Gardening holidays

by Adam Pasco

What an amazing fortnight I've had, cruising right round the British Isles in the company of over 300 gardeners [...]

Adam Pasco and Beth ChattoWhat an amazing fortnight I've had, cruising right round the British Isles in the company of over 300 gardeners, and visiting great gardens along the way. The Gardeners' World Magazine 20th Anniversary Cruise was a great success, with experts Pippa Greenwood, Matthew Biggs and garden photographer Tim Sandall at my side, providing talks and entertainment on board the MS Balmoral.

Departing from Southampton, and completely circumnavigating the country, we visited gardens at nearly every port of call. The National Trust's Bodnant Garden near Snowdonia was a delight. Widely appreciated as a spring garden for rhododendrons and azaleas, the garden is keen to promote its year-round appeal, and certainly looked wonderful in August.

A calm overnight sailing to Dublin and a short drive through County Wicklow took us to Mount Usher Gardens. Regularly voted a favourite by Gardeners' World readers, their knowledgeable garden team took us on an informative tour of their impressive Champion Trees – some of the best specimens you're ever likely to see. The vision of a wide walkway arched with eucryphia in full flower will be imprinted on my memory forever.

At the very top of the country we travelled the short distance from Scrabster to the Castle of Mey, home to the late Queen Mother. Olga, the new head gardener, is just coming to terms with such an exposed garden, designed in part to provide cut flowers and produce for the house. Tall walls and dividing hedges are essential to create shelter, and new planting projects are very much in evidence despite Olga only having one other gardener to help (Bodnant has 20, plus 20 volunteers).

The highlight of my cruise was visiting The Beth Chatto Gardens near Colchester, and being welcomed by the great lady herself. At a sprightly 88 years old, Beth is as passionate about plants as ever, and the garden she has created over several decades inspired our group as they neared the end of their cruise, with many getting back on board with bags full of new treasures to plant in their own gardens. Beth was particularly keen to take me into her private garden to enjoy the evergreen Itea illicifolia trained against a wall and dripping with long catkins.

Beth understands plants, and has developed a garden that works with the dry conditions she experiences near the east coast. Rainfall is sparse and infrequent, and watering costly and time consuming, so plants are chosen that relish dry conditions.

And that is one of the big lessons I've learned from visiting gardens during this cruise. Local conditions vary massively, and so do the gardens created in each location. By going with the flow rather than against it you can create a great garden, and make life easier for yourself!

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Gardeners' World Web User 22/08/2011 at 16:05

Sounds idyllic, Adam, except I get seasick even in harbour! But you have reminded me to go and sniff the Eucryphia at the Botanic Garden. It is a delight at this time of year and the blossom smells lovely. I am busy making a fernery in dry shade (under a eucalyptus tree) and so am looking in all the shady areas in the gardens I visit for inspiration. So far I have learned that foxgloves, yellow poppies, bluebells, Heuchera "Lime Marmalade", and many ferns are suitable. Research for your garden once you know it well is so satisfying.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/08/2011 at 14:32

What a wonderful gardening holiday, and visit to meet Beth Chatto. I love visiting gardens, and going on a holiday like this would be just right for me. I've never visited any of these gardens, so you've certainly wet my appetite.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/08/2011 at 12:58

Sounds fantastic i'm just back from Casa Ferrobo it was so relaxing and the gardens surrounding were beautiful.

Gardeners' World Web User 01/09/2011 at 15:08

I have a Clematis Armandii Appleblossom, three years old. It is growing beautifully and flowered well last spring but seems to be slowly dying from the bottom. Leaves are dark brown but new ones at the other end. Is it dying or does it do this? Help please as would hate to loose it.

Gardeners' World Web User 05/09/2011 at 14:56

As one of that lucky 300 on the Cruuise with the GW team, I have to say that my wife , Marion, and I really enjoyed it, perhaps better than other cruises we have taken. I endorse Adam's views on Mount Usher, Beth Chattos Garden and the Castle of Mey, and would like to add the visit (not under the aegis of GW) to "Jenny's Garden" at La Petite Vallee on Guernsey. I know that all of you are regular people (with the possible exception of William Lobb(!)for all your renown, but it was great to be able to chat with you all at different times and places. I do not usually go on cruises to be anything other than entertained and visit other countries, but this one proved that education is also entertaining.

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