Inspirational UK Garden Festivals For Fingered Clients

By Paull Tickner

 With garden clubs returning to their normal schedule of monthly meetings this month, impress them with a selection of itineraries they will have never seen before? Spice them up with visits led by owners and head gardeners and time the departure to coincide with one of these outstanding horticultural masterpiece shows and festivals. 

When creating a customised garden tour, remember that if an itinerary includes nothing but gardens, while living up to its title, the appeal will be restricted to a limited number of people.  Don’t lose sight of the main theme but jazz up each day with unexpected touches that will delight everyone.

Kew Gardens Thai Orchid Festival: Next February, forget the winter blues and become immersed in a celebration of Thailand’s vibrant colours, culture and magnificent plant life inside the tropical paradise of Kew Gardens’ conservatories.  Beyond the flower displays, Kew will put on a program of evening events, with traditional dance performances, Thai cooking tips, Kew orchid expert talks, cocktail making and spa treatments.

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. With a dash of Poldark and a hint of Doc Martin, it may 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 fifth year. Flowering across the country from April 1 to May 31, 2019, this festival features more than 90 events displaying swathes of colour 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.

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, base your clients in the Cotswolds for a “travel less, see more” itinerary with visits to many outstanding privately-owned gardens.  Time it to coincide with the RHS Malvern Show (9th-12th May), a glorious spring extravaganza celebrating food, gardening and the countryside.


A Celebration of English Gardens and Chelsea.

For nearly 35 years, the Historic Houses Association and Christies, the fine art auctioneers have sponsored an annual competition to find their Garden of the Year.  The list reads like a who’s who of great British gardens and with 10 of them in the south of England, with a bit of inspired creativity, they make a perfect addition to a day at the Chelsea Flower Show (21st-25th May).

2 Flower Shows and an Edible Garden

Returning for its seventh glorious year, the Blenheim Palace Flower Show takes place over the weekend of 21st-23rd June.  By a very happy coincidence, so does the Garden Show at nearby Woburn Abbey where in the 1840s, Duchess Anna Maria, the wife of the 7th Duke of Bedford popularised the English social custom of taking afternoon tea. It has to be THE place to enjoy a cuppa and some cakes!  Returning to London, I can arrange 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 nights and spend a day at Bloom (30th May – 3rd June), Ireland’s largest and most spectacular gardening event before taking the fast ferry to Holyhead 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 via the walled city of Chester and a walking tour led by a Roman Centurion in full military uniform, some shopping in the World of Wedgwood, into the Derbyshire Peak District for a memorable day at the Royal Horticultural Society Chatsworth Flower Show (5th-9th June), a magnificent new celebration of plants and gardens.  You can then fly home on one of the many non-stop North America-bound non-stop flights or take the train to London for a few days and fly home from there.


Rose Tinted Gardens

This time around and with a bit of help from me, you can offer your clients a tour that brings together 10 more winners of the HHA/Christies Garden of the Year Award.  Being based largely in the Cotswolds, the itinerary concludes with a wonderful, colour and scent filled day at the annual Hampton Court Flower Show (1st - 7th July 2019).  Many of your gardening contacts will say yes to this Collection of Excellence.


The Royal Horticultural Society Tatton Park Flower Show

Set in the magnificent parklands of Tatton Park, Cheshire and first staged in 1999, this well-established RHS floral spectacular features innovative Show Gardens, the National Flower Bed Competition, a huge Floral Marquee, talks, demonstrations, advice, trade stands and exhibitors, all wrapped up in a vibrant carnival atmosphere. As the focal point of a 3-night stay, you should also include visits to the stately homes and secret gardens that play a leading role in Cheshire’s Gardens of Distinction programme.  Thanks to the increasing number of non-stop flights into Manchester, it’s now much closer than ever before.


The Royal Horticultural Society Wisley 

Flower Show

12 months from now, in September 2019 this colour-filled 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/head gardener-led visits to nearby private gardens and you’ve got a great idea for the back burner.


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 him at ptickner@customgb.co.uk.