Botanica Europe - French and English Garden Tour

By Talei Kenyon

Domaine De Chaumont Sur Loire - Garden Festival

Flower Power – two of the world’s best garden shows in one tour!

What a true delight it was to lead the Botanica Spring French and English Garden Tour in May 2016, combining a visit to the Chaumont Sur Loire Flower Festival in the Loire Valley, France and also Chelsea Flower Show in England. Such a wonderful opportunity to see what the best garden designers in the world were putting on show in France and England, in one small group tour, and spend time in private gardens meeting the owners.

We spent 5 days in one of the most beautiful parts of France where the focus is so much on magnificent landscapes dotted with chateaux, visiting gardens that have been evolving for hundreds of years, meeting garden-owners who are so dedicated and enjoying some of the best food and wine that France has to offer.

We were based in a beautiful chateau and each day we headed in different directions to marvel at the gardens and the living history all around us. From small intimate spaces that so keenly reflected the owner’s passion to some of the grandest gardens in France – this was all part of our fun.

Renaissance gardens were evident but also small chateaux gardens owned and cultivated by one family for centuries giving continuity to design and dedication to preservation.

Of course a visit to Villandry was on our schedule and its scale and precision of planting was breath-taking. Our visits often included time in the chateaux which through the rich interiors, gave an appreciation of how it would be to live on a grand scale in another lifetime.

The finale of the French part of our tour was a morning at leisure at the garden festival held in the grounds of Chateau Chaumont-Sur-Loire. This reasonably new festival is open from May to October and showcases many different gardens, designed by both established and emerging designers. This year’s theme was 'designing gardens for the future' and included art installations and sculptures. There was so much to look at and admire, as well as wonderful ideas to take home and try.

Our arrival in England was a fabulous and efficient experience on board the Eurostar, taking us right into central London without the need to consider traffic.

Ahead of us we had 4 days of gardening indulgence, meeting a selected group of private garden owners in London and West Sussex, including a day with design guru and Principal of the English Design School, Rosemary Alexander.

We visited three very different private gardens in central London, again reflecting the garden owner’s passion for plants and dedication to detail. In small spaces a huge variety of plants were incorporated to maximize the design and space.

By contrast the next day we journeyed through West Sussex, visiting large private gardens that had been personally selected by Rosemary Alexander for their style and planting. It was such a wonderful experience to share 2 days in private gardens and hear the garden-owners speak about the development of their gardens, while sharing morning tea and lunch in these inspirational spaces.

Our final day was pure gardening indulgence, spending time at the world’s best gardening show – the Chelsea Flower Show. Botanica arranged an early entry for our group so we could beat the crowds and look through the show gardens.

There were many stunning designs, but the Mediterranean-inspired gardens, featuring plants that work so well in our climate were both inspirational and instructive.

The buzz at the Chelsea Flower Show is extraordinary – new designers, plants, books, artisan tools, best gardening traditions and ideas abound. The historic setting in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital on the banks of the Thames River reminds you that we are in London, but the show transports you to gardening heaven.

Of course travelling in a small group added to the enjoyment of this magical trip – and sharing time with gardeners who enjoy history and culture made our journey even more delightful.

For Botanica’s upcoming tours led by Diggers Botanical Guides click HERE, Diggers members receive $100 off tour prices.

Talei Kenyon (15 September 2016)

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