Flowers, Frocks & Botanical Fantasies Tour Itinerary

Garden lovers put down your dandelion diggers and rejoice! The Grand Tour Itinerary is finally here.

I know some of you doubted that the Flowers, Frocks & Botanical Fantasies Tour would never bloom, and admittedly planning it all was harder than growing an Amorphophallus titanum. At times I feel like Derek Jarman trying to nurture tulips in the microclimate of the Dungeness nuclear power plant. But gardeners are nothing if not tenacious and I am no exception. After a month of frustrating glitches, I finally flew to London to sort it all out. (And Paris too; but that tour’s coming later.) I also wanted to ensure that the places we saw were worth showing you. Some places were as beautiful as I remember when I lived here. Others, such as the Garden Museum and the Geffrye, weren't. The poor performers have since been dead-headed from The List. Other places, meanwhile – including one of the Cotswolds' most beautiful restaurants – have been included. It's shaping up to be a beautiful tour.

So I'd like to say welcome to the Flowers, Frocks & Horticultural Fantasies Tour; a carefully cultivated tour of gorgeous gardenalia for leaf lovers young and old, whether you're from Sydney or Seattle. We'll be seeing extraordinary gardens, great garden stores, and enchanting horticultural corners of the country. I do hope you'll all be pleased. Enjoy! I hope it's a summer you’ll remember for years.

Also, this tour is Land Content only. You are welcome to organise your own flights from the US or Australia using your preferred agent, or our agent, or even your frequent flyer points. (Our agent can help find you the best fares.) Finally, this is an abbreviated itinerary and price. Only those who have emailed me to provide their contact details will be sent the full itinerary. A comprehensive PDF brochure will be emailed out early next week, when I'm back in Australia. Also, numbers are strictly limited to 20-30 on this tour. However, if we fill the first, we can run a second in June. (See below for details.)  I'm very much look forward to seeing you all. I think it's going to be a really lovely week in the English countryside. Don't forget, 2013 marks the 100th Anniversary of Chelsea so if you have never been to this show before, make this the year!

Also, I must apologise for the delay in posting. My SLR camera was stolen off my shoulder by a little Dickensian thief on Bond Street late this week. Which has reminded me to include a little warning about safety measures in our brochure.)

May 21 - 29

The Flowers, Frocks and Horticultural Fantasies Tour  is an aesthetic feast for the senses. A horticultural symphony of scent, stem and splendour, it will inspire, delight and astound. It may even motivate you to cultivate your own small patch of gardening paradise. The gardens selected have been chosen for their inspirational and innovative designs. Some are famous National Trust properties that every gardener should see in their lifetime, others are private homes. However, they are all relatively intimate and small in scale so that you can relate to them, and perhaps even take ideas from their memorable planting schemes.

We will be visiting lots of splendid gardens, having lots of laughs, making lovely new friends, taking lots of photographs, and generally having a wonderful time.

Day One – Tuesday 21. Arrival in London and transfer to lovely South Kensington hotel*. Settle in before meeting up with everyone for welcome cocktails and a delicious casual dinner nearby at one of London's loveliest small restaurants (above), which only serves seasonal produce and has been dubbed "a piece of country in the city".

Note: If anybody checks in early, I shall take you to a gorgeous little bookshop that sells lovely second-hand design, garden and other books for very cheap. And we'll have a little coffee and cake too.

*The hotels are subject to availability. We are still negotiating a price with the London hotel, as London is terrifyingly expensive, but I can assure you that you will be pleased. The hotels and restaurants chosen have all been selected for either their fondness of flowers, their charming design, or their proximity to sights.

Day Two – Wednesday May 22. We'll catch the tube to Sloane Square for a special half-hour guided tour of the Chelsea In Bloom boutiques, part of this special week of horticultural-themed displays. Then we'll visit the 'The Gardener's Garden', the beautifully serene Chelsea Physic Garden. Founded in 1673 as the Apothecaries' Garden for the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants, it's London's oldest botanic garden, and features a new Garden of Edible and Useful Plants, plus more than 5,000 different edible, useful, medicinal and historical plants, all in beds with signs displaying their use. There's also a lovely terrace cafe here for brunch if you need refreshments. {See funny review of cafe here} {Note: Only certain meals are included in tour price as everyone has different preferences, and we don't want you paying for someone else's addiction to Chateau Lafite!}

Then we head to the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the fantastic galleries of interior design, fashion, prints, architecture and other aesthetic delights that are contained within. Some of you, like me, will love getting lost in the V&A, as there are always amazing things to discover, such as this room-sized tapestry of a formal country garden (above). Many of the rooms have been taken, lock, stock and gilded panelling, from grand estates and put back together inside the museum. You may be here all day!  {There's a great cafe here too, the William Morris Room, which gardeners will love. It's good for a little pick-me-up cuppa.}

Those who finish with the V&A in under an hour or two can come with me to explore one of London's most surprising little villages, a secret enclave a few steps from the V&A that few people realise exists. There are also secrets boutiques in this village that sell Chanel, Valentino and such for amazing prices. You may even find a hat to wear to Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow, such as this splendid one, from a previous show.

And if you have any energy left at 4pm, you can wander to Harrods for some shopping, or, if you're still garden-hungry, I'll take you  to here, London's Secret Walled Garden. (NB Some people may be fitter than others, and we have to accommodate all levels of energy. Those who tire early are welcome to return to the hotel for a nanna nap.)

The Secret Walled Garden is where Diana used to retreat when she wanted to think. Next to it is one of the most magical royal orangeries in London, which also serves high tea, which we might need at this stage. It was originally designed as a royal greenhouse for Queen Anne to potter around in and is rather grand. I love it.

In the evening, we'll have a classic English pub dinner at a beautifully decorated 'gastro pub' around the corner from our hotel. (Not included in price, but it's very cheap.}

Day Three – Thursday May 23. This entire day is dedicated to the wonder that is the Chelsea Flower Show. Chelsea is the 'catwalk' of the garden shows: the place where garden suppliers offer their newest plants and products. The new roses are always amazing here. We'll catch the tube to Sloane Square (the easiest way to get around London), and then wander down. Once inside, you will be able to wander the show at your leisure. (Tickets for all gardens included in price.) You can either return to the hotel with me at an allocated time, or use the map we'll supply you with to wander back by foot, exploring the beautiful streets of Chelsea on your own. (NB These are the only two days we use public transport or foot – which is the best way to see London. The rest of the time we'll have our own chartered coach.)

Day Four – Friday May 24. A very special day. We'll be heading by our own private coach to the grandeur of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew in today. If you haven't seen Kew, you should at least once in your life. The Victorian Palm House (above) is extraordinary. Then we'll be going to the famous Petersham Nurseries, an enchanting cafe and garden store that was awarded a Michelin star under Skye Gyngell and is now run by noted Australian chef and author Greg Malouf. Full of great things to buy, it's a cafe inside a greenhouse. You'll love it!

For dinner, we'll go to a nearby French restaurant, or this hotel (above), which is an eye-opener indeed.

Day Five – Saturday May 25. We pack up and head off for two days in the charming Cotswolds, transported in our private coach. On the way, we'll stop in two of the prettiest villages in England, the second of which Prince Charles used as the spot to propose to Diana. Then it's onto Hidcote, which is quite possibly one of  the loveliest gardens in England, next to Sissinghurst. An Arts & Crafts masterpiece created by the horticulturalist Major Lawrence Johnston, it has inspired everyone from Monty Don to Stella McCartney, who modelled her own country estate on it.

Then we head to the much-talked-about Daylesford Organic Farm Shop, which isn't really a farm shop at all but a very swish estate. If we're lucky, we may even see the Kitchen Garden that won a medal at Chelsea.  (It depends if any produce has been planted.)

On the way back, we'll have dinner at one of England's prettiest country inns (above), which I notice lots of magazines are now featuring.

Then it's to bed at a fabulous Cotswolds hotel! (Can't reveal here: don't want others booking it out before us.)

Day Six – Sunday May 26. Another special day of horticultural heaven. We're stopping at Barnsley House today, Rosemary Verey's former home and garden. I met her once. It was one of the highlights of my life in London. Unfortunately, we can't stay, as there's not enough rooms, but a wander around is enough inspiration, I promise. We'll also see the famous kitchen garden (above) that inspired the modern revival in parterre potagers.

Then it's off to the garden that Rosemary helped design – Prince Charles' Highgrove Estate.

Now tickets to Highgrove depend on when it's open (and when HRH is in residence), so the dates may be switched depending on availability. But we'll see the Black and White Garden, the beautiful, beautiful topiary terrace and all of the other royal borders.

Then it's back to the hotel, where we'll have dinner at the hotel before taking our weary feet to bed.

Day Seven – Monday May 27. We pack up our wellies and our luggage and head south today, stopping at one of the Cotswold's most glorious florists on the way. Then we head to another of my favourite English villages, perhaps my very favourite. The settings for the films, Doctor Doolittle and War House (Steven Spielberg selected it as "the perfect English village'), this is a truly sweet place that will fill your camera up with photos! There will an opportunity to have a bite to eat here, as there is a pub and shops to buy produce for lunch.

Then it's off to the glamour of one of the world's most talked-about places, Highclere Castle, the home of Downton Abbey. Note: Opening is subject to filming, and ticket availability as it's often sold out. If Highclere is closed for filming, we'll stop at another beautiful estate or village noted for its gardens.

Then we check into one of the most stylish little inns in the south for two nights, decorated by a former magazine editor who's now making her mark on the design world. It even has its own kitchen garden.

Day Eight – Tuesday May 28. We drive to the home of one of my favourite men today – Winston Churchill. His beloved kitchen garden at his country house 'Chartwell' is beautiful. Then it's off to Charleston, a delightful cottage and garden that was the country escape of those writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury group. In the afternoon, we'll have free time to wander around the refreshing beach and beautiful historic streets of Hastings Old Town, where you can grab a bite to eat at your leisure. Then we'll return to our home to have dinner, dining on the hotel's own home-grown produce.

Day Nine – Wednesday May 29. We save the best until last! After we've packed up, we head to Kent, and the gloriousness that is this corner of the world in spring. We also visit what has become arguably the most famous garden in the world: Sissinghurst. Its creator Vita Sackville-West once described it as: "Profusion, even extravagance and exuberance within the confines of the utmost linear severity", but it's far more than that. It's a truly inspirational combination of Harold Nicholson's meticulous design and Vita's romantic notions: the classicist and the poet. The result is an extraordinary garden that blends strict formal borders and joyous planting schemes. Many gardens want to be Sissinghurst when they grow up, but sadly, few of us have a spare crumbling 16th-century brick wall hanging about. Nevertheless, Sissinghurst has been the inspiration for thousands of gardens in the world. The White Garden. The Walled Garden. The Writer's Tower. The Nuttery. The Lime Walk. The Wild Garden. It's all here. And it's exquisite. And the roses are some of the most beautiful in the world. Vita Sackville-West planted hundreds in every form and also helped return some lost roses to cultivation. Vita, we'll be quietly thanking you as we wander around the borders.

Then we head to another grand garden, Great Dixter, home of the noted garden writer and television presenter Christopher Lloyd. Restored in 1910 by the English architect Edwin Lutyens (who also designed the gardens), it's comprised of a series of small gardens including a fine topiary garden, a rose garden, a magnificent herbaceous border, and a kitchen garden, plus a large orchard with many pockets of wild flowers. A joy to visit.

Finally, as we wind our way back to London we'll stop by a sublime private garden by a famous Australian plantswoman, who was previously responsible for one of Australia's most loved gardens in the Southern Highlands, Kennerton Green. Her new garden, which is private, is certain to inspire, with its chic garden rooms and Chinoiserie chicken coop. (Like Highgrove, this garden is only open on certain days, so the itinerary may be switched to accommodate availability.)

At the end of Wednesday we arrive back in London, tired but happy. From here, you can either organise a flight home or your own accommodation for that evening and beyond. You may wish to stay in your preferred hotel, or we can recommend some elegant boutique hotels, such as those in the Firmdale Group. (Unfortunately, we can't stay at Firmdale, as they're too small to accept group bookings.) I would suggest book-ending the tour with a few days in London. You'll love exploring the city on your own, and I'm going to give everyone a booklet of great little places to see.

Included in the tour price:
All hotels and accommodation for 8 nights, including private bath/shower (not the final Wednesday night), breakfast daily, deluxe private motorcoach transportation, a full time driver (and his accommodation, as we need to ensure he's well rested for our safety), a tour leader or two, two dinners, all garden entrance tickets, and all taxes (Value Added Tax VAT). 

Not included: Meals (apart from two dinners). This was the only way we could keep the cost down. Also, everyone has different dietary preferences (and alcoholic ones!). It's only fair that people pay for what they'd like to eat and not other's expensive tastes.


A$3999.00 per person, on a twin/double share basis
*Single supplement would be additional. (If you're single, let us know, and we can pair you up with another single. It will make the cost of the tour cheaper.)

Details will emailed out in a formal brochure next week to all those 80 or 90 people who expressed interest. I do hope you can come with us!

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