Lynn and I are gardening friends and we have been planning an English garden tour for several years. We both loved the idea of a small group tour (7−12) so FLORA Garden Tours was our obvious choice. Our dream became a reality this June!
In fact we took two tours―the first to the Cotswolds and the second, “The Romantic Gardens of Kent, Sussex and Surrey”. Here is an account of the second. Peony border, Penshurst Place, Kent
April Cottage Guest House in Ifield became our home for the week. It is only 10 minutes from Gatwick Airport but amazingly quiet. Our hosts were Brian and Liz Pedlow, who are both very friendly and efficient. Lynn and I (Maritime, Canadians) were delighted to find kippers on the full English breakfast menu. Delicious!
Our tour companions were five Americans and leader Dr. Barbara who was a delight to be with and helped create a holiday we shall always remember. Our driver, Alan, with his air-conditioned Caravelle was patient, helpful and good fun. These two became like old friends by the end of the tour.
Monday our first stop is Hever Castle. Hever was the girlhood home of Anne Boleyn and was more recently owned and remodeled by William Waldorf Astor (1903). It is a beautiful moated Manor house with many gardens. We were delighted with the Rose Garden (3000 Roses). Some of the Rhodos were still blooming! Then on to Penhurst Place with its Elizabethan garden design. Over a mile of yew hedging divides the walled garden into a series of garden “rooms” Our favourite there was the beautiful peony borders (in full flower) backed by burgundy Berberis hedging. Magnificent! The Rose borders here were edged with Saxifraga “Parkers Pink Wonder”; how would that translate to our gardens at home?. That evening, like the others, Barbara gave an educational slide show and then off we went for a delicious meal at the local pub. Rosa Gloire de Dijon, Pashley Manor
Tuesday morning we visited Pashley Manor; my favourite garden of the tour! The Tudor manor is a soft apricot colour with a matching climbing rose “Alchymist” covering the front. This is a romantic garden in the English style. We had a delicious lunch on the terrace overlooking one of the large ponds and then off to visit the famous gardens of Sissinghurst Castle. We happened to be there when the white Wisteria floribunda “alba” was in full bloom! Dr. Barbara advised us to first climb the Tower to have an overview of the Garden so that we shouldn’t get lost in the individual garden rooms. One can look in the tower room that was Vita Sackville-West’s sanctum. She wrote 20 books in that room. In the summer, she would garden all day and write half the night. A corner of the Rose garden features the roses “Magenta” and “Prince Charles” in the foreground together with Allium christopii and a cloud of white Crambe cordifolia behind. Truly a beautiful feast for the eyes! Lynn and I were especially taken with the Cottage Garden with its tapestry of yellows, reds and oranges. It was in this garden that Vita and her spouse, Harold Nicholson, would meet in the early morning. She would garden and he would cut flowers for his London flat.
Wednesday. We have been allowed to visit the Great Dixter this morning by special arrangement. This allows us to catch a glimpse of the great man himself, Christopher Lloyd, strolling in his garden . His spirit of individuality is everywhere ! To quote Mr. Lloyd “I have no segregated colour schemes. In fact, I take it as a challenge to combine every sort of colour effectively. I have a constant awareness of what I’m doing, but if I think a yellow candelabrum of mullein will look good rising from a quilt of pink phlox, I’ll put it there.” Not only a wonderful gardener but a wonderful writer as well! That afternoon was spent at the most romantic ruin of Scotney Castle with the pink and white bells of Kalmia latifolia blooming profusely. On the way home we were lucky to visit a lovely private garden called Whitehouse Cottage. Our host, Barry, provided us with tea and the most delicious lemon drizzle cake I have ever eaten!
Thursday morning we visited Wakehurst Place, a large wooded estate with steep hills and valleys. This is home to the national collection of Hypericum. The large water gardens are amass with Iris ensata. There is a new exhibition building housing the Millennium Seed Bank. Lab staff in white coats behind protective glass are preserving 24,000 species of plants from around the globe in vaults for future generations! In the afternoon we visited Nymans, the family home of the Messel family. One of the outstanding views was a dovecote complete with white doves. Very picturesque! The top garden was in high season June with lupins, delphiniums, oriental poppies, roses, deutzia and philadelphus. Ah, June! On the way home we are treated to another private garden called Little Dene. The owner had a beautiful alpine garden growing on the top of an old pig sty. These smaller gardens are a delight as we can relate better to them. Tonight’s slide show was on “Good Garden Design”.
Friday, our last day, oh dear! The morning and part of the afternoon are given over to Wisley, the Royal Horticultural garden in Surrey. The garden is beautiful and extensive. Every tree, shrub and flower imaginable in breathtaking combinations and all labelled! In addition, there is a marvellous shop where I found a book on cottage gardening by Geoff Hamilton which I had long been wanting. In the evening, we all enjoyed a farewell dinner at Allan’s favourite pub with him and his wife, Alison. We exchanged addresses and e-mails with our fellow travelers and then to bed.
I encourage you to take one of these amazing tours with Barbara. You won’t be disappointed! If you have any further questions you may get my e-mail address from her.
Go back to the Romantic Gardens of Kent, Sussex and Surrey page.
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