A good friend and I, both avid gardeners, had dreamed for years of touring English gardens together. Last year, as she was looking forward to celebrating a milestone birthday, we decided it was finally time to make our dream a reality. In my search for organized garden tours in the U.K., I had the good fortune to hit upon Dr. Barbara Sommerville’s Flora Garden Tours. Great Dixter
We chose Flora’s July tour of gardens in Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, which includes a day at the world famous Hampton Court Flower Show. We were not disappointed. The itinerary turned out to be just the right balance of gardens large and small, public and private. Each garden we visited, whether a grand estate with sweeping views or an intimate cottage garden, was a unique treat for the senses. And the Hampton Court Flower Show, with its acres of colorful displays and exciting festival-like atmosphere, certainly lived up to its reputation as a showcase of the best and most innovative in English gardening.
The first is Dr. Sommerville, herself. Barbara is an experienced and very knowledgable gardener and guide, but gardens are far more to her than a collection of botanical labels and historical facts. At each stop she gave us a brief overview, then we were given the choice of accompanying her through the garden or wandering on our own. While Barbara is more than willing and able to answer questions, strolling through a garden with her is not a dry academic experience. The emphasis is on appreciation of the beauty of nature and the creative efforts of the gardeners who attempt to shape it.
The second distinction is one my friend and I came to appreciate more and more, as day after day our van pulled into parking lots lined with huge buses. As we observed tourers pouring from the buses, we would look at each other and say “We’re so glad to be with Barbara!” Barbara keeps her groups small, which allows some flexibility and makes for a more relaxed experience. Because we traveled in a van, our group was able to visit some smaller, yet delightful, gardens that could not accommodate large tour buses. The limited number of participants also allows Barbara to personally interact with everyone on her tour and makes it easier for participants to get to know each other. We thoroughly enjoyed traveling with the international mix of fellow gardening enthusiasts on our tour; by week’s end we were sorry to see our happy little band break up.
When my friend and I reminisce about our dream trip touring the gardens of southeast England we cannot think of a thing we would have changed. For us, it was perfect in every way. Thanks for the lovely memories, Dr. Barbara Sommerville and Flora Garden Tours!
― M. Berry, Oregon USA
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