From the largest flower show in the world to some of the very best English country gardens, immerse yourself in beautiful floral displays and stunning garden designs with others who love gardening just as much as you do, including Garden Gate’s Editor, Kristin Beane Sullivan, and Senior Photographer, Jack Coyier. We’ll explore well-known historical gardens and discover fascinating contemporary gardens on an eight-day garden adventure you’ll never forget!
This tour occurred on July 7-July 15, 2022. Past tour information is preserved for informational purposes only. Visit Tour Highlights below to see a recap of our favorite places and maybe even some familiar faces!
July 7, Thursday – Arrive at Heathrow Airport
July 8, Friday – RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival
July 9, Saturday – Sissinghurst & Long Barn Garden
July 10, Sunday – Great Dixter & Free Time in Rye
July 11, Monday – Brightling Down Farm, RHS Garden Wisley (Group 2) & Gravetye Manor (Group 1)
July 12, Tuesday – Parham House & Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden
July 13, Wednesday – Sussex Prairie & Denmans
July 14, Thursday – Perch Hill, RHS Gardens at Wisley (Group 1) & Gravetye Manor (Group 2)
July 15, Friday – Depart or continue travels
Tour members independently arrange travel to Heathrow Airport and transfer on their own to the Crown Plaza London Heathrow Airport Hotel at Terminal 4, where a room is booked for them (included in the tour price).
We’ll gather for a Welcome Dinner in a hotel restaurant at 6:30 PM (included in the tour price).
We start our tour with a day at the Royal Horticulture Society’s premier summer event, the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival. Spread over 34 acres on the historic palace grounds, this gardening celebration is the world's largest flower show. We’ll want to check out the show gardens to see which received gold, silver, and bronze medals from the judges. We’ll also visit the amazing Floral Marquee, a tent almost as big as a football field, where nurseries and specialty growers display their finest plants. Throughout, we’ll see vendors selling every kind of gardening tool and object you can imagine. Lunch will be at a food vendor of your choice (not included).
Leaving Hampton Court, we travel south toward East Sussex and check into The Lookout Rye hotel for three nights. Dinner this evening will be in the hotel’s restaurant.
Today, we travel to the iconic Sissinghurst Castle Gardens for our first garden visit. These treasured gardens result from the commitment and imagination of writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat husband, Harold Nicolson. In the 1930s, he planned the gardens’ architecture, and she filled the spaces with lush, romantic plantings. Besides exploring the series of famous garden rooms, make sure you climb the tower and take in the panoramic views at the top. From this vantage point, it’s easy to see why thousands of garden lovers consider a pilgrimage to Sissinghurst an absolute must. Lunch today will be in Sissinghurst’s restaurant (not included).
This afternoon we visit Long Barn, the three-acre terraced garden Vita & Harold made from 1915 - 1932 before they owned Sissinghurst. Sometimes called their “starter garden,” Long Barn is where they developed their ideas about crisp hedging, rigorous structure, and a border planting style best described as overflowing abundance. The house dates back to the Middle Ages, to which Vita and Harold added a 16th-century barn moved from a local farm. The current owners of this private garden, Lars and Rebecca Lemonius, are carefully preserving many of the original garden features, such as steps, paths, and walls, as well as following Vita’s planting strategy without necessarily adhering to her plant list.
We return to The Lookout Rye for the night and dine together in the hotel restaurant.
This morning we explore Great Dixter, perhaps the best known and most loved of all English gardens. It is a living testament to the late owner, plantsman, and writer Christopher Lloyd’s life-long passion for gardens. Head gardener Fergus Garrett, who worked for Lloyd during the last years of his life, carries on the tradition of experimentation that Lloyd started. Although this garden’s structure is early 20th century, the spirit of the plantings is contemporary. Under Garrett’s leadership, the garden is being developed and maintained to such a high level that you are unlikely to find any other garden like it. Great Dixter is a visionary, exuberant plant lover’s haven. Expect to see contemporary planting design at its best.
This afternoon, we’ll have free time in the medieval village of Rye, home to our hotel, where three rivers meet a few miles from the English Channel. We’ll wander the hilly, cobbled streets of this charming village taking in the crooked half-timbered cottages, 12th-century church, and ancient castle. Along the way, we can shop for that special souvenir at the numerous antique and vintage shops and, when we’re tired, have a “cuppa” in one of the lovely tea rooms or cafes.
Once again, we stay at The Lookout Rye. Tonight, dinner is on your own (not included).
Our destination this morning is Brightling Down Farm, a private home and garden built in this century with both traditional and contemporary features. Set high on the Sussex Weald (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), the garden unfolds down the sloping site and allows stunning views of the surrounding landscape. It was designed by Ian Smith and Debbie Roberts of Acres Wild, a garden design firm known for its naturalistic planting and subtle, bold structure. More than anything else, this garden is about the sound of moving water created by three interlinked ponds connected by waterfalls and streams. The plantings are diverse, welcoming wildlife, with generous use of massed ornamental grasses — a choice that responds gracefully to this windy locale.
This afternoon, we’ll separate into two groups: one going to Gravetye Manor for a special lunch in its Michelin Star restaurant and the other going to the Royal Horticultural Society Garden, Wisley. (On Thursday, we’ll reverse the groups so that everyone will visit both Wisley and dine at Gravetye.)
For more than 100 years, the Royal Horticultural Society Garden, Wisley has been a center of British gardening excellence. Although the garden spreads over 240 acres, we’ll focus on the demonstration gardens, which feature everything from stream gardens to meadows to double borders. Of particular interest in July are the Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden with nearly 4000 roses in flower, the Cottage Garden with its soft romantic plantings, and the water lilies blooming in the Jellicoe Canal. Also not-to-be-missed are the perennial borders near the Glasshouse created by influential garden makers Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolf. Tour members can choose where to have lunch since Wisley has a restaurant, cafeteria, and cafes (not included).
Gravetye Manor was created a century ago by Irish garden writer and designer William Robinson. He made the gardens to showcase the ideas spelled out in his books about naturalism and wild gardening, contrasting structured areas close to the house with untamed plantings further away. Now the property is a country house hotel with a Michelin Star restaurant where we’ll have lunch (included) and then stroll the restored gardens. But don’t expect a historical set piece. Tom Coward, the current head gardener, has boldly added experimental plantings within the original William Robinson structure, giving the garden an energetic 21st-century twist.
Tonight we check into the Nutfield Priory Hotel for four nights and dine together in the hotel restaurant.
Our morning garden is Denmans, the former home and garden of the late John Brookes (1933 - 2018), one of Britain’s most influential contemporary landscape designers. The garden is modern with a relaxed, informal design. In much of the garden, gravel — its primary paving material — flows like a river around abstract bed shapes with occasional focal points of urns, sculptures, and benches painted in Denmans’ blue. Brookes taught courses worldwide, including in the United States, and authored twenty-five popular books about garden design, using his garden as a laboratory for his ideas about making a good garden for the way we live today. On the way to our afternoon garden, we’ll stop at a pub for lunch (included with tour).
We spend the afternoon at Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden, an outdoor sculpture gallery in a woodland water garden. The garden was designed by acclaimed landscape designer Anthony Paul, Hannah Peschar’s husband, and surrounds Black & White Cottage, their home. Since 1977, they have turned a neglected and overgrown site into a showcase for some of the best garden sculpture. It was crucial to them that the garden feel entirely natural. The sculptures sit on the mossy banks of streams with ferns and other shade-loving plants, particularly those with giant leaves such as gunnera, petasites, and rheum. The effect is magical.
We return to our hotel for the night and dine together in the restaurant.
This morning we travel to Sussex Prairie, Paul and Pauline McBride’s eight-acre garden made in a field on a farm owned by Pauline’s family. Inspired by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf (the designer of the High Line in New York City and Millenium Park in Chicago), the couple, with the help of many friends, planted 30,000 plants of 600 different varieties in the shape of a nautilus shell in May 2008. Prairie gardens and meadows with their swaying grasses and sturdy, late-season perennials are a popular type of planting throughout Europe. Sussex Prairie is one of the most extensive, immersing visitors in a sea of plants.
This afternoon we journey to Parham House, the home of Lady Emma Barnard and her family, where we’ll have lunch at the cafe (not included) before exploring the garden. The house’s foundation stone was laid in 1577, and its architecture is considered England’s best surviving example of Elizabethan architecture. A four-acre Walled Garden was added in the 18th century, along with seven acres of Pleasure Grounds. It is the not-too-carefully manicured Walled Garden where we will spend most of our visit admiring the wide, color-themed herbaceous borders; rose garden; cut flower garden; vegetable garden; and orchard. We’ll also check out the 1920s Wendy House (a small playhouse for children) and the teak Greenhouse brimming with a fine collection of pelargoniums (sometimes called geraniums by American gardeners). Outside the Walled Garden, we’ll take turns walking the turf maze that some have called “fiendishly complicated.”
We end our day at our hotel with dinner in the hotel restaurant.
On our last tour day, we first visit Sarah Raven’s Perch Hill. Sarah is a writer, TV and video personality, teacher, and flower arranger interested in intense flower color. Since moving to this former dairy farm in 1993, Sarah has created a two-acre garden where she trials hundreds of bulbs, annuals, and perennials, offering her best selections to the gardening public through her courses and mail-order business. We’ll see perennial and annual cutting gardens, a trials garden, a Dutch-style yard, and ornamental vegetable beds, each featuring a different color palette. Make sure you come prepared to take notes, for this garden is full of superb ideas to try when you get home.
This afternoon, we again separate into two groups: one going to Gravetye Manor for a special lunch in its Michelin Star restaurant and the other going to the Royal Horticultural Society Garden, Wisley. Read descriptions of these two gardens featured on Day 5, Monday, July 11.
We spend our final night at Nutfield Priory and meet for a Farewell Dinner to celebrate the gardens we’ve seen, the plants we’ve discovered, and the people we’ve met.
Our time together has come to an end, but garden lovers always find fresh inspiration wherever they are. Tour members can choose to return home or carry on the adventure. We’ll provide coach transfer to Heathrow Airport at 7:00 AM for those with flights leaving at 11:00 AM or later. Alternatively, travelers can take a taxi from the hotel to the airport.
July 7 & 14 – Crowne Plaza London Heathrow T4
July 8 - 10 – The Lookout Rye
July 11 - 15 – Nutfield Priory
In his years at Garden Gate magazine, Jack Coyier has photographed some of the most beautiful gardens across the country and has come away inspired by the spirit and passion of the vast gardening community. Jack wants his imagery to enrich the gardening experience of the Garden Gate community and help gardeners achieve their dream gardens. When not on the road photographing, Jack spends time in his suburban garden with his wife, twin boys, a herd of deer and a smattering of rabbits.
In her time at Garden Gate magazine, Kristin Beane Sullivan has been lucky enough to meet hundreds (if not thousands) of gardeners, tour and photograph countless gardens and learn something from every single gardener she’s met. She comes from a long line of farmers and gardeners, and today tends an ever-expanding urban garden with her husband and three children who are a lot more help in the garden than she was at their age.