25th Anniversary Garden tour to England

Sep 11th, 2007, 10:11 AM
Original Poster
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25th Anniversary Garden tour to England

In June of 2009, we will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. My husband is a professional gardener and horticulturist and has always wanted to go to England to see the gardens. I am less into it but as long as there's a tea shop and a novel, I will be fine. So I'm asking for your recommendations in advance. We are not usually the group tour type, but I think this would work well for us so that my husband can just relax and enjoy the scenery. We will not be taking the kids. We can probably do 10 days give or take and I am interested in package tours from the US. We live in Oregon so would be flying from Portland, Oregon. The time of year is somewhat flexible but I am thinking early September after the kids go back to school. I have looked at a few websites but know that you Fodorites will help me cut to the chase. Thanks in advance for any help you can give me. We will need to get our passports and I know that takes time these days.
oregonmom is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 10:20 AM
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Perhaps the Brits can help, but I would think that September is late to see gardens at their best. Wouldn't a lot of things be wilting or done by then? I toured some gardens there in June, and the flowers were glorious.
Cimbrone is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 10:24 AM
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hi, oregonmom,

well, early congrats to you both - and what a great idea.

you've certainly allowed yourselves a good long time for the planning - it might even be long enough to get your passports sorted.

as i live in UK i haven't personally taken any of these tours, but I know there are a lot of them, as i just googled.

you may want to think whether you want to concentrate on gardens or to see other stuff as well; whether you want to move around or concentrate on one area.

for example, if you stayed in the south-east of england, say in Tunbridge Wells, you would have within 25 miles or so any number of beautiful gardens - off the top of my head - Hever,
sissinghurst, Chartwell, leeds castle, wakehurst place, plus the possibility of day trips to Rye, Dover, London, [for Kew] , Wisley, etc.etc.

If you came west to Cornwall, there are the major gardens of trelissick, trerice, trengwainton, & trewithen, plus the chance to take the helicopter from Penzance to Tresco for the sub-tropical gardens there.

all these can be done as part of a tour, or privately.

happy planning,

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 10:27 AM
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oops, i didn't read that too well - i only picked up the time of year from the other poster.

it's true that gardens in the Uk can be at their best in June - and in Cornwall somewhat earlier than that. But september is often a lovely month for weather - this year we are having an indian summer after a pretty dire June/July/August.

the major school hols are from mid July to end august, so from that point of view, June or september would be fine.

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 10:36 AM
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June would be a good time to visit, with the herbaceous borders and roses coming into their prime. May is a good time for rhododendrons and azaleas. September is a little late but there will still be things to see - the borders at Powis Castle, for instance, are still worth seeing into October with the added bonus of autumn colours, if you are lucky. Many castles and stately homes also have beautiful gardens, so you may find an alternative interest - and most have tea rooms!

There are many gardens worth visiting and I wouldn't know which ones your tours might visit. If you don't mind driving, it would be easy enough to put your own tour together, with a bit of help from the people on here!
Maria_H is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 10:45 AM
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just very short comments right now - will be back later. I'd strongly recommend June into very early July for your trip. The gardens will be fine in Sept - but at their glorious peak in mid-late June. British/European kids are still in school at that time so crowds are not an issue.

There are many good "garden-centric" tours in the UK - but I personally would do it independently. A 10-day guided tour will rush you like you wouldn't believe. If your husband is a gardener - he would HATE having to leave Sissinghurst, or Great Dixter, or Hidecote Manor or Stourhead, or RHS Wisley after maybe an hour's visit.

W/ just 10 days I'd stick to mainly the southern part of England. A reasonable driving tour of 10 days could cover Kent/East Sussex, a bit of the west country including Stourhead/Bath, and then Cotswolds. Or w/ a bit of a stretch into N Wales for Bodnant.

You'd miss all the glorious gardens of the north (Fountains Abbey/Studley Royal, Alnwick, Crathes, Drumond Castle, Inverewe, etc) but that should be a trip of it's own.
janisj is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 10:47 AM
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oh - and w/ a copy of the "Yellow Book" in hand - you could also visit all kinds of private gardens from small village cottage gardens to grand manor house stately grounds.
janisj is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 11:04 AM
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oregonmom: I can only relate our 'Garden Tour' some three years ago now.
We started in London and payed our second visit to the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. Unfortunately the Rhodedendrons & Azaeleas were all but finished but there were a few interesting trees in flower. The best time is April for this garden.
Nevertheless it's a lovely stroll.

Next was the main reason for going in the first place and that was to attend The Chelsea Flower Show. (My second time but husbands first)
Wondeful just wonderful - we are members of the RHS so get to go on the second day!

We payed a visit to Queen Mary's Rose Garden but the blooms in early June were yet to burst into flower. They have a lovely restaurant/Tearoom in the grounds.

Hopping across to Paris & via the Eurostar we called on all the famous gardens there (fabulous!)leaving by road to meander through the Loire Valley and onwards to the coast leaving St.Malo for Guernsey. By this time the gardens were bristling with flowers and we were lucky to be there for their Annual Garden Show - quite by accident!

Next we flew to Exeter and used the train down to Fowey in Cornwall. We did the main attractions being The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project.

A quick visit to relatives in Cardiff and we were back in London to re-visit Queen Mary's Rose Garden in Regents Park which was in full spate! No-one should ever miss this magical place and the beautiful gardens leading off it.

Altogether, a whirlwind month of gardens and flowers, trees and shrubs in their finest attire!

tod is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 11:56 AM
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Thanks for all the quick responses. I should perhaps give a few more details. We have never been to England before. That is one of the reasons I am researching so early. I have done some reading but the list of gardens is so overwhelming, I thought an already established tour might help us to get started. We can probably do some driving around, but DH gets stressed out doing so. I know we could take the train to many areas. I personally want to go to Cornwall, see the top London sites, and do some gardens. It also seems like the tours are pretty expensive, but I know that's the way it is in the UK. So if we could stay in one central location and do day trips to gardens round about, that might work instead of an organized tour. I picked September because my husband is swamped with work from March until then and our own kids would be able to stay home with Grandma while going to school. We could possibly do it in late May/early June before our kids get out of school but it's more difficult for my husband to get away.
oregonmom is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 02:56 PM
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hi, again, oregonmom,

I'm pleased that you're thinking about Cornwall. nowhere is too far from anywhere else here, so you could easily stay in one place and tour round. Truro is a good centre or there are some very nice hotels in the Falmouth area. some do garden specials which give you money off entry to the main ones.

you could try starting with www.cornwalltouristboard.co.uk.

If you were flying into London, you could do Kew and whatever else there, then Wisley on the way out of London, and a few more on the way [look at the www.nationaltrust.org.uk website for ideas].

alternatively, as suggested by Tod, get the train down to the west country - but I would strongly suggest Truro or Falmouth rather than Fowey as it's lovely but rather out of the way.

September is good from the weather point of view, but the gardens are not as spectacular as in april-June. I'm sure you'd have a great time.

do come back to me with any other queries,

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 03:06 PM
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I have rarely seen such well put together advice on this forum -

cant add much more other than try get to at least one Capability Brown landscaped garden - not as immediately stunning as some of the other gardens but it is stunning to see how he totally transformed landscapes with the unlimited patronage of his clients.
markrosy is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 03:16 PM
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Just another quick comment - seems I'm just about out the door each time I see your thread.

One problem - well, two problems w/ staying in London and doing day trips and using the trains. 1) London is absolutely the most expensive place in the country for accomodations. So using it for a base to tour gardens in the country is fairly counter-productive. And 2) many of the most fabulous gardens are in rural/country locations. They are usually not on rail lines.

Using maybe 3 bases for 3 days each plus a couple of days in London would not require driving miles and miles each day. For example -- a B&B somewhere in western Kent would place you w/i a very short drive of Sissinghurst, Scotney Castle, Great Dixter, Hever, Chartwell and many other fabulous properties.

Same in Cornwall - a well located B&B in maybe eastern Cornwall or western Devon would leave you reasonable drives to MANY gardens in the SW.

And a place in the central Cotswolds would put you close to Hidecote Manor, Kiftsgate Court, Sezincote, Westonbirt Arboretum, Snowshill etc etc.
janisj is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 04:39 PM
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Try to go when the Chelsea Flower Show is on--gardener's heaven.
Underhill is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 08:37 PM
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This website has a map (Garden finder) which is almost overwhelming but since it is broken into smaller areas (Kent, for example) you could use it in conjunction with the descriptions of the gardens to plan an itinerary. In Kent you could stay at The Old Parsonage BnB in Frant near Royal Tunbridge Wells and travel to Sissinghurst, Penshurst Place, Great Dixter, Hever Castle, Chartwell, Ightham Mote and others relatively easily. You would, of course, need a rental car.

There is also a list of tour companies and their specialties. Most of these tours are based in the UK.


There is also some good info at this site. In addition to gardens, you can get a list of cathedrals, castles.


If the Chelsea flower show isn't at a convenient date, check the dates for Hampton Court Flower Show. In any event Kew Gardens should be a must.

Two of my favorite places are Westonbirt Arboretum and Stourhead

jsmith is offline  
Sep 11th, 2007, 08:43 PM
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Hearing Stourhead - brings back memories of our first trip to England in 1977! I still remember how beautiful it was!
nanabee is offline  
Sep 12th, 2007, 01:28 AM
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oregonmom - We used local transport for our whole trip EXCEPT the drive from Chartre via the Loire Valley to St.Malo. You can't drive in Cornwall unless you are prepared to pass oncoming vehicles with only inches to spare!! We thought the bus drivers were unbelievable the way they handled the traffic in those teeny weeny little lanes they call roads!
To get to The Lost Gardens & Eden Project we caught a little ferryboat from Fowey (pronounced FOY) and then by bus.

If you get hold of a copy of The EyeWitness Guide to Great Britain you will find the MIDLANDS GARDEN TOUR on page 306. I would love to do this next visit! It says:
"The charming Cotswold stone buildings perfectly complement the lush gardens for which this region is famous. This picturesque route from Warwick to Cheltenham is designed to show every type of garden from tiny cottage plots, brimming with bell-shaped flowers and hollyhocks, to the deer-filled ladscaped parks of stately homes. The route follows the escarpment of the Cotswold Hills, taking in spectacular scenery and some of the prettiest Midlands Villages on the way!"
The tour length is 35miles. I don't know if this is possible by coach tour which you seem prefer than driving yourself.
I am sure you will discover just the right garden visit as you have lots of time to prepare - good girl, well done.
London alone will keep you fully occupied in May/June/July.
Lots of luck.
tod is offline  
Sep 12th, 2007, 02:41 PM
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hi, again, o'mom,

tod - "You can't drive in Cornwall unless you are prepared to pass oncoming vehicles with only inches to spare!! We thought the bus drivers were unbelievable the way they handled the traffic in those teeny weeny little lanes they call roads!"

funny - I do it all the time!

glad you learnt how to pronounce Fowey.

If you stayed in Falmouth, you could get to a lot of gardens and other nice places by boat, with possibly a coach trip to heligan and Eden.

but there are a lot of other good ideas here too.

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Sep 13th, 2007, 05:12 AM
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Gosh Annhig, I really admire you! We do drive on the same side of the road as the British (here in Africa) but I think oregonmom would find it difficult being from the US.
I think its all down to what you are used to - we don't have any well travelled roads where a vehicle has to pull over and just squeeze past. Whew, I held my breath everytime! Now, don't get me wrong - not ALL the roads are like that but just too many are! Ha,ha! Cornwall is just lovely and I totally loved Fowey.
tod is offline  
Sep 13th, 2007, 06:40 AM
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If your husband is a pro, he'll still get a lot out of seeing the "bones" of the gardens in September-- more than the average civvy. It's not all about flowers. Though there will certainly still be those.

I have to second, third and fourth the bad news that it's virtually impossible to do this without a car. For example: To get to Sissinghurst by public transport you have to take a train, then a bus, THEN walk through the woods for a mile or so. (Or take a cab, or ...)

Gardens were made at people's country homes, intentionally far from towns and public transportation.

Gardens are often open for just an afternoon or two a week, particularly in the shoulder season. There may be just one bus or train every hour or every couple of hours. And details like this are almost never made clear in the visitor information. You think driving is stressful? Imagine spending 3 or 4 hours trying to get somewhere you really want to go, and finding it closed once you get there.
It's happened to me too often. So now I've determined the British Tourist Board is determined that I should contribute to global climate change, and I'll only rent a car now.

With a GPS, (yours or rented) navigation is easier and you can focus on driving. It gets easier.

I've been to many of the gardens mentioned here. The only one I'd give a miss is the Eden Project. Stick to Heligan. Cornwall is lovely. Sounds like the foundations of a great anniversary plan!
Bluehour is offline  
Sep 13th, 2007, 09:22 AM
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tod - don't be such a wuss

Hundreds of thousands of tourists manage "wrong side of the road" driving in the UK every year w/o any mishaps. Some folks do have problems. But the vast majority do just fine. Maybe you should have tried it for yourselves.
janisj is offline  

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