Physical rating: Gentle
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Tour code: BGEN
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Inspired by an itinerary we arranged for one of our regular private groups from New Zealand, this circular tour of the southern half of England brings together the very best gardens of the region, with visits to one outstanding horticultural gem after another, covering the widest possible range of styles and content.
In East Anglia we visit favourites such as Beth Chatto’s gardens and the wonderful East Ruston Old Vicarage before heading west to Gloucestershire. Highlights here include the quintessentially English Hidcote Manor, 15th century Hampton Court Castle and of course Prince Charles’ beloved garden at Highgrove. We move southwards into Devon, where RHS Garden Rosemoor steals the show, and onwards to Cornwall, where the ground-breaking Eden Project is contrasted with traditional woodland gardens, plus a chance to visit the amazing Abbey Garden in the Scilly Isles.
Travelling along the south coast we call in at historic Abbotsbury and the distinguished Sir Harold Hillier Garden and Nursery before meandering through Sussex with visits to Leonardslee and Nymans. We savour the classic English gardens of Sissinghurst, Great Dixter and Great Comp before enjoying an exclusive farewell dinner with our new-found friends and travelling companions in the unique surroundings of RHS Garden Wisley.
We depart by coach from London and head for our first visit, RHS Hyde Hall at Rettendon, south of Chelmsford. This is an enormous garden with an immensely wide range of plants – daylilies, irises, peonies, roses, and countless trees and shrubs. Hyde Hall has two National Collections: crab apples (Malus) and viburnums. No gardener could come here without being informed and delighted. We continue to Beth Chatto Gardens, near Colchester. The garden was created in 1960 by Beth and Andrew Chatto from overgrown wasteland with poor gravel soil and boggy hollows. They transformed the area into an informal garden harmonising with the surrounding countryside and complemented by a large retail nursery with a wide range of plants. In the gravel garden, areas have been filled with drought loving plants, emulating a winding dried up river bed. The gentle descent of what was a soggy hollow has now been turned into dramatic water gardens. Sadly Beth Chatto passed away in May 2018 but her garden will continue to thrive under the direction of Beth’s granddaughter.We continue to our accommodation at the Best Western George Hotel, Norwich.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
After breakfast we will transfer to the gardens of Raveningham Hall. The gardens and park are protected by shelter belts of woodland, herbaceous and mixed borders, wildflower meadows and rolling lawns. Within the walled Victorian garden we find fruit, vegetables and fragrant cut flowers. A highlight of our visit is the Time Garden – designed around Francis Bacon’s essays based on the passage of Time. Sculptures by Susan Bacon can also be found dotted around the grounds, surrounded by an 18th century Park with grand oaks of great age. Throughout the year the parkland setting provides a glorious backdrop to the Hall and the main garden.We round off today with a visit to the breath-taking 20-acre East Ruston Old Vicarage garden which for many will be the highlight of our visit to Norfolk. It is quite unbelievable that such an exotic garden can lie less than two miles from the North Sea. With the benefit of good shelter beds and hedging it has been possible to grow many plants not normally associated with Norfolk. This is truly one of Britain’s great new gardens.
This morning, following breakfast, we transfer to Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. After an opportunity for lunch (not included) the afternoon we will be free to tour the house with its opulently decorated rooms and the extensive gardens. Waddesdon is a fantasy pastiche of a Loire Château, finished in 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, situated on top of a knoll with fantastic views over the Vale of Aylesbury. To the south of the house, are terraced gardens which have been restored to their original Edwardian splendour with elaborate bedding schemes, featuring tens of thousands of bedding plants which create a padded effect like a well-filled eiderdown. A splendid Rococo ironwork aviary housing exotic birds overlooks a garden designed by Lanning Roper in the 1960s. Many other parts of the garden are also being restored.We then continue to our hotel in the Gloucester area.
This morning, following breakfast, we visit the gardens of Hidcote Manor, near Chipping Campden. Although among the best known gardens in Britain, Hidcote Manor still has the power to startle. It was begun before World War I by an American, Major Lawrence Johnston, who devised a type of garden that many think of as quintessentially English. It is a garden built up of separate rooms, each connected to the rest but often with blazing contrasts, laid out in a disciplined setting. Everywhere something enticing is glimpsed through an opening, across a pool or framed by a gate. Lunch is available here.This afternoon we continue to Kiftsgate Court, which offers an admirable selection of plants and flowers. The house, in a splendid setting with views to the Vale of Evesham, is surrounded by a series of enclosed gardens, whose formality is blurred by generous planting.We return to our hotel.
Today, we begin by travelling to the gardens at Hampton Court Castle, a 15th century castle surrounded by 1000 acres of stunning parkland, pasture and woodlands with the River Lugg running alongside. The gardens were only recently completed and are one of the most ambitious garden creations of our time. Original Victorian garden walls enclose stunning new flower gardens divided by canals, island pavilions and pleached avenues. The kitchen garden is an ornamental garden of fruit and vegetables, supplying produce to the Orangery Restaurant for its seasonal menu. There is a maze of a thousand yews with a Gothic tower at its centre - climb to the top for a panoramic view of the gardens or descend underground to a tunnel that leads to a waterfall in the sunken garden. Beautiful herbaceous borders stretch out from a one hundred and fifty-year-old wisteria tunnel that leads to vast lawns and ancient trees beside the castle. Beyond the lawns are riverside and woodland walks.Our second visit today takes us to Stockton Bury Gardens at Kimbolton. After lunch (included) we get down to business with a garden tour, workshop and talk with the gardener. A true plantsman’s garden, this four-acre site is divided into different areas by brick and stone walls and yew hedges. Thoughtfully laid out and beautifully cared for, it contains a wealth of unusual clematis, shrubs, climbers and herbaceous plants.We return to our hotel.
After breakfast this morning we will transfer to Highgrove, the country home of HRH the Prince of Wales. This will be a rare opportunity to see these fascinating gardens which of course are cultivated using wholly organic methods. Since buying the property in 1980 His Royal Highness sought the advice of a friend, Lady Salisbury, who was an experienced organic gardener well-known for her work at Cranbourne and at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. She and the Prince laid out parts of the garden with scented plants: wisteria, honeysuckle, jasmine, holboellia, lillies and thyme were chosen to surround the house. On the advice of Miriam Rothschild, another gardening expert, the Prince created an experimental wild flower meadow which already boasts around 32 different varieties of endangered native plants including ox-eye daisies, yellow rattle, common spotted orchid, meadow crane’s bill and ragged robin. Every year the Prince takes on a new project to take his garden in new directions, such as his walled kitchen garden or the arboretum. Vegetable varieties loved by the Prince are grown such as Charlotte potatoes and Happil strawberries, leeks, spring cabbage, brussel sprouts and carrots. A wide variety of apples are grown from trees next to the Orchard Room, along with others gathered from the Walled Garden, including Formosa Nonpareil, Golden Knot, Cornish Aromatic and Lady’s Delight. Please note, by the very nature of this holiday, the running order of the tour is subject to change as we are beholden to a successful application for admittance to Highgrove which will be confirmed in February 2022.Following lunch (not included), we will enjoy a visit to Misarden Park, near Stroud. Originally designed in the 17th century, the gardens were redeveloped in the 20th century by Sir Edwin Lutyens in his famous Edwardian style. Herbaceous borders, topiary, shrubs, grass terraces and a rill and lavender-and-hebe parterre are all contained within a walled garden. The manor house’s elevated position allows for scenic views over the five golden valleys of Stroud.We return to the hotel.
This morning after breakfast we visit Sir Roy Strong’s Garden, The Laskett. The garden was created not long after Sir Roy and his late wife Julia Trevelyan Oman married in 1973. They created a garden of sentiment; memories of people, places and events. There is a Rosemary bush that belonged to Julia’s nanny and an area dedicated to their cats. The garden was very much divided into "his" and "hers" areas with Julia taking care of the kitchen garden and Roy with the architectural elements and the formal enclosures.We later visit the private garden of The Old Rectory at Thruxton. With breathtaking views over Herefordshire countryside, this constantly changing plantsman's garden is stocked with unusual perennials, together with woodland borders, a gazebo, a vegetable parterre, a glasshouse and a pond.This afternoon we will have some time in Hereford where you may wish to visit Hereford Cathedral & Gardens (entrances not included). Here you have an opportunity to see the Mappa Mundi - an outstanding treasure of the medieval age which reveals how 13th century scholars interpreted the world in spiritual and geographical terms (entry not included). The map is undated but bears the name of "Richard de Haldingham e de Lafford", whom some historians have identified as Richard de Bello, Prebendary of Lafford in the diocese of Lincoln during the late 13th century. Together with evidence interpreted from the content of the map, a date of around 1290 is considered reliable. As part of this exhibition you can also see the world’s largest surviving Chained Library, with over 1500 books dating from the 8th to the 19th centuries.
This morning we check out of our hotel and begin our journey south stopping off for a visit to Hestercombe, one of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens’ greatest masterpieces. The garden is home to a round pool in a round walled garden filled with wintersweet and roses, a Dutch garden of lamb's ears, lavender and the most beautiful orangery of the 20th century. Everywhere there are details of design and planting from which any gardener can learn. We shall enjoy a guided tour here. Lunch is available here (not included).We then continue to Knightshayes Court, one of the finest examples anywhere of the Gothic Revival country house. The extraordinary “medieval romantic” interiors give an atmospheric insight into grand country living and the celebrated garden features a water lily pool, topiary, specimen trees, rare shrubs, seasonal colour and an impressive Victorian kitchen garden which supplies fresh, organic fruit and vegetables to the property’s restaurant. We continue to our hotel in the Exeter area.
Following breakfast this morning we have a real treat when we have a guided tour of the Royal Horticultural Society's great treasure of Rosemoor, near Great Torrington in the heart of rural Devon. There are two gardens here, the first an intimate woodland garden dating from the 1960s, which has an excellent collection of trees and shrubs which relish the acid soil – dogwoods, eucryphias, maples, pieris, rhododendrons and vacciniums. The other is a more ambitious affair, which has been developed since the RHS became the owner in 1988, with rose gardens and giant borders, a lake and stream garden and a Mediterranean garden, all impeccably labelled with many interpretation boards. After the guided tour you are free to explore the two gardens at a leisurely pace.This afternoon we continue to Castle Hill Gardens near Barnstaple, which consists of fifty acres of historic parkland interspersed with temples, follies and vistas. Start your visit walking through the Millennium Garden designed by Xa Tollemache (a Chelsea gold medallist) and then onto the walled garden. Follow the network of paths through the gardens to the castle with stunning, panoramic views of Dartmoor, Exmoor and Lundy Island.We return to our hotel.
Today following breakfast we check out of the hotel and visit Killerton. Countless trees and shrubs thrive in the gardens including rhododendrons, magnolias, stewartias and maples. A masterly rock garden in an old quarry sparkles with hellebores, hostas and geraniums among mossy rocks under a canopy of old camellias and maples.We then continue to The Garden House, near the village of Buckland Monachorum. Here, around some romantically decaying 16th century ruins, Lionel Fortescue created a suitably romantic garden, built on precipitous terraces from which there are lovely views over the garden and surrounding countryside. Clematis and roses scale the old walls that surround the garden and there is a wonderful richness of plants.We also visit the nearby Wildside Garden & Nursery, owned by well-known author and lecturer Keith Wiley. The garden he has created at Wildside can be loosely described as naturalistic in style but Keith has taken this to whole new level, inspired by his travels around the world. There are so many plants at Wildside and of such variety it is hard to believe, and yet they grow side by side happily as one big community.We then continue to our hotel in Cornwall.
Following breakfast this morning, we depart for St Austell where we will enjoy a visit to the Eden Project, which has become one of Cornwall’s star attractions. The Eden Project is a 50 metre deep, 34 acre china clay pit which has been reclaimed and transformed to house 2 controlled environment plant conservatories, the larger of which recreates the climate of the Tropics and displays some of its plants such as cotton, rice, rubber, orchids, bamboo and rainforest flowers. At its highest point it reaches 50 metres, taller than Nelson’s Column. The second conservatory recreates a warm temperature climate and houses plants from Southern Africa, the Mediterranean and south western America, with orange trees, olives, grape vines and hundreds of colourful flowers. Lunch is available here today (not included).This afternoon we will visit Tregrehan, near St Austell, is a 20-acre woodland garden created in the early 19th century and developed by the Carlyon family, concentrating on genera from warm temperate regions. It is now an important green gene bank of known source plants including camellias bred by the late owner. In the more formal walled garden there is a fine glasshouse from 1846, which is 128 feet long.
Today the day is free. Alternatively we can offer an optional excursion: The Scilly Isles - we depart for Newquay Airport for our 30-minute flight to The Scilly Isles, a tiny corner of England has remained unpolluted, unspoilt and unchanged for decades. On arrival on the main island of St Mary’s you will be taken to the quayside for a short boat transfer to the island of Tresco. Here we will visit the Abbey Gardens and enjoy a guided walk with the head gardener or one of his staff. These wonderful and unique gardens are home to more than 3,000 species of exotic plants which thrive in the sub-tropical climate of the Scillies - everywhere you look there are magnificent vistas and vibrant colours. After an opportunity for lunch in the New Inn (not included) there will be some free time to explore the island before we return by boat to St Mary’s and take a flight back to Newquay.
Today, following breakfast, we visit Caerhays Castle, surrounded by an informal woodland garden created by JC Williams, who sponsored plant-hunting expeditions to China at the beginning of the 19th century. Consequently, this has become a special place for lovers of the three great groups of ornamental Asiatic shrubs: camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons. In addition, there are many other plants to be discovered hidden amongst the ‘jungle’, many of them exceptionally rare. The lavish feast of spring blossom, in this wildly romantic place, is a marvellous sight. We will also enjoy a guided tour of the Castle.This afternoon we visit Trewithen, a garden always held in high regard by garden connoisseurs. There is evidence of the great age of plant collecting to be found everywhere. We delve into the collections on and discover the flowering trees and shrubs grown from seed sent from China, Burma and Assam, which are now bigger than their parent plants, having flourished in the mild, damp Cornish climate.
Today following breakfast we check out of the hotel and begin our journey east with a stop at Abbotsbury Garden. Set in over 20 acres, this garden benefits from a mild micro-climate due to its location near the sea, which allows it to grow countless rare and tender plants, many considered too delicate to grow outside. In 1765 the central walled garden, now home to towering Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), was the first Countess of Ilchester’s kitchen garden. Gradually the garden grew to its present size, becoming famous for its camellia groves, magnolias and vast collection of rhododendron and azaleas. From the walled garden, winding paths lead to the West Lawn, through gentle woodland and thickets of bamboo to the Sino-Himalayan glade. A sunny, open New Zealand garden leads on to formal lily ponds and a Mediterranean bank garden, while the valley garden has some of the most extensive gunnera plantings you will see in England. We will also visit the adjacent Abbotsbury Swannery, the only place in the world where it is possible to walk through the heart of a colony of nesting Mute Swans. We continue to our hotel in Southampton.
Following breakfast today, we head for the gardens at Exbury, which contain some of the finest collections of trees and shrubs in the British Isles. There is much to enjoy here, especially a very large collection of ornamental trees. Some of these are superb old specimens; a group of cedars of Lebanon are among the most beautiful in England. Exbury is also renowned for its huge collection of Rhododendrons, for which the garden’s founder Lionel de Rothschild had a passion. For a small additional cost you may wish to take a trip on the miniature steam railway which follows a one and a quarter mile circular route and is a wonderful way to see the garden.We later visit Sir Harold’s Hillier Garden & Arboretum. The unique collection of plants, make this arguably the best Arboretum and nursery in Britain. Several National Collections of plants are held, including cotoneaster, dogwoods, hazels and hornbeams, but every genus of hardy woody plants in the British Isles is represented, and it is a great delight to see so many fine plants in close proximity. The nursery offers an excellent collection of plants for sale. Lunch is available here (not included).
This morning, after breakfast, we check out of the hotel and set off for the newly re-opened Leonardslee Garden. The beautiful landscaped Grade 1 listed gardens were first planted in 1801 and have an outstanding display of rhododendrons and azaleas, The current owner Penney Streeter acquired the gardens in 2017 and her and her team are dedicated to restoring, maintaining and further improving the garden.We continue to Nymans Garden, an outstanding plant collection in an inspirational setting. This theatrical garden design, created by the Messel family, is one of the finest gardens in Sussex and still retains much of the personality of the family who created it. There are many rare and exotic plants combined with a pinetum, walled garden, Italian garden and woodland walks. Lunch is available here (not included).We continue to our hotel in Sevenoaks.
This morning after breakfast, we are privileged to have an ‘early bird visit’ to the magnificently manicured gardens of Sissinghurst. This famous garden was created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson from 1930 onwards and became the most admired English Garden of its time. Few great gardens live up to their reputations so effortlessly as this. Sissinghurst is a large connoisseurs’ garden consisting of a series of small romantic areas enclosed by the surviving parts of an Elizabethan mansion. It never disappoints its visitors, it has the power of enchantment, but it is also an unending source of inspiration for all gardeners. Sissinghurst is surely as close to gardening perfection as you can get, and it continues to be one of the most-copied flower gardens in the world. We continue to another classic English Country Garden – Great Dixter. The distinguished garden writer Christopher Lloyd (who died in January 2006 at the aged of 84) was the genius behind Great Dixter, with its timbered 15th century house. Restored by Edwin Lutyens who also planned the garden, Mr Lloyd has firmly put his lively stamp on it. A recent experiment involved installing a summer tropical garden rich in bold shapes and brilliant colours. No gardener could come to Great Dixter without making discoveries and rekindling a zest for gardening.
Following breakfast we visit Great Comp Garden – a beautiful seven-acre garden with many beautiful and rare shrubs, perennials and other hardy plants. This Kent garden is a plantsman’s haven. The year starts with Hellebores, followed by magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas, then the remainder of the year follows with rare and exotic shrubs and perennial plants such as the huge collection of Salvias. There are areas of formal and informal plantings linked with meandering grass paths and ruins homing in on an Italian Garden. Lunch is available here (not included). This evening we will enjoy an exclusive out-of-hours private visit to Wisley Garden, which is where the Royal Horticultural Society shows the gardening public how it should be done. Here the highest standards of practical horticulture are deployed in the setting of a splendid old site rich in fine trees against backdrops of other plants, all impeccably labelled. A guided tour and three-course dinner with a glass of wine is included.We return to our hotel after dinner.
After breakfast the tour concludes as we return to our original starting point in central London. Alternatively, on the May departure, you can extend your holiday with a full-day visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which holds a rare position as a great British tradition and an exciting source of inspiration and advice. One of the highlights of the show is the collection of over 20 full-sized show gardens. Inside the Great Marquee visitors have their senses ravished by the hundreds of floral displays, many of them incorporating new, rare and unusual plants. Other popular features here include flower arranging, floristry and garden design marquees, courtyard gardens, window boxes and hanging baskets.
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You will receive detailed joining instructions around 10 days prior to you departure, but you are of course welcome to contact us at any time should you have any queries.
Generally, our coaches have reclining seats, air-conditioning and toilets, however this cannot always be guaranteed as sometimes we have to use smaller vehicles. Toilets are recommended for emergency use only and regular comfort stops will be made throughout your holiday while travelling around.
Absolutely not. You are more than welcome to spend the day at your hotel or exploring independently should you wish. All we ask is that you inform your Tour Manager, so they are not left waiting for you to join the group.
Although our itineraries may seem jam-packed, boasting access to some of the most exclusive sites across the UK and beyond, a Brightwater Holiday is just that: a holiday. Each trip will counter in more than enough free-time for you to explore places at your own leisure. And with most nights and the majority of meals being included in our tour prices, you can relax in hand-picked accommodation.
Absolutely not! Although some of our tours are specifically focused on one thing, all you need to enjoy a Brightwater holiday is interest and bags of enthusiasm! Even on our most specialist tours, we take travellers from all skill levels, from experts to beginners.
You need to be able to get on and off the coach unassisted, and most – but not all – coaches have a kneel facility that lowers the front step for ease of boarding
Yes, we do – tailored to your exact requirements!
There’s no fixed limit, but we generally say one large suitcase to go in the luggage compartment and a smaller bag that you can take onto the coach with you. For flight-inclusive holidays, we include a luggage allowance of at least 20kg.
UK garden holidays generally depart from London, with additional pick-ups depending on the route of the coach, while holidays to Scotland depart from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth, with Dundee, Inverness and Aberdeen sometimes included. All Eurostar holidays depart from London St. Pancras and flight-inclusive holidays depart from one or more of the main London airports, with regional flights .
For single travellers, those with a companion or even those travelling in a larger group, you'll find that the signature of any Brightwater Holiday is the company. You won't ever be travelling with a group of strangers, instead, you'll find yourself surrounded by like-minded people with a strong shared interest who will soon become your firm friends.
Bursting with enthralling, educational and enlightening itineraries, a Brightwater Holiday, by its very nature, is packed with bucket-list-worthy destinations, behind the scenes passes and expert-led experiences. From creating bespoke quality garden and special interest tours for groups and individuals alike, we have made it our business to make our guests' travel dreams come true.
Unfortunately, single room supplements are charges that are often imposed on us as a company when we book rooms for group holidays. However, most hotels do charge less for single occupancy, and we always pass this saving on to our solo travellers in the form of a modest single supplement.
Prices start from as little as £20, but please contact our friendly team for questions about specific itineraries or excursions.
Yes, you can. In the case of front seats, guests with limited mobility are given priority. Please get in touch with our friendly team to discuss any requirements you may have.
With a Brightwater Holiday, the journey is just as important as the destination and we make getting you to your tour start point easy. From organising group flights and individual travel plans, to offering accessible local departure and pick-up points, we go out of our way to ensure that your journey is as convenient and hassle-free as it can be.
Travel insurance is required for all overseas holidays and is also strongly recommended for UK holidays – primarily to protect yourself against cancellation charges should you be unable to travel.
Good reasons for travelling privately
Make changes to the itinerary, accommodation, or transport method
Spend the majority of time amongst your group to reduce exposure to others
Your tour guide can focus all their attention on your group
Celebrate an important event by only travelling with your friends or family
Multiple Room Types
Multiple room types available. Choose your preferred room type when you book.