Flora Garden Tours

Tours of Gardens in England 2020

Flora Garden Tours guide you to the finest gardens in Britain. As well as the famous English stately homes and gardens the tours visit lesser known but lovely ones, some rarely open to the public. The tour director and leader is Dr Barbara Sommerville, a biologist of international repute who has a deep interest in the history of gardening, landscape and architecture.

A view of the lily pond of the Royal Hoeticultural Society gardens at Wisley, Surrey, UKLily pond and house, Wisley

Upcoming tours

Spring in the Lake District and Yorkshire Tour April 2020

Flora Garden tours are pleased to offer a unique opportunity to visit the Harrogate Spring Flower Show on their Yorkshire tour. This is one of the most popular events for those interested in the Great Gardens of England. It takes place in the historic Spa town of Harrogate renowned by the Victorians and 20C invalids for the large range of chemically different spring waters arising from the complex local geology. It is also the home of the famous Betty’s Tea Shops. On the first day of the Yorkshire tour we visit both of these, the tea shop and the Harrogate Spring Flower Show.

The second day of the Yorkshire Tours we visit Harlow Carr Gardens founded in 1946 by the Northern Horticultural Society as a botanical garden to grow plants suited to the cooler conditions of the north of England and in the afternoon we visit one of the best known and most extensive monastic ruins, Fountains Abbey. There is a huge bonus here for lovers of Great Gardens in England because adjoining the ruins are the Studley Royal Water Gardens complete with lakes, classical monuments and sculptures and all surounded by wooded hillsides. All was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1986.

On the third day we visit Ripon Cathedral founded by St. Wilfred in the mid 7th century whose crypt still exists under the 12C church. It has later famous carved misericords depicting folk-law and rural scenes such as a mermaid combing her hair and a fox making off with a goose. We spend the afternoon at Newby Hall; certainly one of the best Yorkshire gardens in an adyllic position beside the River Ure and its 17C grade 1 listed house designed by Christopher Wren is open too.

On the fourth day we move West into the Pennine Hills, the ‘back-bone’ of England to visit a private garden and then lunch at idyllic Bolton Abbey. This is the end of the Yorkshire Tour so those only doing that part will be driven back to Harrogate while the rest of us will continue west on the Lake District Tours to visit Levens Hall in Cumbria. This unique garden has the only 17C yew topiary in England to escape the English Landscape movement in garden design when the Tudor knot gardens were torn out and replaced with psuedo-natural parkland. The Yew bushes are still trimmed to their original shape but are enormous. The family have lived in this superb Elizabethan house since 1590 and it is one of the finest stately homes in South Cumbria. Its medieval pele tower was built for protection from Scottish raiders because the country border was further south then. From here we cross the largest of the lakes, Windermere, by the Bowness car ferry and on the other side are quite close to the village of Hawkshead where we are staying at the 17C Queens Head Inn. We shall be joined here or perhaps at Levens by the people taking the Lake District tours.

On the 5th day of the combined tour and the 1st of the Lake District tour, we visit Stagshaw Gardens overlooking Lake Windermere. The damp mild climate here allows some exotic trees to thrive on this steep hillside. We then reach Holhird Gardens run by the Lakeland Horticultural Society. There will be plenty of colour set on a steep slope with a backdrop of Lake Windermere and the Langdale Pikes which might have snow on their tops. We shall have a light lunch at an interesting private garden and return to Hawkshead.

On the 6th/2nd day there will be time to explore the village of Hawkshead . You might look in at the Church, which has interesting documentation about woolen shrouds. Other places are the Beatrix Potter gallery with some of the original tiny water colour painings which illustrated Beatrx Potter’s little books and the Grammar school which Wordsworth attended living at Ann Tyson’s cottage nearby. There are a lot of gift and out-door clothing shops as well. At 11.30am we drive north to William and Dorothy Wordworth’s house, Rydall Mount, where there is a good garden high up overlooking Rydal Water. Next door is 16C Rydal Hall which has a famous formal garden designed by Thomas Mawson [1861-1933]. We lunch there and have tea in Grassmere village.

On the last day of the tours we drive south calling in at Beatrix Potter’s Cottage at High Sawrey and on to Holker Hall, the home of Lord and Lady Cavendish. This stunning garden has elements of the formal, the Italinate and informal plantings of old Rhododendrons. It also holds the National Collection of Styracaceae and is the home of the Great Holker Lime. At 7.9 meters in girth it is one of “Britain’s 50 Great Trees”.

Dates and Prices

Single supplement for all tours £29 per person per night

I am operating a little differently this year. I am accepting booking forms now but not wanting a 10% deposit paid until February 2020. This is to ensure that I have enough recruits to run a viable tour and, should I not have, I can cancel the tour then. The tours were very well recruited last year so I expect most of them will run.

Spring in the Lake District and Yorkshire Garden Tour 2020

A 7 day tour, Friday 24th to Thursday 30th April 2020

(Harrogate Spring Flower Show runs Thursday 23 – Sunday 26 April 2020)

The price of this tour is £1620, which includes a visit to the Harrogate Spring Flower Show.

(Arrive Thursday 23rd)

A view of the long herbaceous borders at Newby Hall, Yorkshire, UKNewby Hall gardens

This tour begins at The Studley Hotel in Harrogate. In Yorkshire we visit one of the finest of English gardens at Newby Hall near Ripon as well as smaller gardens like the late Sybil Spencer’s renowned Adel garden.

The English Lakes are renowned for their scenery, glorious at all times of year but spectacular in the spring and autumn. Rhododendrons thrive on the rocky outcrops and in the shade of ancient trees. Clematis montana and wisteria festoon the stone cottages.

Alternatively, you may come for just the first three and a half days for a tour of Harrogate Spring Flower Show and Yorkshire Gardens (£750) or join us on the last four days for a tour of Lake District gardens (£920). Read more

Wiltshire and Somerset Garden Tour 2020

A 5 day tour, Monday 8th to Friday 12th June 2020

(Chatsworth Flower Show runs Thursday 11 – Sunday 14 June 2020)

The price of this tour is £1350.A view of the lake with bridge and, in the distance, the Pantheon at Stourhead gardens, Wiltshire, UKStourhead

This guided garden tour starts and finishes in Bath and stays at The Cross in a quaint old village near Wells. Bath is easily accessible by fast trains from London Paddington to Bath Spa station.

The tour will begin with coffee in the elegant Georgian Spa pump room followed by a visit to the Royal Crescent and gardens in Somerset open on Sunday afternoons for the National Garden Scheme [NGS]. Read more

Romantic Gardens of Kent, Sussex and Surrey Garden Tour 2020

A 5 day tour, Wednesday 24th to Sunday 28th June 2020

(Gardeners World Live runs Thursday 18 – Sunday 21 June 2020)

(Harlow Carr Flower Show runs Friday 19 – Sunday 21 June 2020)

The price of this tour is £1200.

Between London and the South coast are the chalk hills of the North and the South Downs and in between these two ranges is the fertile clay of the ‘Weald’, where some of the most romantic gardens in England, even the world have been created. Several have graced the homes of famous people like Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst and Anne Boleyn’s Hever Castle. Others, such as Nymans and Great Dixter, are the creation of famous gardeners. We also visit the award winning garden at Pashley Manor. This tour visits a selection of these and many other great and small gardens: the most romantic Scotney Castle, Polesden Lacy―an artist’s garden set in ravishing scenery; and, of course, Wisley, the home of the Royal Horticultural Society. Read more

Other tours will be run in response to a group of at least four people applying and will take place at times to suit this group. There will be space for others to join a tour once it is guaranteed to run.

The itinerary of each tour may be adjusted to suit the initial group.


Flora tours stay in small hotels and guest houses which we have used before or checked out carefully. They are reasonably close to the tour gardens to reduce the time spent travelling. Usually a tour will be based in just one place because people seem to prefer this. Although not a high star rating our hotels are clean, comfortable and above all friendly, which fits the Flora ambience. This aspect also helps Flora offer very competitive tour prices.

Usually there are a variety of eating places close by or, if this is not the case, the hotel provides an evening meal as part of the tour package.

The prices quoted are for two people sharing a double or twin bedded room.

Single occupants will have to pay a supplement of £29 per person per night.


Flora’s regular tours are driven by our tried and tested chauffeurs usually in an 8 seater vehicle or a minibus, where necessary. These people are now old friends and very loyal. Some of them are keen gardeners and often join the garden tour.

We experienced the gardens and houses of the Cotswolds at all levels: the grand, the intimate and the fun’s fancy. This was all made possible by Barbara’s flexibility and wonderful connections with the locals from drivers to land owners.

A.L. from Cambridge Massachusetts USA on the Cotswold tour

Special Tours

In addition to the scheduled tours mentioned above Flora Garden Tours offers two special services:

  1. Any of the scheduled tours may be run on other dates for groups of four or more people;

  2. Tours to other British gardens, or tours centred on special interest themes can be arranged on a tailor-made basis. Such tours can incorporate castles and stately homes, as well as gardens: see, for example, Yorkshire and Northumberland.

    Special interest themes include Garden Shows Garden Design and Garden History, Tours for Gardeners, Flower Arrangers and Artists, Mediaeval Architecture and English History and Prehistoric and Archaeological sites.

Please make your requests: Flora Garden Tours will be happy to oblige.

Your guidance was inspirational! Gardens, gardens, gardens is your motto. I loved the small cottage gardens and have wonderful visual memories!

― D.C. from Alaska USA on a special tour of Yorkshire and Cumbria


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