We depart by coach from London and head for our first visit, RHS Hyde Hall at Rettendon, south of Chelmsford. This is an enormous garden with an immensely wide range of plants – daylilies, irises, peonies, roses, and countless trees and shrubs. Hyde Hall has two National Collections: crab apples (Malus) and viburnums. No gardener could come here without being informed and delighted.
We continue to Beth Chatto Gardens, near Colchester. The garden was created in 1960 by Beth and Andrew Chatto from overgrown wasteland with poor gravel soil and boggy hollows. They have now transformed the area into an informal garden harmonising with the surrounding countryside and complemented by a large retail nursery with a wide range of plants. In the gravel garden, areas have been filled with drought loving plants, emulating a winding dried up river bed. The gentle descent of what was a soggy hollow has now been turned into dramatic water gardens.
We continue to our accommodation at the Dunston Hall Hotel. Dinner will be served in the evening.
This morning, after breakfast, we will travel to Helmingham Hall, near Stowmarket, where the house, parkland and gardens together create an exceptional work of art. The house overlooks a deer park with a double avenue of oaks and to one side a walled kitchen garden has been turned to ornamental purposes. At the entrance a box-edged parterre with Santolina is surrounded by borders of Hybrid Musk roses and hedges of lavender. Few great historic houses have gardens as attractive as Helmingham Hall.
We continue to Wyken Hall and Vineyards this afternoon. Their beautiful formal gardens are bursting with topiary, herbs, roses, and fruit trees. As we make our way through the grounds, we are sure to be joined by a meandering peacock or two, as well as guinea fowl and chickens. The exquisite Elizabethan manor house, is surrounded by head-height yew hedges, which offer the perfect protection from East Anglia’s 'lazy winds'.
Dinner is served back at our hotel in the evening.
After breakfast we will transfer to the gardens of Raveningham Hall. The gardens and park are protected by shelter belts of woodland, herbaceous and mixed borders, wildflower meadows and rolling lawns. Within the walled Victorian garden we find fruit, vegetables and fragrant cut flowers including sweet peas which are grown for use in the house. A highlight of our visit is the Time Garden – designed around Francis Bacon’s essays based on the passage of Time. Sculptures by Susan Bacon can also be found dotted around the grounds, surrounded by an 18th century Park with grand oaks of great age. Throughout the year the parkland setting provides a glorious backdrop to the Hall and the main garden.
We round off today with a visit to the breath-taking 20-acre East Ruston Old Vicarage garden, home of the unstoppable gardeners Alan Gray and Graham Robeson, and which for many will be the highlight of our visit to Norfolk. It is quite unbelievable that such an exotic garden can lie less than two miles from the North Sea. With the benefit of good shelter beds and hedging it has been possible to grow many plants not normally associated with Norfolk. This is truly one of Britain’s great new gardens.
Dinner is served in the evening.
This morning after breakfast we check out of the hotel and travel to the incomparable Place for Plants at East Bergholt. The garden has been run by Rupert and Sara Eley since 1995, and they opened the plant centre a year later. Rupert is the perfect person to meet on tour - he serves on several of The Royal Horticultural Society’s Committees, and is also involved with the Suffolk Agricultural Association and Tree Register of the British Isles. During our Spring tour, we should see a gorgeous display of magnolias, camellias, rhododendrons and daffodils. Throughout the rest of the year, we see fine examples of yew topiary, ornamental ponds and many rare and unusual trees and shrubs.
We continue to our final visit – the geographically themed gardens at Marks Hall. Making our way across the historic landscape we view areas representing Europe, Asia, North America and the Southern Hemisphere. A real highlight of our tour is the Millennium Walk – its structure, colour and scent has been designed to represent the shortest days of the year. The gardens are also home to the largest planting Wollemi Pine in Europe.
Following this, our final visit, we return to our original pick-up points.