Now is the best time of the year to live in Britain, especially in the countryside. Yellow National Gardens Scheme signs are popping up everywhere, inviting us to gardens great and small.

The cow parsley shrouds a host of wildflowers in the verges and the hawthorn coats the hedges in its frothy May blossom. Trout are dappling the waters of the local chalkstreams as they sip insects from the water’s film. My drive east from Hampshire to Gravetye Manor in West Sussex for one of COUNTRY LIFE’s garden tours recalled the days when my parents took us on trips simply to admire the beauty of the countryside. The South Downs stood proud and ancient, but the bright, new leaves on the chalkloving beeches cheered the melancholy landscape.

Tom Coward, a regular contributor to this magazine, has been at Gravetye for just four years. He arrived at a time when the famous garden of William Robinson was in desolation. The transformation is extraordinary; a world-class garden reappeared in less than 1,000 days.

It demonstrates what is possible. I drove home rather quicker than I went, so that I could spend the sunny evening in my own little garden. But where to begin?

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