There are a lot of things I love about my job, but perhaps the greatest pleasure is touring great gardens of the world and sharing the experience with other enthusiastic and like-minded travellers. Garden-watching has become a worldwide phenomenon, with a growing number of travel companies specialising in botanical-inspired tours. Trawl the internet and you’ll find tours exploring stunning gardens from all over the globe – and what a choice there is. From exotic Asian gardens, to Italian gardens and food, the art of Japanese gardens, and glamorous garden cruises, trips to experience the famous fall foliage or visits to world-renowned flower and garden shows like Chelsea – there is something for everyone.
When you get a taste of what grows in a far corner of the globe you are guaranteed to come home with a fresh perspective on the garden, a new favourite plant or design style. I will never forget my mum decorating our garden with hanging baskets and cottage garden plants after a much-loved trip to England. Every time I travel I come home and try something new – an Asian-style potted garden, French-style parterre or Dutch-inspired bulb display.
Even visits to the grandest gardens can give you ideas that you can adapt to your own patch of green. The Butchart Gardens in Canada is still high on my list of spectacular places. I was absolutely fascinated by the Sunken Garden, created from the remnants of an old quarry. I came home enthused, not to dig a giant hole in the backyard, but with a whole new perspective on how wondrous things can be created even from the most unlikely or challenging situations.
It always amazes me that no matter where you go, you can find horticultural inspiration. Gardens flourish everywhere from city rooftops and skyscrapers, to coastal towns and tropical islands. You’ll even find inspiration in strange places, like beautiful wildflowers growing on roadside verges or stunning hanging baskets outside a pub.
If you want to get the most out of a garden visit, you might like to consider travelling with an experienced horticultural guide. The aesthetic beauty of a garden is one thing, but understanding it’s history and design and being able to identify plants is something different altogether, it’s what breathes life into the garden.
Often you find the real story of a landscape in the people and personalities that create them. Take, for example, the Villa and Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild on the French Riviera, the winter residence of Beatrice De Rothschild, the eccentric daughter of a banker and major art collector. The villa was built on a rocky, wind-blown promontory, not an ideal location for a grand garden, but that didn’t stop Beatrice. She brought in dynamite, enormous quantities of earth and hundreds of workers to do the job. She designed the main garden in the shape of a ship’s deck, decorated with flowers, palms and water features, and even insisted that the gardeners who worked for her wore sailor’s costumes. Now that’s the sort of information that brings a garden visit to life! You can learn a lot about a place and its culture by developing an historical understanding of its gardens and landscapes.
It’s also fascinating to see how history and people can shape a landscape and create gardens in unexpected places. Take New York’s High Line as an example, an abandoned elevated freight rail line that was under threat of being demolished. It has now been transformed into a public park and garden; an urban oasis on Manhattan’s west side.
I find that most people who enjoy great gardens enjoy great food too. The two are inexplicably linked. A tour of horticultural highlights almost always becomes a tour of great restaurants, wineries, or gourmet garden hotspots too. It’s also a great way to travel, meet like-minded people and make life-long friends.
It’s not just avid garden lovers with a taste for this type of travel either. I have toured with true gardenistas, alongside people who have no garden at all, but enjoy the serenity and beauty of different landscapes. I’ve even seen people thoroughly converted to gardening along the way. Of course, there’s always the odd husband or wife that claims they’ve been dragged along, but sooner or later I bet I will catch them photographing an interesting plant or asking a pertinent question about the history of a garden. Once you get a taste for gardens, it’s hard not to become an addict.
Whether it’s history you’re interested in, cultural insight or just great beauty, for garden lovers a ramble through gardens of the globe is like a foodies restaurant tour – a feast for the senses that leaves you with a taste for more.
Images: Alan King
About the Author – Melissa King
Melissa is a qualified horticulturalist, television presenter, author and garden writer. She has been a regular presenter on several TV shows, including Gardening Australia, Garden Angels and The Garden Gurus. She is the author of the book Garden Feast and has written numerous articles for top magazines and newspapers. Melissa has her own range of tough, beautiful plants under the banner King in the Garden.