Flora Garden Tours


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Kathy’s Rose Tour Diary

Debra and I are neighbors and friends; both of us love gardening and now we are getting a chance to see some great English gardens we’d only drooled over previously in books. Our husbands are probably already dreading our return because they know it will involve tearing out and re-doing parts of our gardens. Deb and I laughed about what their reaction would be if we returned to the States wanting ruins. On our first Flora Garden Tour we’ve seen lovely garden plantings in and around old castle ruins - and even the ruins of a pig sty. The rose garden at Hever Castle, Kent; rambling roses displayed against classical antiquities surrounded by beds of Floribunda Iceberg rosesRose garden at Hever Castle

June 26

Now we are in Ifield at April Cottage Guest House ready to start our second tour - the Rose Tour. After our full English breakfast of eggs, sausages, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, cereal, toast, and tea, we “waddled” out to the van. Ruthie and Bette, from Ontario, Canada, Debra and I from Grinnell, Iowa, Barbara and our driver Alan headed first to Roger Platt’s Garden Design and Nursery. We couldn’t take plants back without going through a lot of red tape, but we all took notes and photos of plants we want to order. I enjoyed comparing various Clematis from his large collection. I plan to add “Alba Luxurians,” “Hagley Hybrid” and “Early Sensation” to my garden back home.

Once the major gardens opened, we headed to Hever Castle, home of Ann Boleyn prior to her marriage to Henry VIII. There was a beautiful rose garden, a lake, wisteria pergola (wish it had been in bloom!), topiaries, plus the fascinating castle. Flower displays inside the castle rivaled those growing in the gardens. We lunched on the grounds and then met up with Donna and her daughter Diane from Michigan, whose plane had just arrived. We all headed to Penhurst Place for the afternoon garden visit. There we saw a garden replicating the Union Jack, garden rooms - each of which made us “ooh” even more. I need more film, though I thought I had brought enough for the whole trip. Some of the group toured the house, while others had tea, then we made a quick stop in the bookstore before heading back to April Cottage. After the slide show, we walked to the Royal Oak pub for jacket potatoes. We packed up, since we’ll be moving to a new B & B for tomorrow night. We’ll sleep well tonight. The weather has been beautiful with a cool breeze at night - and no mosquitoes, though our screenless windows are open all night.

June 27

Brian and Liz, our hosts at April Cottage, luckily babysat some of our luggage so we didn’t have to drag it to the other B & B - including the wire garden fairies we bought from the artist/gardener at Westup Farm during our first week’s tour. Deb has already had to buy a new suitcase and ship home a couple of boxes of china. I know I won’t be able to even lift my suitcases when it’s time to go home.

Our first stop was Furzey Gardens. Two thatched roof cottages at the entrance were welcoming. These gardens seemed like woodland walks. We followed meandering paths, ending up at a plant nursery they operate as training for the learning disabled. We were jealous of the cheap plants Barbara was able to buy. I so wanted to bring home one of the acers - for $2.00! We then drove to to Mottisfont Abbey and ate a quick lunch complete with rose petal ice cream - what could be more appropriate for the Rose Tour? The key features of Mottisfont were the two rose gardens. They were established in 1972 to conserve what still remained of the old French roses of the last century. The collection was assembled by Graham Stuart Thomas. A huge rose gazebo is a central attraction. Box hedges lined the beds. Swans swam in the stream. My garden back home is looking meager and I need to remind myself that roses in Iowa (winters 20 below zero and summers of hot, dry 90-100 degree temperatures) just will not grow as big or look as lush as here. We all met at 15:00 so we could make a stop at Winchester Cathedral before heading to Melford House. We toured the 900-year old cathedral - Jane Austen, among many others, is buried inside. The stained glass windows, chapels, tombs, high altar and great screen were awesome. I’m afraid I nearly nodded off during our slide talk on the “History of the Rose” that night - I was just exhausted. A brisk walk to the pub revived me and the fish and chips were good.

June 28

Alan arrived at our B & B early in order to beat the traffic. Our first stop was the Gardens of the Rose at St. Albans, the headquarters of the Royal National Rose Society. It is one of the best and most important collections of roses in the world - at least 1700 varieties. It was overwhelming. Though we spent over 3 hours there, I never did see it all. Decadent and lush are the best words to describe the roses that were everywhere - in the height of bloom. I took lots of pictures and wrote down three pages of names of roses I’d like to get. Even lunch was wonderful. We sat at tables outside surrounded by blooming roses; I had a cheese, walnut and celery baguette and lemon custard tart. I reluctantly climbed into the van for our trip to Chenies Manor, thinking it would be a disappointment after seeing the Gardens of the Rose, especially since rain was threatening. It wasn’t. A sunken garden was especially impressive - primarily in the colors of green, chartreuse and purple.

I also took pictures of a large collection of antique watering cans on the patio and some lovely lavender poppies. The only disappointment was that my camera malfunctioned. Tomorrow Barbara and Alan are taking Donna and me to a camera shop. Maybe they’ll know what’s wrong. This has been another lovely thing about this trip. Because we are a small group, we can make unscheduled stops and Barbara and Alan have been so accommodating about helping us get things we need. Next time I’m bringing a back-up camera loaded with slide film. Since Debra and I have to give a talk at our garden club, we’ve been taking both prints and slides, but it would be handier to have a camera for each. I use prints on greeting cards and I can hardly wait to get my film developed. Everywhere I’ve looked on this trip have been these little romantic vignettes.

At 4:00 we left Chenies Manor and drove to Windsor Castle. How massive. Back at April Cottage, we walked up to The Plough pub for supper, then visited a circa 1200 AD church nearby. We had our slide show, then fell into bed.

June 29

Our first garden of the day was Town Place, a private garden. Some of my favorite gardens on these tours have been the private ones. We all feel that way. It’s probably because we think we, too, can achieve what these private gardeners have done - we all know there’s no way we could afford or take care of gardens on the scale of the Gardens of the Rose. Town Place had tidy herb gardens, a pond, long herbacious borders with most unusual “tapestry” hedges caused by planting two plant varities of different colors. The potager had a series of arches covered with sweet peas and a lush sunken rose garden. We fantasized about sitting in that sunken garden reading, surrounded by huge blooms and heady perfume.

Next we were off to Nymans, formerly owned by the Messel family before being given to the National Trust. In 1947 the house was destroyed by fire and an irreplaceable botanical library was lost. Only part of the house was rebuilt - the rest was left in stone ruins (I must have ruins!!!). We saw a most unusual “monkey tree” and great views all around. After lunching there, we drove to two private gardens. The first one had great fountains, expanses of lawns, secret gardens - even a pet cemetery with graves of Joseph and Josephine, two monkeys. The National Trust were working to get the gardens ready for an upcoming open day. Our last garden of the day was Whitehouse Cottage, the imaginative woodland garden of two gentlemen who have turned the sides of a stream into a shady haven with paths, bridges, benches, statues and ferns. We were served home made lemon drizzle cake for tea in their conservatory.

June 30

Our first garden of the day was Wisley, a grand scale garden. It was given to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1903. The gardens are beautiful to look at, but Wisley has educational and scientific roles also. There’s a school of horticulture there and trial gardens. We were awed by the trial plantings of hundreds of varieties of delphiniums. There’s a huge formal water lily canal, mixed borders over 400 feet long, new rose introductions, rambling paths in every direction - even some small model gardens and the “tranquil garden” that won a Chelsea Garden show gold award last year. Dogwoods were in full bloom. I enjoyed the massive rock garden, too. I bought an autographed copy of David Austin’s rose book in their great gift shop.

The last garden of the Rose tour was Polesden Lacey. Here there is a lovely golden Georgian mansion, an impressive gold leaf room, lovely gardens with lots of roses and beautiful vistas. The lavender garden was just coming into full bloom. After tea, we headed back to April Cottage where we sat in the garden with Barbara for a while before she headed off to her cottage home. Then the six of us from the tour took a taxi to the Flight Tavern and ate outside reminiscing about our favorite gardens and our great week’s tour. Besides the beautiful gardens, I’ll always remember…


Return to Roses in the Southern Counties. The walled rose garden arches at Polesden Lacy in full flower bordered by cat mint. Surrey.Polesden Lacey


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