a boy thing. Still, if I did manage a list of top 10 gardens for kids, last week I would have found a new entry - Hampton Court Gardens.

Firstly, I should clear up any confusion.  I'm talking about Hampton Court Castle in Herefordshire, not the great Palace by the Thames.  Although, the latter is also very lovely, I have been rather embarrassed to return having once driven the wrong way out of the grounds when helping set up a show garden.  What I really love about the British public though is everyone is far too polite to comment on a Renault Clio blithely driving through the long borders...

Anyway, back to Herefordshire. Hampton Court Gardens are part of a rather splendid 15th century property, although one that has been so carefully restored, it does look a little like a Disney palace in places. The gardens were replanted back in the mid 1990s and are beautifully designed, carefully maintained and, most of all, fun.

Like its more famous cousin, the most exciting part for the kids has to be the maze.  However, I will see you your maze, and raise you a four doored Gothic tower at the centre (oh yes, that's right, you have to find the only door that opens) complete with underground tunnel leading to a sunken garden, with a waterfall you can walk behind (change of clothes vital especially when you have children who appear to think 'how wet can you get' is a great game).

Needless to say, last week we had to visit the garden twice and go through the tunnel about 10 times.  Warning though, the tunnel seemed to have no lighting at all and I was rather grateful that the aliens on Oscar's space-inspired raincoat lit up in the dark.

From a more horticultural perspective there is a walled vegetable garden with all manner of sunflower walkways, runner bean arches, meadow pathways and weird and wonderful looking edibles, plus an ornamental walled garden, 200 year old wisteria tunnel and a Dutch garden.  There are also substantial grounds with some beautiful trees for general running around mayhem and a river with bridge for playing 'Pooh leaves' (our own autumnal variation on the traditional game).

I even liked their signage...

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