Immerse yourself in several centuries of English garden styles and spend a day at the world-renowned Chelsea Flower Show with others who love gardening just as much as you do, including Garden Gate & Horticulture’s executive editor, Kristin Beane Sullivan and executive art director, Eric Flynn. We’ll explore well-known historical gardens and discover fascinating contemporary gardens on a nine-day garden adventure you’ll never forget!
This tour occurred on May 18-May 26, 2023. Past tour information is preserved for informational purposes only. Visit Tour Highlights below to see a recap of this trip.
May 18, Thursday – Arrive at Heathrow Airport
May 22, Monday – Penns in the Rocks & Long Barn
May 24, Wednesday – Manor House & St. Timothee
May 26, Friday – Depart or continue travels
Tour members arrange their own transportation to London and to the Crowne Plaza London Heathrow Airport Hotel at Terminal 4, where a reservation has been made (included in tour price).
We will gather for a welcome dinner this evening at the hotel restaurant (included in tour price).
We’ll leave our airport hotel and travel to Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens’ beautiful woodland garden, which should be at its peak in May, awash with countless enormous rhododendrons. Wander this large property’s lakeside pathways, tour the impressive Victorian-era rock garden and even catch a glimpse of the garden’s wallaby colony! There’s a lot to see here.
In the afternoon, we’ll visit another beautiful woodland garden, High Beeches, where the owner will accompany us on a walk through this beautiful and natural landscape filled with flowering trees and shrubs. Here rhododendrons grow as high as a house, covered with countless flowers. Carpets of bluebells complete the idyllic experience.
We’ll start our day at Pashley Manor Gardens, a classic English country garden. The 11-acre property’s design is partly formal, partly natural, with spectacular views over the Sussex countryside. Take in its perennial borders, classic hedges and walls, a potager, rose walks, and even a ha-ha.
At midday we’ll spend a few hours in Rye, a medieval town set where three rivers meet a few miles from the English Channel. We’ll find lunch at a local pub and then wander this charming village’s hilly, cobbled streets. You can climb the tower of the 12th-century church for a great view, stop for a cup of tea or shop.
Finally, we’ll end our day at Fairlight End, which is beautifully embedded in the undulating landscape and an excellent example of contemporary English gardening. The owner of this 3-acre private garden will give us a tour and answer our questions about the plants and design, which melds contemporary planting styles and materials, such as Corten steel, with the surrounding natural landscape.
For our first garden visit, we travel to the iconic Sissinghurst Castle Garden. 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. A pilgrimage to Sissinghurst is an absolute must.
In the afternoon we’ll explore Great Dixter, probably the best known and most loved of all English gardens. Head gardener Fergus Garrett, who worked for the former owner, famed plantsman and writer Christopher Lloyd, during the last years of his life, carries on the tradition of experimentation that Lloyd started. Although the garden’s structure is early 20th century, the spirit of the plantings is contemporary. Great Dixter is a visionary, exuberant, plant lover’s haven and has something different to offer in every season.
Today we’ll be visiting two private gardens. The first is Penns in the Rocks, the home built in the 18th century for the family of William Penn. The gardens were developed by the Bloomsbury poet Dorothy Wellesley in the 20th century. You’ll find plantings intermingled with natural stone outcroppings, walled gardens, a kitchen garden and more here. And don’t miss the Temple of Friendship, a structure Wellesley commissioned in honor of the “poets who loved Penns,” including W.B. Yeats, in 1938.
In the afternoon, we’ll visit Long Barn, the garden where Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson tested garden design ideas and developed their plant palette from 1915 to 1930 before they established Sissinghurst. Now it is a lovingly cared-for country garden, where you still find the original structures and planting style. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and hear stories with the owner of this private garden. A rare treat.
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 is the Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden with nearly 4,000 roses and the Cottage Garden’s soft, romantic plantings. You’ll also want to see the impressive rock gardens and stroll through the woodland garden. It will be a busy morning!
We’ll spend the afternoon at Loseley Park, a classic estate with a beautiful walled garden filled with mixed plantings of bulbs, perennials and flowering shrubs. Elsewhere fantastic trees make an impressive appearance. We’ll also take a tour of the impressive 16th- century house and enjoy an afternoon cream tea.
Today we visit two more lovely private gardens. We’ll begin our day at The Manor House, where the famous Gertrude Jekyll designed the flower borders in 1908. The current owners have carefully restored the garden to its original glory, and you’ll have a chance to ask them questions over tea and cake in this beautiful and historic spot.
Starting in 2011, Sarah and Sal Pajwani started St. Timothee’s transformation from an overgrown field, with only a few mature trees in it, into a stunning, year-round garden that won the 2021 Nation’s Favourite Garden award in England & Wales, a competition for gardens that open for charity with the National Garden Scheme. We will see color-themed borders, a wildlife pond, a boxwood parterre, and a rose terrace during our visit to this special place. Sarah will be available to introduce us to the garden and answer our questions.
Our last day together: The Royal Horticultural Society bills the Chelsea Flower Show as The Greatest Show on Earth, and for gardeners all over the world, this is absolutely true! On the former grounds of the Chelsea Hospital you find the latest trends, the newest plants and the well-known garden competition, where every designer dreams of winning the Gold Medal. And walk through the world-famous tent to see the offerings of all the different nurseries. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When you’re ready for a few moments of down time, steal away to the much quieter Chelsea Physic Garden, established in 1673 as a repository of medicinal plants.
Our time together has ended, 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, you can take a taxi at the time of your choosing from the hotel to the airport.
May 18 – Crowne Plaza London Heathrow T4
May 19-21 – The Spa Hotel
May 22-23 – Audleys Wood Hotel
May 24-25 – Macdonald Windsor Hotel
In her 26 years 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 ages.
Eric Flynn started as an illustrator with Garden Gate more than 26 years ago, and now he directs all the design for both Garden Gate & Horticulture, as well as Cuisine at Home magazine. Although his roles (and design technology!) have changed through the years, you might still occasionally still see him with a pencil or watercolor brush in his hand. Eric especially prides himself on the containers that fill the porch and deck of his suburban home in every season.