By Paull Tickner
I have a long-standing commitment to helping travel counsellors to release the potential from untapped niche markets and although you’re very busy, spare me 5 minutes and draw up a list of people you know who are Master Gardeners: members of Orchid, Rose, Herb and other specialist garden societies: Friends of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta: Landscape gardeners: TV, radio, newspaper and magazine gardening personalities: clients who are members of your local garden Club.
These contacts are potential pied pipers and as many of them return to their normal schedule of monthly meetings in September, let’s talk about some travel less, see more, value added itineraries that they may have never seen before? Orchid Societies will relish Kew Gardens’ annual Orchid extravaganza in February, while other gardeners, too busy to travel in the spring might, may say yes to a Poldark-Doc Martin infused Cornwall garden tour in March.
Scotland’s Rhododendron Festival blended with a few castles and distilleries may draw attention north of the border, while others will like the look of our English tulip festivals. The mid-May Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Malvern Flower Show is also a very good reason for a visit to the Cotswolds. Read on for more hooks on which to hang a customized UK garden tour including the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show.
Kew Gardens Orchid Festival
Between 8th February-8th March, forget the winter blues and become immersed in a celebration of vibrant colors and magnificent plant life inside the tropical paradise of Kew Gardens’ conservatories. To find an Orchid Society near you check out www.aos.org and click on Affiliated Societies. Look carefully as there may be one near where you live. You may even spot the name of someone you know…
Cornwall Gardens Tour in March
March is when the stately homes of Cornwall fling open their garden gates to show off fantastic displays of camellias and magnolias that bloom in pastel white and pink and vibrant red, purple and yellow. In April swathes of Cornwall’s woodlands get carpeted with millions of bluebells. Along with the breath taking vivid blue flowers, giant rhododendrons burst into flower heralding the start of spring, time it to coincide with the Cornwall Garden Society’s Spring Flower Show (4th-5th April) With a dash of Poldark and a hint of Doc Martin, this will appeal to clients too busy to travel in May.
Scotland’s Rhododendron Festival
The wonderfully diverse world of the rhododendron will be celebrated with the Scottish Rhododendron Festival returning for its sixth year in 2020. Flowering across the country from 1st April to 31st May, this festival features more than 90 events displaying swathes of color in gardens, estates and woodlands nationwide. Some of the most stunning displays can be seen in Argyll and Bute, where there are 20 gardens of varying size, style and maturity, dating from the 13th to the 20th century. Add a whisky distillery or two and you’re onto a winner!
Tip Toe through the Tulips
With many gardeners busy in their own gardens in May, a late April tour brings together leisurely visits to the extensive and breathtakingly beautiful tulip displays at 11th century Arundel Castle, the award-winning gardens at privately owned Pashley Manor and at Chenies Manor. Your garden loving clients won’t have been offered this tantalizing combination before.
The RHS Malvern Spring Festival
If you’re looking for a truly outstanding castles, stately homes and gardens tour with some great recommendations for country pub lunches, here’s my suggestion. Based in the Cotswolds and in Shakespeare’s England, this “travel less, see more” itinerary with visits to many outstanding privately-owned gardens can be timed to coincide with the RHS Malvern Show (7th-10th May), a glorious spring extravaganza celebrating food, gardening and the countryside.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show
Every year, world-renowned garden designers, plant specialists, florists and nurseries come together every year to show off cutting-edge garden designs, inspirational floral exhibits and stunning horticultural displays. Discover show-stopping and award-winning gardens, rare flowers and plants, creative floral artwork and spot emerging gardening trends. Next year’s dates are 19th-23rd May and to ensure that jet lag doesn’t spoil the day, first spend 4-5 nights in the Cotswolds or in Kent and Sussex.
Two Flower Shows and an Edible Garden
Returning for its seventh glorious year, the Blenheim Palace Flower Show takes place between 26th-28th June. By a very happy coincidence, the nearby Woburn Abbey Garden Show runs between 27th-28th June. The ancestral home of the Dukes of Bedford, it is also where in the 1840s, Duchess Anna Maria, the wife of the 7th Duke popularized the English social custom of taking afternoon tea. It just has to be “the place” to enjoy a cuppa and some cakes! Returning to London, I can also add an edible flower demonstration and an edible flower “hands on” session followed by a floral lunch.
The Emerald Isle, Welsh Castles and RHS Chatsworth
Consider flying to Dublin for 3 days of spectacular gardens before taking the fast ferry to Holyhead, North Wales, for visits to 12th century castles, a Great Little Train ride and some spectacular gardens in one of the most beautiful regions of the British Isles. Then add a walking tour the walled city of Chester led by a Roman Centurion in full military uniform, some sophisticated shopping in the World of Wedgwood and visit the Derbyshire Peak District for a memorable day at the Royal Horticultural Society Chatsworth Flower Show (10th-14th June), a magnificent sensory extravaganza for gardening fans. You can then fly home from Manchester or take the train to London for a few days and fly home from there.
The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show
With a bit of help from me, you can offer your clients a tour that brings together up to 10 winners of the prestigious Historic Houses Association/Christies Garden of the Year Award. Based largely in the Cotswolds, the itinerary concludes with a wonderful, colour and scent-filled day at the annual Hampton Court Flower Show (6th-12th July). Many of your gardening contacts will say yes to this Collection of Excellence.
The RHS Wisley Flower Show
In early September 2020, this spectacular event will be in full swing with spectacular displays from Chelsea and Hampton Court winners and from the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies. It also hosts the National Dahlia Society’s Annual Show. Add a few owner and head gardener-led visits to nearby private gardens and you’ve got a great idea for the back burner.
The National Garden Scheme
Most of my garden tours include properties participating in the National Garden Scheme. From February to October every year, more than 3,700 of them across England and Wales participate and most of them are privately owned. From the quirky to the grand, they open at their peak for color, fragrance and profusion, and are perfect for tea and cakes on the lawn.
You have the contacts and the UK has the travel experiences. Let’s put the two together and create a profitable outcome.
Paull Tickner, owner of U.K-based Custom GB, is known for his expertise in creating and operating imaginative, value-added tours of Great Britain and Ireland. Visit his website at www.customgb.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org