The great outdoors

Date Posted: 19/01/2011

Take a breath of fresh air with Group Leisure’s guide to gardens, flowers shows and horticultural holidays.

Blooming developments

With trees, plants and flowers in full bloom during spring and summer, there is no better time to arrange a green-fingered group trip. English Heritage properties boast some fine country gardens, and thanks to recent investment, they’ll be growing throughout 2011. The landscape gardens of Bedfordshire’s Wrest Park are having a Heritage Lottery Fund makeover. Due for completion by August, there will be newly-restored garden areas and a visitor centre, complete with introductory exhibition, shop and cafe.

Spring will see the completion of the intricate East Parterre garden at the English Heritage property Witley Court in Worcestershire. Enclosed by box hedging, the coloured gravel scrollwork design and bedding plants are now complete. A haven for groups with an interest in garden history, Witley Court features informal woodland walks with rhododendrons, a nine-acre lake and waterfall, and the formal parterre gardens.

Middlesex’s Myddelton House Gardens, part of the 26-mile long Lee Valley Regional Park, is nearing the end of a two-year restoration project. The estate was awarded with a grant, and to date, work has been completed on the Victorian potting shed, Bowles’ original cold frames and the Peach House. Further developments include a visitor facility and Bowles Tea Room, the installation of an audio guide, and a heritage centre telling the story of the gardens.

Moving further north, Whalton Manor Gardens in Northumberland is now taking bookings for group visits in 2011. Promoted as one of the county’s secret gems, the gardens are not open to the general public, allowing exclusive access to visiting groups. Promising tailor-made visits for individual requirements, groups will be given a tour of the historic garden by owner, Penny Norton. Highlights include the Rose Garden, the Peony Border and the Hexagonal Summer House.

With an ongoing £100 million investment programme, Staffordshire’s Trentham Gardens is in its prime. The pride of Trentham is the Italian Gardens, with its herbaceous perennials, fountains, trellis walk and tearooms. The Show Gardens offer inspiration to domestic gardeners, and the Floral Labyrinth creates a planting maze. Group activities include a catamaran cruise on the lake or a train ride on the miniature railway. Group rates apply to pre-booked and pre-paid parties of 12 or more. The estate also includes a Monkey Forest and shops.

In 2011, Ness Botanic Gardens, on the Wirral Peninsular overlooking the Dee Estuary, will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of its founder. Open all year around, it is renowned for the herbaceous borders, Potager and Rock Garden. New for the season is Ness Botanische, the multi-award-winning flagship display garden created by TV presenter and garden designer Chris Beardshaw.

Garden goings-on

Green-fingered groups visiting Kent’s Lullingstone Castle and the World Garden can enjoy a host of events. The World Garden will open for the new season on the 2nd April, and throughout the month, current heir Tom Hart Dyke will be leading guided tours. Highlights include the Lullingstone Plant Fair (15th May); Plant Hunter Weekend (30th & 31st July); and the Flower Arranging Weekend (9th to 11th September).

Groups can choose from a wide variety of garden-themed tours at Beaulieu in Hampshire. The Spring Victorian Ornamental Vegetable Kitchen Garden Tour, on the 12th May, features a look around the greenhouses. The Summer Garden Tour, on specific dates in July and August, boasts an exclusive tour of the courtyard within the Montagu’s family grounds. Available throughout the summer, parties can join the Victorian gardener, Ruben Moore, as he tends the Kitchen Garden.

The National Trust’s Tyntesfield in Bristol offers garden tours throughout the warmer months. Spring Walk With The Head Gardener is a one-off event on the 15th May, where visitors can discover the estate’s spring colours, flowers and leaves. Tree Gazing is an opportunity to take a closer look at magnolias and Japanese flowering cherries on 22nd May, 24th July, 25th September and 30th October. Autumn Warden Walks, on several dates during the last week of October, is an hour to enjoy spotting fungi and seasonal colour.

There is a rich diversity of plants and animals from around the world in Oxfordshire’s Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens. Over 250 species of animals and several thousand types of plants co-exist throughout 150 acres of parkland. Groups can book the Gardeners’ Special package, which features a talk on planting at the park, followed by a cream tea served in the Orangery of the Manor House. Group rates apply, coach parking is free of charge and coach drivers receive remuneration.

Burghley House, nestling on the edge of Stamford, Lincolnshire, features the contemporary-styled Sculpture Garden and the Tudor-inspired Garden of Surprises. The house will be the setting of a flower festival from the 8th to the 13th October, when Burghley’s private South Gardens will also open. For general visits there is discounted group admission to the gardens, free coach parking, plus complimentary admission and catering for the coach driver.

Exbury Gardens, in the New Forest, opens for the season in March with an extension of the popular Herbaceous and Grasses Garden, and the creation of a Butterfly Meadow in Witcher’s Wood. The Glory of the Garden event, from 16th April to 5th June, will see 20 miles of technicolour pathways as daffodils, camellias, magnolias and primroses giving way to bluebells, rhododendrons and azaleas.

Pashley Manor Gardens, in east Sussex, offers a blend of romantic landscaping, imaginative plantings and fine old trees, fountains, springs and ponds. Whatever month you visit, there is something to delight the senses, and the special events add to the experience. Choose from the Tulip Festival (27th April to 8th May); the Special Rose Weekend (17 to 19th June); and the Kitchen Garden Weekend (24th to 26th June) amongst others. For normal garden entry, special rates apply to pre-booked groups of 15 or more, with free entry and a refreshment voucher for the coach driver.

Royal roots

Developed under the patronage of Kings and Queens and part of The Royal Landscape, The Savill Garden in Surrey was created in the 1930s. It began as a woodland garden but has since evolved into 35 acres of contemporary and classically-designed gardens and exotic woodland. Group incentives include discounted rates for parties of ten or more, a free familiarisation trip for the organiser, plus complimentary coach parking and admission for the coach driver.

Also in Surrey, Kew Gardens has many attractions across its 300 acres, including Kew Palace, first used by the royal family in 1728. Now world famous, botanical collections and rich heritage meet modern design. In spring, bluebells grace the Conservation Area, and magnolias and lilacs burst into flower. Roses bloom in June, and in high summer, the giant waterlilies dominate the Waterlily House. The Kew Explorer land train’s 40-minute narrated tour is well-suited to groups.

Britain’s gardening charity, the Royal Horticultural Society, has a history dating from 1804. Following a period of financial crisis, Prince Albert revived fortunes by arranging a new charter in 1861. Permanent garden RHS Harlow Carr is dominated by water, stone and woodland, and is very much part of the surrounding Yorkshire landscape. There is also a shop, plant centre and tea room on site. Pre-booked groups of more than ten visitors are entitled to discounted entry.

The 360-acre RHS Garden Hyde Hall estate offers something to visitors in any season. Being located in an area of Essex that has very low rainfall makes it a challenging area for gardening, and a visit will show that by choosing the right plants for the right places, it is possible to create a garden of beauty. Again, parties or ten or more can access group rates.

If you are looking for inspiration, visit RHS Garden Rosemoor’s 65-acres. Meticulously crafted and planted, it retains the essence of rural north Devon within a backdrop of steep wooded valley. It boasts both formal and informal gardens, woodland walks, water features and open spaces. Pre-booked groups of more than ten visitors are entitled to discounted entry.

Finally, as the flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society, RHS Wisley in Surrey captures the imagination with richly planted borders, rose gardens and the new state-of-the-art Glasshouse. Gifted to the society in 1903, Wisley has evolved over time into a world-class garden. A group is classed as ten or more people, and the best rate available is booked at least three days in advance.

Horticultural holidays

Brightwater Holidays is a specialist garden tour operator, offering a range of trips in Britain and overseas. A typical package is the Private Gardens of Somerset, which includes visits to Badger’s Acre, Rose Cottage, Wayford Manor, Abbey Farm, Kilver Court, Somerfoss and Holt Farm Organic Gardens. South Africa is a classic overseas excursion, featuring private gardens in the Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal, wildflower walks in the Drakensberg Mountains, and game drives in Hluhluwe.

Airedale Tours has launched a new range of garden-themed holidays for 2011 and 2012. A five-day, four-night holiday to the Rhine Valley, including a visit to the Bundesgarten Show in Koblenz, Germany, is just one draw. It’s a hugely popular national event, which will see the region come alive with colour as the town is decked out with flowers and plants. Green-fingered groups will also enjoy the itinerary visits to Sayn Culture Park Garden of Butterflies and Marksburg Castle & Botanical Garden.

With 30 years experience, Travelsphere is offering the Monet's Garden package from April to September. There are many different French styles to be found, from grand palace estates to delightful private gardens such as Monet's at Giverny. The holiday includes a tour guide, return travel by coach and ferry or Eurostar crossing, with four night’s bed and breakfast. Highlights include the region of Rouen, Monet's Garden and Monet's Japanese bridge and water lily.

Newmarket Travel Service offers coach tours to some of the most exclusive gardening events in the country. Take the opportunity to see past the walls of Buckingham Palace into the rarely seen 39-acre Buckingham Palace Gardens. The setting for the Queen's garden parties has more than 350 types of wild flowers, over 200 trees and a three-acre lake. Discover the herbaceous border, wisteria-clad summer house, Rose Garden and the Palace Tennis Court, on which King George VI and Fred Perry crossed racquets in the 1930s.

House & Garden Tours was founded by the Bowen Travel Group over 20 years ago, based on an enthusiasm for stately homes and castles with their stunning gardens. Tailor-made tours can be arranged for the Gardens of the Neapolitan Riviera package, with excursions including Capri’s Augustus Gardens, the parkland of Villa Cimbrone and the gardens of Villa Rufolo.

For groups planning ahead, look no further than the Floriade World Horticultural Expo in Holland. An event staged once every decade, with the next being held between April and October 2012, Floriade is a display of flowers, plants, trees, fruit and vegetables across a 100-acre site. Each day features a cultural programme of music, dance, literature, theatre and visual art. Tailored Travel can build your group package with confirmed pre-paid tickets and your choice of travel. Other operators already selling Floriade also include Wiltshire-based Success Tours.
Flower Shows

Harrogate Flower Shows
Spring Show, 14th – 17th April, Autumn Show, 16th to 18th September
Where: Great Yorkshire Showground, north Yorkshire
The Harrogate Flower Shows features over 100 of the UK’s leading nurseries, growing demonstrations, a cookery theatre and food marquee, show gardens and garden design, floristry and flower arranging, crafts and gifts, a photographic competition, The Garden Roadshow, and daffodil and tulip shows.

Group benefits: Advanced bookings receive a £2 discount per ticket, pre-booked tickets are available on sale or return basis, and coach drivers receive free entry.


BBC Gardeners' World Live
15th – 19th June
Where: NEC, Birmingham
The show is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Gardeners’ World magazine, with more experts, garden inspiration, shopping and entertainment than ever before. See Alan Titchmarsh or Monty Don, and the Gardeners’ World presenters live; explore specialist nurseries, wander the show gardens, learn from the experts, take part in floristry master classes and pick up tips on growing your own fruit and veg.

Group benefits: Group rates start with a minimum of ten visitors. Make the most of the organisers’ free ticket allowance and new organiser lounge.

0800-358 0058

Shrewsbury Flower Show
12th – 13th August
Where: Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Shrewsbury Flower Show is recognised as one of the top horticultural displays for professionals and amateurs alike. The event takes place in the picturesque setting of Shrewsbury’s 29-acre Quarry Park, with its sunken garden providing a colourful centrepiece.

Group benefits: One free ticket will be issued for every ten paid tickets, and the coach driver is entitled free entry into the show plus a food voucher.


Malvern Gardening Shows
Spring Show, 12th – 15th May, Autumn Show, 24th - 25th September
Where: Malvern Showground, Worcestershire
At the RHS spring show you can expect to see show gardens, a floral marquee with over 100 nurseries, talks and demonstrations from gardening experts plus shopping. Come autumn, it is a show with cookery demonstrations, gardening talks, vegetable displays, crafts and more.


RHS Chelsea Flower Show
24th – 28th May
Where: Royal Hospital, London
The pinnacle of horticultural excellence, RHS Chelsea Flower Show showcases the very best the gardening world has to offer. It demonstrates cutting-edge show gardens, inspirational plant and floral displays as well as leading experts in every field.

Group benefits: Dedicated bookings should be made via Encore Tickets.

020-7492 1616 / 0844-338 7537

RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
5th – 10th July
Where: Hampton Court Palace, Surrey
Explore show gardens and innovative displays featuring the latest ideas in ‘grow your own’ and sustainable gardening. Discover rose and plant marquees, shop your way through a wide array of quality plants and garden accessories, and drop-in on the range of expert talks and demonstrations for gardeners of all levels.

Group benefits: Parties of ten plus and 45 or more are entitled to discounts, and a free ticket is available for the group organiser and coach driver where appropriate.

020-7492 1616 / 0844-338 7537

RHS Garden Show Tatton Park
20th – 24th July
Where: Tatton Park, Cheshire
Set in one of Cheshire’s Gardens of Distinction, RHS Garden Show Tatton Park has a vibrant feel. Be inspired by visionary show gardens, designed by up-and-coming talent and established designers. Enjoy collections of plants and flowers, take time to discover arts and crafts, and pick-up expert advice.

Group benefits: Parties of ten plus are entitled to discounts, and a free ticket is available for the group organiser and coach driver where appropriate.

020-7492 1616 / 0844-338 7537

Holker Garden Festival
3rd – 5th June
Where: Holker Hall, Cumbria
The festival boasts an array of attractions including celebrity guests; displays from top horticulturalists; show gardens from quality designers; floral marquees; animal displays; craft demonstrations; over 400 exhibitors of arts, crafts, jewellery, toys and home ware; the Made in Cumbria tent with nearly 100 local food producers; and children’s activities.


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