The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"The Passionate Gardener" Tour May 22-31, 2016

For the last five years, I have been an assistant tour guide on "The Best of English Gardens" tour for my friend Michael Induni's company, Discover Europe. "The Best of English Gardens" is a wonderful tour, but it isn't exclusively a tour of gardens. The itinerary also includes Stonehenge, the city of Bath and two nights in Salisbury to see the local sites including the Magna Carta. I have been working with Michael to create a tour for the more discriminating gardener. I researched gardens from London to the Cotswolds. I wanted to visit classic and historic gardens, but I also tried to include contemporary gardens that illustrate the latest in horticulture and design. I thought spending a longer time in less locations would be a more relaxing way to see gardens, so we removed two nights in Salisbury and added time in the Cotswolds.

I came across a December, 2012 article that Penelope Hobhouse wrote for Gardens Illustrated called "25 of the best English gardens to visit throughout England" and cross-referenced that with Tim Richardson's 2013 book The New English Garden and created a new tour called "The Passionate Gardener" Tour. One garden I had been dying to see was Gina Price's private garden, Pettifers. So I scouted Pettifers and Rousham House last year and loved them both. Pettifers has deservedly gotten a lot of press (the cover of The New English Garden) in the last several years. It is a plants-person's garden with a clean modern design. The grouping of four "flask-shaped yew topiaries" have become nearly as iconic as the former yew waves in Piet Oudolf's garden, Hummelo. Her gardener, Polly, is both delightful and knowledgeable. In landscape garden department, I looked to the Hobhouse article and substituted  Rousham House, a privately owned, intimate garden designed by William Kent for Stourhead, a National Trust Garden with hundreds of visitors. As difficult as it was to exclude Stourhead, the intimacy of Rousham House, with about a dozen visitors when I was there, was hard to beat.

I will lead the tour May 22-31, 2016 which will also include the annual Gardens Illustrated Talk at the Royal Geographic Society in London. In the next several months, I will profile the gardens in more detail but below is a list of the gardens in chronological order of the tour:

The New English Garden by Tim Richardson NEG: Pettifers, Great Dixter, High Grove
"25 of the best English gardens to visit throughout England" by garden designer and historian Penelope Hobhouse. GI/PH: Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, Hidcote Manor, Iford Manor, Rousham House

"Best of English Gardens" Tour BEG : Great Dixter, Sissinghurst, Hidcote Manor,
Iford Manor, Barnsley House, Kiftsgate Garden, Chelsea Flower Show, Vann


Great Dixter NEG, GI/PH, BEG

Sissinghurst: GI/PH, BEG

Chelsea Flower Show: BEG

RHS Wisley: BEG

Iford Manor: GI/PH, BEG 

Rousham House: GI/PH

Pettifers Garden: NEG

Kiftsgate: BEG

Barnsley House: BEG

Vann: BEG


  1. Oh, you're so lucky to be able to visit all those great gardens that I have only been able to read about (although Tim Richardson' book is certainly one of the best books about gardens and has allowed me to read great writing about great gardens). I always see the ads for BEG and dream.... Looking forward to reading about the gardens in the coming months.

    1. I do feel very ortunate to be able to see these extraordinary gardens year after year. I learn something new with each return visit. More posts about these gardens to come.....

  2. Nice itinerary, Michael. I would very much hate to eliminate Stourhead but I understand how necessary it is to pick and choose when planning a garden tour. I've been fortunate enough to take groups to all these gardens. I haven't been to Barnesley for a few years... it was looking a bit rough at that time but plans were underway to spruce it up. Iford Manor has also had a re-think/re-plant since I was there and it is a garden I very much enjoy visiting, both for the Harold Peto section and for the newer garden across the road. I know that anyone taking part in your trip will be fortunate to see these sites and to travel with you.

    1. Too many gardens too little time! The last head gardener before Rosemary Verey died has been given the support of the new owners to bring the garden back to its former glory. He has renovated several parts of the garden and has been thoughtful about how Verey might have handled situations as they come along. I only saw Iford Manor once two years ago and I thought it looked good. Is the garden across the road you mentioned a walled garden or does that belong to the neighbors? I hope to have some group discussions on topics including "how to visit a garden" and talk design and plants at the breakfast/diner table. I am really looking forward to it. Any ideas about taking groups to visit gardens would be welcome!

  3. The garden across the road from Iford Manor is a walled section developed by the current owners -- or the couple who owned it when I was there a few years ago. She created a contemporary shell house, a checkerboard garden with low-clipped boxwood alternating with pebble squares and a topiary tea party... plus other elements I can't immediately bring to mind. Well worth seeing. As for 'how to visit a garden' -- I have lots to say, most/all of which you know already. It's a talk I give to garden groups and always on Day 1 of a tour, followed by a repeat and enlargement of the topic on the days that follow. My biggest advice to garden visitors is to take time to actually look: backwards, forwards, up, down, around; then to consider what it is that they are seeing. I like Thoreau's words: “It is not what you look at that matters but what you see.”

    Another thing I do on tours is to encourage discussion immediately after a visit, as soon as we are back on the bus. People's impressions are clear and open-ended questions often provoke really good discussions and disagreements. "So, what did you think" is often my opening gambit.

    1. I did take a look at the walled garden across from Iford Manor through the door. I wasn't certain it was open to the public but it was beautiful.

      I encourage everyone to do at least one drawing even if they absolutely insist that they can't draw. It is a wonderful "what you see" exercise. I also have them sit in every seat in a garden. A well-designed garden places seats in locations for good reasons, It is about being present in a garden. It is difficult to decide on fewer gardens longer or more gardens for briefer time. Any thoughts on that?

      I had a thought about framing the talk on the bus called "What did you see? What do you think?" Thanks for your ideas and the Thoreau quote. Pat, one day we should meet and visit some gardens together!

    2. Doing a drawing is a great idea. Also, sitting in every seat -- good ways to be present in the moment and attentive to details in the surroundings.

      Fewer gardens/more time: it is a tough question. In part it depends on practical issues: the size of the garden, the distances between them, the length of the trip as a whole, and so on. It would be helpful to know who was going to go on a trip before the final itinerary was set, since some people are 'fast lookers' and others take their time. For me personally, I like to get a sense of the garden as a whole, then go round again taking a lot more time in each area. That usually isn't possible when leading a group. Repeat visits can accomplish that. I sometimes make a quick comparison between my responses to a garden on a second or third visit. Did I like a place more, less or about the same, and why the difference? Some gardens are simply too complex to take in during a single visit, however much time is allotted. I need time away from the experience to assimilate what I've seen.

      And Michael, I'd enjoy meeting you and visiting some gardens together!

    3. Thanks for the idea of keeping notes about subsequent visits, Pat. One of the nice things about going back to excellent gardens over and over is really getting to know the gardens well. One the years, I have helped two groups simultaneously so I got to spend a complete day at Sissinghurst one year and Great Dixter another. I got to do the same thing at Hidcote. I traveled through the gardens one direction and backwards in the other direction. I sat in benches, made drawings, closed my eyes in order to limit my senses to hearing ans smell. I went to parts of the garden that didn't appeal to me to discover what they had to offer that perhaps I missed or overlooked. I look forward to the day we might visit a garden together! Thanks for all your good advice. I will use it next May.



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