The following itinerary describes a range of gardens and estates which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but others require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure in 2023. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. Meals included in the tour price and are indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=Lunch and D=dinner.
Oxford - 6 nights
Day 1: Tuesday 16 May, Arrive Oxford
- The tour commences at 5pm in the foyer of the Mercure Eastgate Hotel
- Introduction & Welcome Dinner
Meeting Point: The tour commences at 5pm in the foyer of the Mercure Eastgate Hotel situated in the centre of Oxford. This evening there will be a short introductory meeting before dining at a local restaurant. (Overnight Oxford) D
Day 2: Wednesday 17 May, The Cotswolds
- Private visit of Sezincote House and Gardens
- Market town of Moreton-in-Marsh
- Guided tour of Bourton House Gardens with the Head Gardener, Jacky Rae
Today we drive into the Cotswolds to visit two magnificent gardens located near the village of Moreton-in-Marsh. Our first visit is to Sezincote Manor, where an exotic oriental garden was created to complement the architect S.P. Cockerell’s fascinating 19th-century Regency house, which he designed in an Indian, Moghul style; Sezincote served as the inspiration for George IV’s Brighton Pavilion. Sezincote’s extraordinary eccentricities include a temple, not to any Grecian deity, but to the Hindu goddess Souriya; garden sculptures include a bronze serpent and Brahmin bulls, whilst minarets top the conservatory.
Midday we travel to the northern Cotswolds town of Moreton-in-Marsh, where there will be time at leisure for lunch and to explore the high street, which has many elegant 18th-century inns and houses, including the Redesdale Market Hall.
In the afternoon we continue to the nearby award-winning three-acre gardens of Bourton House. The gardens had become overgrown and neglected when Richard and Monique Paice acquired them in 1983. Over the past 25 years, the ornamental garden with its 18th-century raised walk overlooking the rolling Cotswold Hills, the original kitchen garden, and Bourton’s orchard, have been transformed. The Paices’ achievement was recognised when Bourton House Garden was honoured with the prestigious HHA/Christie’s ‘Garden of the Year’ award in 2006.
Our day concludes with a drive through the picturesque Cotswolds, including a short stop at the village of Stow-on-the-Wold. Stow-on-the-Wold was an important medieval market town and is now a centre for English antiques. As well as the large market square, the town has some very early coaching inns, including the Royalist Hotel that has timbers that have been carbon-dated to 987; it is believed to be the oldest inn in England. (Overnight Oxford) B
Day 3: Thursday 18 May, Oxford – Banbury – Lower Wardington – Oxford
- Broughton Grange, Banbury (to be confirmed for 2023)
- Pettifers Garden, Lower Wardington
We begin today with a visit to Broughton Grange, which has received much attention since opening under the National Garden Scheme (NGS) in 2004. The gardens are set in 350 acres of parkland, farmland, and open meadow, with a style of planting that owes its origins to the Victorian era. The gardens’ development accelerated in 2001, when acclaimed landscape designer Tom Stuart-Smith, who has been awarded eight RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medals including three Best in Show awards, was commissioned to transform a 6-acre field into a walled garden. This impressive new garden features three individually themed terraces and has been designed with consideration to the surrounding rural landscape. Broughton Grange now represents one of the most significant private contemporary gardens in Britain. A ploughman’s lunch will be provided after our guided tour of the gardens.
After lunch, we explore the innovative Pettifers Gardens, where head gardener Polly Stevens will provide us with a guided tour. The tour will describe not only the interesting and surprising plant combinations, but also how this garden has undergone changes made by the owner and designer, the Honourable Mrs. Gina Price, since the early 1990s, when she began to design the garden. Combined with friendship and advice from Diany Binney at Kiftsgate Court Gardens, Pettifers has today developed a reputation as one of the must-see English country gardens. RHS judge and media personality James Alexander-Sinclair described the garden in Gardens Illustrated magazine as “undoubtedly one of the most exciting and delightful gardens in the country.”(Overnight Oxford) BL
Day 4: Friday 19 May, Oxford – Througham Court – Highgrove – Oxford
- Private Guided tour of Througham Court Gardens with Dr Christine Facer Hoffman
- Highgrove House: Lunch & Guided tour of Gardens (subject to confirmation in 2023)
We depart Oxford early this morning and travel 77 kilometres south to the county of Gloucestershire, where Througham Court, a 17th-century Jacobean house with 6 acres of formal/informal landscape overlooks a peaceful Cotswold valley. Christine Facer Hoffman, scientist and landscape architect, describes her private garden as “a personal ‘laboratory’ to experiment with new ideas, materials and planting combinations.” Developed since 2000, contemporary areas have been artfully embedded in the Cotswold architect Norman Jewson’s 1930s Arts and Crafts masterpiece, which features magnificent yew topiary and dry stone wall terracing. Hoffman has stated that her contemporary ‘fragments’ are inspired by scientific discoveries and theories. She uses mathematical number sequences found in nature to create a symbolic and metaphorical narrative so that the gardens may be ‘read’ by the visitor. They recently featured in the RHS publication The Garden magazine and in Alan Titchmarsh’s Garden Secrets on BBC 2.
Mid-morning we make the short drive to Doughton village, where Highgrove House, the country home of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, is located. The Prince purchased Highgrove in 1980, and has spent 30 years transforming its grounds into what have been acknowledged as some of the most brilliant and inventive gardens in the United Kingdom. “A series of interlinked areas, each with their own character and purpose, weave magically around the garden, with the house always visible in the distance. For the last 25 years the gardens and surrounding land have been managed to the organic and sustainable principles that His Royal Highness has for so long championed.” After lunch and our 2-hour guided tour of the gardens, we return to Oxford, where the evening is at leisure. (Overnight Oxford) BL
Day 5: Saturday 20 May, The Cotswolds
- Hidcote Manor
- Village of Broadway
- Snowshill Manor and Garden
- Village of Bibury
Today we travel first to Chipping Campden and the delightful National Trust property, Hidcote Manor. Hidcote is significant for its influential garden, designed in the English Arts and Craft style by Major Laurence Johnston as a series of rooms of different character and theme, separated from each other by walls and hedges.
Following some time at leisure for lunch in the village of Broadway we visit Snowshill Manor and Garden. The 16th-century country manor house was the home of Charles Paget Wade, an architect, artist-craftsman and poet who is best remembered for the eclectic collection he amassed during his life. The collection includes 26 suits of Japanese samurai armour dating from the 17th and 19th centuries, toys and musical instruments. The garden was laid out by Wade between 1920-23 in collaboration with Arts and Crafts architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott. Snowshill has garden rooms planted to the brim and full of interest and boldly planted pots. The 2 acre gardens are organically grown with colourful borders, terraces and ponds, ancient dovecote, kitchen garden and orchards.
Our day concludes with another drive through the Cotswolds visiting the village of Bibury, described by William Morris as ‘the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds’. (Overnight Oxford) BL
Day 6: Sunday 21 May, Oxford & Steeple Ashton
- Rousham House and Gardens
- Guided tour of the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens with Dr Alison Foster, Senior Curator
- Magdalen College and its award-winning gardens
This morning we drive north of Oxford to Steeple Ashton to visit another stately home of very different aspect. Rousham House has remained the property of the Dormer family since its construction in 1635. The house retains much of its original panelling, staircases, furniture and art works. Several alterations were made in 1876 when the north side of the house was added, but for the most part Rousham remains a stunning example of 17th-century architecture and decoration. The gardens are of particular importance as they represent the first phase of English landscape design and have undergone few changes since being laid out by William Kent.
Following some time at leisure for lunch, we shall enjoy a walking tour of the magnificent University of Oxford Botanic Gardens with senior curator, Dr Alison Foster. Finally, we shall visit the award-winning gardens of 15th-century Magdalen College. Magdalen’s extensive grounds include its own deer park, wildflower meadow and a riverside walk. For Oscar Wilde, who matriculated at Magdalen in October 1874, ‘The Magdalen walks and cloisters’ were the ideal backdrop for reading Romantic poetry! (Overnight Oxford) B
Royal Tunbridge Wells - 1 night
Day 7: Monday 22 May, Oxford – West Green House Gardens – Sevenoaks – Royal Tunbridge Wells
- West Green House Gardens: Lunch & Guided tour of Gardens
- Ightham Mote, Sevenoaks
We depart Oxford early this morning and travel 60kms south to the Hart District of Northern Hampshire to visit West Green House Gardens that surround a lovely 18th-century house. These are the creation of an Australian, Marylyn Abbott. One could possibly call this a ‘biographical garden’ in the sense that it is a very personal creation based upon Marylyn’s early love of gardens, inculcated by her mother and grandmother when she was growing up in Australia (Marylyn masterminded the famous Australian garden, ‘Kennerton Green’). At West Green House she has reconciled her Australian gardening heritage, dominated by brilliant light, with England’s softer, more muted atmosphere. Marylyn is a prolific writer; her book The Resilient Garden, in keeping with her experience reconciling very different gardening environments, discusses a collection of plants that will acclimatise to both Mediterranean and cool temperate gardens. Her gardens appear in many publications, in one of which (The Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden Finder 2007) Charles Quest-Ritson has stated:
“West Green House Gardens has many original features. A grand water staircase provides the focal point to the Nymphaeum fountain designed by Quinlan Terry. By the house is a charming small topiary garden where water lilies flourish in small water tanks sunk in the ground. It runs up to a handsome aviary with unusual breeds of bantams and chickens. Beyond, are a dramatic new Persian water garden in a woodland glade, a newly restored lake, more follies and fancies, new walks and massive plantings of snowdrops, daffodils and fritillaries.”
Lavishness is a hallmark of the Abbott style – 10,000 tulip bulbs are planted every year – but Marylyn also emphasises the importance of drama, colour, innovation and humour in her garden.
Following a light lunch, we continue our journey east to Ightham Mote, a wonderful example of a small medieval moated manor house, perfectly located within a peaceful garden surrounded by woodland. Dating from the 14th century, this house has seen many changes but each subsequent section has been preserved in extraordinary condition. Medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII and high-society Victorians have all contributed sections to Ightham Mote. Highlights include the picturesque courtyard, Great Hall, crypt, Tudor painted ceiling, Grade I listed dog kennel and the private apartments of Charles Henry Robinson, who gave Ightham Mote to the National Trust in 1985. We shall walk to the house, enjoying its rural setting, before exploring its beautiful interior. Of special note is the chapel, with its perfectly preserved interior, pulpit and tester. We shall also enjoy the gardens, with an orchard, water features, lakes and woodland walks.
In the late afternoon we travel a short distance to Royal Tunbridge Wells, a town that rose to prominence when it became a spa in the late 17th century. Tonight we shall dine together at the hotel’s restaurant. (Overnight Royal Tunbridge Wells) BLD
London - 3 nights
Day 8: Tuesday 23 May, Royal Tunbridge Wells – Great Dixter – Sissinghurst – London
- Great Dixter House & Gardens
- Sissinghurst Castle Gardens
Today is a day of superb gardens. The Lloyd family developed Great Dixter early in the 20th century from an original design by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Today it is more famous for the plantings established by Christopher Lloyd documented in his many classic gardening books. The residence comprises a mid 15th-century hall house, typical of the Weald of Kent, to the south side of which a second, early 16th-century yeoman’s house was grafted. Lutyens enjoyed using local materials and retained farm buildings like oast houses, cowsheds, barns and outbuildings. Around these he designed his garden, featuring a sunken garden, topiary and yew hedges. Christopher Lloyd managed Great Dixter from the 1950s and was noted for his innovative approach and introduction of concepts like the mixed border and meadow garden, and his replacement of the rose garden with schemes using less fashionable plants like cannas and dahlias. We will investigate his full range of planting schemes. Although Lloyd is no longer present in the garden his gardener Fergus has achieved what some consider even better results in recent years.
We next drive to Sissinghurst Castle Garden, one of England’s greatest garden delights. Sissinghurst was the garden of poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, journalist, MP and diplomat, and is possibly the most influential of all 20th-century gardens. Built around the remnants of an Elizabethan castle, of which the tower remains a central garden feature, the garden is divided into distinct spaces where a formality established by Nicolson is clothed by a romantic planting style pursued by Sackville-West. The garden retains its original charm and romance with such delights as its parterre, white garden, cottage garden, nut walk and orchard. We shall explore Sissinghurst’s many hidden corners, sumptuous planting combinations and the view from the top of the tower, always a good starting point for those who wish to understand the garden’s layout.
In the late afternoon we travel to London where we shall spend the next three nights at the Citadines Holborn-Covent Garden. (Overnight London) BL
Day 9: Wednesday 24 May, Chelsea Flower Show
- The Chelsea Flower Show (Members Day)
- The Garden Museum
Today is dedicated to the Chelsea Flower Show, the world’s best-known flower show. Located in the grounds of Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital (1689), the Show is held annually in May and attracts more tourists to London than the Wimbledon Championships! We will therefore arrive early in order to enjoy the remarkable displays before they become too crowded. All of the gardens on display are constructed in the two weeks prior to the show and, following the event, are dismantled and the grounds reinstated. Around the periphery of the grounds are display gardens, sponsored by newspapers and magazines, major stores and insurance companies, whilst inside the giant marquee are exhibits by plant growers. Here you will see perfect displays of everything horticultural from bonsai to bulbs, rhododendrons to roses. This visit has been designed so that you are free to wander through the event at your leisure, not forgetting the botanical art and floral displays. This is a visual feast that all gardeners will want to enjoy at least once in their lives!
In the mid afternoon we visit the nearby Garden Museum, which has recently been redeveloped and showcases an impressive collection and temporary exhibitions in its galleries. The museum, founded by Rosemary Nicholson in 1977, is housed in a former church and features a medieval tower with a view to Westminster. In what was formerly St Mary’s at Lambeth, this building dates back to the medieval era and is Britain’s only museum of garden history art and design. (Overnight London) B
Day 10: Thursday 25 May, London
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – with Richard Barley, Director of Horticulture at Kew Gardens
- Farewell Lunch at the Botanical Restaurant, Kew Gardens
- Afternoon at leisure
Today is a unique opportunity to explore the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, with Richard Barley, who was appointed Director of Horticulture at the Gardens in April 2013. With his knowledge based on the day-to-day management of the site, Richard will give deep insights into these world-renowned gardens. The original gardens were created for Augusta, Princess of Wales around her home, Kew Palace. Today it contains the largest collection of plants in the world with tropical and sub-tropical plants being kept in appropriate conditions in magnificent Victorian glasshouses. The variety of plants is overwhelming but Kew has a magic far above the ordinary run of Victorian plant collections, perhaps because of its size and the underlying but unobtrusive formality of its structure. The Queen’s Garden is a faithful copy of a 17th-century garden with parterres, sunken garden and pleached alleys. A new treetop walk by Marks Barfield Architects (who designed the London Eye) opened in May 2008.
Our day concludes with a farewell lunch at the Botanical Restaurant, housed in Museum No. 1 with stunning views to Palm Lake. The remainder of the afternoon is free for you to explore London at your leisure. (Overnight London) BL
Day 11: Friday 26 May, London, Tour Ends
- Tour concludes in the morning
- At leisure/Check out
Our tour ends in London after breakfast. In the morning you will be required to check out of the hotel. Please contact ASA if you require assistance with a transfer to the airport. B