For those of us who love to garden and love to travel, a garden tour can satisfy both passions and provide inspiration and a welcome relief from the hard work of actual gardening.

View at Powis Castle

View from Powis Castle

In 2017, a friend and travel expert, Lorraine Whittemore, and I sat down to discuss plans for a dedicated garden trip to the UK. I had been on several trips with a local garden center owner who had decided against future trips. There was a gap to be filled and Lorraine and I decided we could be a good team. She was the travel expert, I was the garden expert.

Planning a garden trip to the UK starts a year ahead of any trip. The decision must be made on which region of the UK we will visit. There are over 140 counties in the UK which comprises 4 countries, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In 2018 we decided on Yorkshire. In 2019 we took a group to visit Essex. In 2020 we scheduled Wales…put on the brakes. We all know what happened to travel in 2020 and 2021 and by the time 2022 rolled around the hotel which we had booked in Wales was obligated to past commitments so we went to the Cotswolds. We waited 3 years to actually get to Wales and Wales did not disappoint.

Why Wales?

Wales sounds a bit wilder to me than England. Just look at the Welsh language. The Welsh name is Cymru, prounounced, I believe, ‘Cam ree’. Really, it is. Our group stayed in a town named Llandrindod Wells which is somehow pronounced C’landrindod Wells but it rolls off the Welsh tongue fast and furious with always a glint of mischief in the eye of the Welshman. A week was not enough time to master the pronunciation.

Wales had appeal to both Lorraine and I, and planning began but Wales is bigger than one might expect especially when mapping a bus route. We found Wales to be a country of exquisite beauty with textbook rolling hills, farmland, sheep, incredible gardens and sweeping views. We visited popular gardens such as Powis Castle, The National Botanic Garden of Wales and Aberglasney Gardens but we also visited many smaller private gardens found through research. We didn’t see all of Wales. It is always good to leave a place wanting more.

Our group at Willowbrook in Presteigne

Our tours are small.

We find that up to 25 individuals is best and we choose one hotel location to make it easier for our travel clients. Moving is no fun for anyone and less so for those who may be a bit older, retired and have the time for more travel. Not all of our group for sure, but many. We picked Llandrindod Wells Metropole Hotel for our group stay in Wales.

It is in the country of Powys and just a bit south central of the visual center of Wales. Our goal in picking a hotel is to find one which is within walking distance of shops and pubs but often the overriding factor is a hotel which can accommodate 25, many of whom are single travelers and prefer a single room. Not all of our clients are gardeners but all love travel and all love gardens. The variety of our clients interests makes our discussions much more lively.

Sculpture at Pentrasite in Carmarthen

Choosing gardens to see for each day of our trip requires a bit of finesse.

No one wants to ride a bus all day, so gardens are scheduled to keep travel distances between them at a minimum of an hour at most. Wales was more of a challenge as distances between gardens are greater and roads  narrow. We offer a wide range of garden types on our schedule. RHS gardens, UNESCO World Sites, National Trust Properties and also NGS Gardens.

I am also an avid reader of Gardens Illustrated and The English Garden, UK magazine publications. I also do extensive internet searches to find gardens in the UK. Last but not least is finding gardens through my gardening associates from garden blogging for many years. The garden blogging community which I found on line in 2010 was largely comprised of people who loved to garden and share their gardens via the internet. Things have changed in over a decade but I did make lifelong friends through blogging at ‘Ledge and Gardens’.

Symmetry and sumptuous- Veddw

The RHS gardens are Royal Horticultural Gardens and are large in scale, beautifully manicured and they offer gift shops and cafes which are all important.

The UNESCO sites are historically, culturally and scientifically important sites. National Trust Properties vary in scope but many include properties with gardens such as Powis Castle in Welshpool. All of the above gardens are large in scale which is why we always include gardens which are listed in the National Garden Scheme handbook. A good proportion of our trip is visiting NGS gardens. For those of us planning a trip from ‘across the pond’, I have found NGS to be an invaluable source for finding smaller gardens although there is a quite a range of size available from small backyard gardens to large estate gardens and everything in the range between the two. The NGS handbook is arranged by county with a date listed for opening at a minor cost which goes to charity. Smaller gardens are often more relatable to those of us who garden. The handbook does specify which gardens are open to groups on a request basis. The most difficult part of planning a garden trip is that there are so many very worthy gardens to see and a limited amount of time.

Have there been disappointments in garden quality within the NGS gardens that I have seen?

Not often. There are certainly gardens which do not follow ‘rules of design’ and with which some might find fault, but in any garden I have ever visited there is always something of value to be seen even if it is just a slice of cake. Americans do love cake and there are few places in the US where one can order a slice of lemon drizzle cake,   Victoria sponge or choose from a traybake. Our trips have also educated many on the true meaning of a ‘Cream Tea’ which has little to do with cream in your tea.

Tea and cake

Our fifth trip is scheduled to depart to The Lake District of England in June. Lorraine and I have been very fortunate to have many repeat clients on our trips which speaks to the value of L and L Garden Tours. Lorraine and I are both enthusiastic gardeners and our love of gardening and travel is shared by our clients. Our 2025 trip plans are being discussed even before we embark on our 2024 adventure.

If you were to be able to go to any area in the UK to see gardens, what would be your first choice and why?