Garden enthusiasts wanting to broaden their horticultural horizons can now travel the world for inspiration, as companies offer holidays which take in everything from gourmet gardens to flower and fruit festivals, plant collections, ecological insights, alpine attractions and botanical wonders.
Think about exactly what you want from a garden holiday before booking it, RHS director general Sue Biggs advises.
“Would you like to visit formal gardens or would you prefer to see plants in their natural habitat? Would you like an expert RHS host on the tour as well as the tour manager? Is it just the horticulture you’re interested in, or would you prefer to combine it with a city, or a national park... or even a vineyard or two with some wine-tasting, as on our South African and Loire tours?”
Visits to the French Riviera could take in the Menton Lemon Festival in February and the International Rose Festival in Grasse in May. Just c heck that the tour you book has been timed to coincide with the right seasons in the destination and what will be in flower.
Among the companies offering the most diverse range of garden adventures, Boxwood Tours (www.boxwoodtours.co.uk) has packages and bespoke holidays which often include access to gardens not normally open to the public, featuring meetings with garden owners and head gardeners wherever possible. It can also arrange garden tours for couples and small parties to many garden-rich areas of Britain and Europe.
Specialist Susan Worner (www.susanwornertours.com) will be running the green season safari to Northern Namibia and the Okavango Delta in Botswana in March, exploring spring gardens in Italy and has the Atlas Mountains and desert of Morocco as a new destination this year. Small groups, well-researched itineraries and private, tailor-made tours are key to its success.
Closer to home, this year marks 300 years since the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, one of Britain’s best-known landscape gardeners.
To celebrate the anniversary, Farm Stay UK (www.farmstay.co.uk) - specialist in farm-based accommodation across the UK - has launched a Capability Brown accommodation collection and Garden Trail for 2016.
The collection highlights the 300+ accommodation options on sites within 15 miles of a Brown garden or landscape, while the week-long self-drive trail shows garden lovers how to combine stays at quaint rural B&Bs with visits to some of the big names in Brown’s garden portfolio.
The route traverses the Cotswolds, taking in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire (nicknaming this the WOWW Brown trail) and explores some of Brown’s most famous work as well as lesser-known gems including Croome Court in Worcestershire and Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, where some of Downton Abbey was filmed.
The RHS is also paying tribute to Capability Brown, who changed the face of 18th century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and creating lakes, with a bespoke tour of some of his most striking landscapes and parklands including Compton Verney, Ragley Hall, Bowood House and Stowe.
The RHS has teamed up with garden specialists Brightwater Holidays to bring a selection of RHS Garden Holidays (www.rhsgardenholidays.com) both at home and abroad, as well as cruises with a horticultural slant. More exotic trips include a botanical adventure in Chile, visiting national parks and coastal forest, while Sweden and Sri Lanka are also new destinations for the society this year.
Itineraries encompass private, botanic and historic gardens, wild landscapes and national parks as well as vineyards, nurseries and charitable gardening projects. Wherever possible, exclusive access has been secured, as well as private openings and a welcome from the garden owner or curator.
Saga (www.saga.co.uk/special-interests) also has a collection of UK gardening breaks with horticultural hosts and garden visits, as well as destinations further afield to explore the wild flora and gardens of Tenerife, Croatia’s ancient gardens, the floral island of Madeira and the spring flowers of Malta, among others.
And if you would prefer getting your hands dirty, try a working holiday with the National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/working-holidays), a gardening option where the charity invites you to work and learn in one of its stunning gardens. You might be cutting the hedges, deadheading roses, or planting a parterre.
The charity provides the accommodation, usually in a bunkhouse, and food for the duration of the stay, while volunteers will get the essential help and training they need to do the jobs from skilled NT volunteers.