We depart from our pick-up points in London and Gatwick and head towards Kent and our first visit, Great Comp Garden – a beautiful 7 acre garden with many beautiful and rare shrubs, perennials and other hardy plants. This Kent garden is a plantsman’s haven. The year starts with Helleborus, followed by magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas, then the remainder of the year follows with rare and exotic shrubs and perennial plants such as the huge collection of Salvias. There are areas of formal and informal plantings linked with meandering grass paths and ruins homing in on an Italian Garden.
From here we continue to the magnificent Lullingstone Castle. A historic family mansion dating back to the time of Domesday, frequented by Henry VIII and Queen Anne, the manor house and garden are set in the beautiful Darent Valley. The garden was designed by horticulturist Tom Hart Dyke, a modern day plant hunter who follows in the traditions of plant hunters who used to risk their lives and limbs in pursuit of fantastic blooms and plants, during his nine month kidnap at the hands of the Columbian Guerrillas in 2000. On his release he created the World Garden of Plants, which he continues to grow and build each year adding rare and important botanical plants to its collection.
We continue to our hotel, the Lingfield Park Marriott Hotel & Country Club. All rooms are en-suite and the hotel also has leisure facilities. Dinner will be served in the evening.
This morning, after breakfast, we will set off for the Sussex Prairie Garden at Henfield. Surrounded by mature oak trees, this eight acre garden consists of a series of interlocking arcs of large planted borders in a naturalistic style, reminiscent of the work of the great Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. The plantings consist of generous drifts of herbaceous perennials, planted in a free flowing style, which contrasts leaf forms, stems, stalks, flower shapes and textures. Colours are soft and muted and complement the natural landscape.
We continue to Nymans Garden, an outstanding plant collection in an inspirational setting. This theatrical garden design, created by the Messel family, is one of the finest gardens in Sussex and still retains much of the personality of the family who created it. There are many rare and exotic plants combined with a pinetum, walled garden, Italian garden and woodland walks. Lunch is available here (not included).
Our next visit is to Wakehurst Place Gardens, near Haywards Heath, which was the most visited NT property in 2009-10. The gardens, set in 180 acres, are now managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Wakehurst Place boasts a walled garden with cottage style garden plantings, a water garden with a mixture of plants growing in and around the water and the Himalayan Glade with a collection of azaleas and rhododendrons, however the main feature is the collection of trees and shrubs. In the summer months we can expect to see many delightful brightly coloured plants.
(Note: on the May tour, instead of Wakehurst we will visit Borde Hill, which is at its best at this time of year.) Borde Hill Garden is a stunningly beautiful and botanically rich heritage garden, set within over 200 acres of traditional parkland. It captivates and delights visitors with a series of intimate ‘living garden rooms’, fine woodland, parkland, lakes and outstanding views across the Sussex High Weald. For over 100 years the plantings have evolved with the vision of seasonal colour and interest to complement the plantings of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias. The herbaceous borders add a blaze of colour and the sub-tropical Dells have an air of tropical mystery, whilst sheltered areas within a mature landscape bring unexpected delights.
We return to the hotel in time for dinner.
This morning after breakfast, we visit the magnificently manicured gardens of Sissinghurst. This famous garden was created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson from 1930 onwards and became the most admired English Garden of its time. Few great gardens live up to their reputations so effortlessly as this. Sissinghurst is a large connoisseurs’ garden consisting of a series of small romantic areas enclosed by the surviving parts of an Elizabethan mansion. It never disappoints its visitors, it has the power of enchantment, but it is also an unending source of inspiration for all gardeners. Sissinghurst is surely as close to gardening perfection as you can get, and it continues to be one of the most-copied flower gardens in the world.
We continue to another classic English Country Garden – Great Dixter. The distinguished garden writer Christopher Lloyd (who died in January 2006 at the aged of 84) was the genius behind Great Dixter, with its timbered 15th century house. Restored by Edwin Lutyens who also planned the garden, Mr Lloyd has firmly put his lively stamp on it. A recent experiment involved installing a summer tropical garden rich in bold shapes and brilliant colours. No gardener could come to Great Dixter without making discoveries and rekindling a zest for gardening.
We return to the hotel in time for dinner.
This morning after breakfast we will leave the hotel and head for our final visit, the gardens of Hever Castle. Once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the spectacular gardens were laid out between 1904 and 1908 by Joseph Cheal and Son, turning marshland into the spectacular gardens you see today. One of the most magnificent areas of the gardens is the Italian Garden, which was designed to display William Waldorf Astor’s collection of Italian sculpture and includes the colourful walled Rose Garden with its 3000 plants. Other features of the gardens include Half Moon Pond, the Cascade Rockery, the cool and shady grottoes, the formal loggia fountain based on the Trevi Fountain in Rome, and the more informal Two Sisters Pond. You can stroll through the Tudor Garden, Rhododendron Walk and along Anne Boleyn’s Walk with its collection of trees planted over 100 years ago. More recent additions to the garden by the present owners include the Millennium Fountain on Sixteen Acre Island, forming a feature at the far end of the more informal area of the gardens. The 110 metre herbaceous border has been reinstated, and there is also a Yew Maze.
We will return to your original pick-up points late afternoon.