If you have never been to the Chelsea Flower Show or the Cotswolds & Wales, read on if you want to check this off on your bucket list. For a full rundown on the recent Chelsea Flower Show, you need to check out my post.
I will be leading a tour of public and private gardens that are rarely seen, in May of 2018. Last year, I had a group of 29 like-minded garden fanatics with me in the UK and we had a fabulous trip touring many of the large established public gardens and some private ones. In 2018, I wanted to mix it up and include some smaller private gardens that aren’t on the usual garden tour schedule. I relied on my friend Victoria Summerley, author of Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, to give me tips on where to go to for under-the-radar gardens as well as her own wonderful garden near Bibury. For a full itinerary of my tour, go to my ‘Trips‘ tab.
Organizing a garden tour is like an air traffic controller; There are a lot of moving parts. So many gardens are open different times of the days or week, finding a convenient hotel for a good price, and discovering different activities to liven up the garden tour regimen is all part of the planning process. For example, planning to visit Highgrove, which is the private gardens of Their Royal Highnesses,The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, is always problematic as they publish their open days in January, months after my schedule is finalized. So, I set it up and try to hit one of their open days. But plenty of alternatives are available everywhere if I am not lucky. It always works out in the end.
London gardens and garden center visits are included with The Chelsea Flower Show for garden-obsessed people. The Garden Museum, The London Eye , Petersham’s Nursery in Covent Garden, The Chelsea Physic Garden, and of course the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Hampton Court Palace- are all on the schedule.
The Chelsea Physic Garden was established as the Apothecaries’ Garden in London, in 1673. Referring to the science of healing, it is among the oldest botanical gardens in the UK, after the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, which was founded in 1621 (which is on our itinerary) and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh founded in 1670. As stated on their website, the Chelsea Physic Garden is, “Tucked away beside the Thames, and is a celebration of the beauty and importance of plants. A unique living collection of around 5,000 different edible, useful, medicinal and historical plants is contained within its sheltering walls. This hidden gem is also a peaceful green oasis – come and enjoy a relaxing stroll and lunch or afternoon tea at the Tangerine Dream Café”. A sheltered microclimate in the UK, it even has an outdoor grapefruit tree!
Abbey House Gardens
This description of Abbey House Gardens piqued my interest: “With 1300 years of history, the first King of England buried somewhere in the garden, two saints thrown down the well, and now one of the great gardens of the world. The spirit of the place shines through and could be the best garden visit you ever make.” Built next to a twelfth century abbey church, this five acre garden appears embraced by the surrounding gardens which includes tapestries of colorful hedging.
Oxford-A University City
The Oxford Botanical Gardens is included with free time to explore the interesting streets of Oxford that has inspired many literary and cinematic works. Places steeped in history abound in this interesting medieval town. The Botanical Gardens, located down the appropriately named Rose Lane is an oasis of stone-walled peace in the heart of the city. Emphasis here is on traditional herbal remedies and their use in modern medicine.
The atmospheric, golden-stone colleges, are clustered around medieval streets and you can peek into many of them on foot.
A trip to visit English gardens isn’t complete without visiting Stratford-upon- Avon, the birthplace of the Bard. Shakespeare’s Birthplace allows you to visit the house where the world’s most famous playwright was born and grew up and you can discover more about his early years. For garden watching, there is a formal Tudor Knot Garden, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, contemporary landscaping with sculptures at Shakespeare’s New Place, and ancient Mulberry Trees (rumored to be of the same lineage as the original that stood during Shakespeare’s time). The mulberry fruit is used to create Mulberry Gin, available in Shakespeare’s Birthplace gift shop.
Wales has some beautiful gardens and the people there are just as garden-mad as the English. A world-famous garden home to National Collections and Champion Trees, Bodnant Gardens has always been on my list to see. Featured as one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK, I am finally going to make it. Powis Castle is on our list which has stunning vistas and terraces. Described on the National Trust website: “The world-famous garden, overhung with clipped yews, shelters rare and tender plants. Laid out under the influence of Italian and French styles, it retains its original lead statues and an orangery on the terraces. High on a rock above the terraces, the castle, originally built circa 1200, began life as a medieval fortress”.
David Austin Roses
On our way to Wales in the UK, we will stop at David Austin Roses plant center. According to their website: “In the early 1950s David Austin set out to create a more beautiful rose. Sixty years on, this simple objective remains”. The winner of 23 Gold Medal Chelsea Flower Show awards, I am very excited to visit their rose gardens, plant center, and tea room.
Considered to be one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, over 700 varieties of roses are planted here in just two acres. Free ranging informal roses are enclosed within neatly clipped evergreen hedges. The Renaissance Garden is composed of all English roses and the Long Garden which contains old roses is the central focus with all the other gardens leading from it.
After our visit to Wales, we will continue to the Peak district of England to visit the newly remodeled Chatsworth House, and back to the London area to see Hatfield House and gardens, built on the site of Elizabeth I’s home and home of the famous Rainbow Portrait. St Tiggywinkles, an animal rescue organization, is also on our list to see with a tour of the animals, like hedgehogs and badgers being rehabilitated. This is just a small sampling of all the sites that we will be visiting. For more information about prices, etc., go to Trips.