Written by Mary McLellan.
When describing my annual tour of England I have always been able to sum it up with “rhododendrons, azaleas and wisteria,” “big, really big,” “breathtaking,” “old or really, really old,” “absolutely charming” and “unbelievable.” After this year’s trip, however, I have had to add “exotic,” “subtropical,” “exhilarating,” and “rain.”
The gardens in central and south east England feature rhododendrons, azalea, and wisteria that are big, really big. The view as you wander down Azalea drive in Exbury Gardens is so breathtaking that one visitor described it as “Heaven with the gates open”.
Old describes Hever Castle, which was built in the 12th century and became the childhood home of Anne Boleyn (she was Henry’s wife who lost her head). Really, really old is the Roman sarcophagus (stone coffin) we saw walking along the Great Terrace at Iford Manor Gardens. It dates back to the second or third century AD.
Absolutely charming are the country hotels where we stay, some dating back to the 18th century. Absolutely charming also perfectly describes the owners or head gardeners who gave us a tour of their gardens. The quaint Cotswolds cottages with their thatched roofs and surrounding cottage gardens can only be described as absolutely charming as well!
Exotic, subtropical and exhilarating only begin to describe touring the gardens of Cornwall. This region of the country, sometimes referred to as the English Rivieria, with its steep cliffs plummeting to the sea, can honestly take your breath away! Seeing the unfamiliar, yet extraordinary beautiful plants from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand which flourish here and would be impossible to grow elsewhere in Britain, makes you feel as if you had entered a magical place. As one traveler so aptly remarked, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Michigan anymore”.
As in Michigan, magical places have rain and Cornwall is no exception. However, there you can forget the umbrellas, they have plants large enough to stand under and get all of the protection that you need.
After travelling through the best parts of England to see some of the most outstanding gardens imaginable, there is still the Chelsea Flower Show. If you begin to worry that this internationally famous flower show might be a disappointment after all the beauty and majesty you have already seen, as I did on my first tour, not to worry! It is truly a magnificent event. When you think you couldn’t take in anymore beauty, fragrance or opportunities to spend your money, Chelsea surprises you with its hundreds of floral displays and avenues of shopping excuses.