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Visit Gardens in the UK While Keeping the Non-Gardener Happy


Compatible traveling companions do not necessarily share every interest, but it can be trying to spend your precious holidays being dragged around to boring places. You may assume that you have to go golfing even though you read a notice about the Elizabethan doll exhibit at a village museum. You may try to ignore those eyes rolling when you suggest a visit to one more cathedral. But when it comes to visiting gardens, you – or your spouse, partner or best friend – can have your roses and smell them, too.

The gardens of Hidcote Manor

At home, different tastes in entertainment are not difficult to satisfy – he golfs, while you quilt; she gardens while you tinker with the car. But what happens when you are on holiday and one of you longs to see the azaleas at Exbury while the other would prefer to view a 1930 Bentley?

You do both, of course – and at the same time. In England, Scotland, and Ireland, you can barely turn around without stumbling over a fabulous garden, and so take advantage of the ability to plan your vacation so that one can enjoy the flower borders while the other does something else. Occasionally, you will be pursuing your passions at the same place.

Cars and flowers in Hampshire

Exbury azaleas are known the world over – perhaps you have one growing in your garden. You can enjoy their origin at Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway , an extensive landscape filled with eye-popping color in spring and wisteria that runs up huge trees. Non-gardeners can always ride the steam railway around the property, or listen to tales of World War II – here, supply ships up an estuary off the Solent were loaded and there’s an incredibly dramatic story of a German plane crashing on the grounds.

Car lovers can venture just a few miles away to the National Motor Museum  to admire a Royals Royce Silver Ghost or the Ford Anglia from Harry Potter.

Beer, gardens

Hook Norton Brewery

Just as you cannot turn around without stumbling over a garden in England, so it is with local breweries – especially in the Cotswolds. Two gardens near Chipping Campden – Hidcote Manor  and Kiftsgate Court Gardens – are practically across the road from each other, and can fill an entire day or more (be sure to check their opening days, which change by the season).

Let the gardeners wander while nearby, Hook Norton Brewery  entices the beer lover to tour, taste, and perhaps take home a pint or two.

All-in-one in Cornwall

Here’s one stop for both of you. Trebah Garden is one of several sub-tropical ravine gardens in Cornwall. Taking full advantage of the mild climate, Tasmanian tree ferns, tree-sized rhododendrons, and other Jurassic-sized plants line the path to the bottom. The leaves of gunnera – six feet across if they are an inch – will cause you to look over your shoulder for the nearest brontosaurus. Hydrangea valley prompts sighs from even the most hardened non-gardener.

At the base of the ravine, you will find Polgwidden Cove, where you can read about Trebah’s involvement in D-Day. This was the embarkation point for a regiment of U.S. soldiers from the 29th infantry division. If plants and history have overcome you, rest awhile on the private beach.

Golf and gardens – Scotland’s best

Falkland Palace

At least they are both outdoor activities – right? It’s an easy match when you are in Scotland and your golfer has made an appointment for the one and only St. Andrews, because Scotland is not only rife with links courses, but also gardens. Nearby, visit Falkland Palace & Garden, Falkland, Cupar, Fife , which boasts sweeping views and deep mixed beds of perennials and shrubs. You can also see Britain’s oldest tennis court – build in 1539. The Victorian gardens at Kellie Castle & Garden, Pittenweem, Fife is awash in summer roses, and there’s a tearoom to enjoy lunch or just a sweet treat.

Food, gardens and food gardens in Ireland

Ballymaloe Cookery School

Everyone likes to eat. Here’s a stop for not just the gardener, but for lovers of local, sustainable, and fresh food. Ballymaloe Cookery School, Shanagarry, County Cork hosts groups of international students throughout the year. As they are busy learning the ins and outs of sautéing, whisking, and chopping, you can stroll through the landscape. The formal parterre herb garden shows off beds of pleasing patterns neatly lined in boxwood; a towering beech hedge, more than two hundred years old, encloses the herb garden. Next is the kitchen garden – the potager – that showcases the vegetables used in the school. Beyond that, the perennial border. Walk down the wide green sward flanked by generous, deep flower borders to the far end, where you will find the shell house. Not a shelter for boats, but a building “wallpapered” with shells, a creation of shell artist Blott Kerr-Wilson. Have lunch in the restaurant or café at nearby Ballymaloe House ; members of the Allen family own both the school and hotel.

Just remember, if you can’t convince your traveling companions to visit gardens with you, there are plenty of other activities to keep them busy.

Written by Marty Wingate for Marty enjoys the public and private gardens of England, Ireland and Scotland, and often shows them off to travelers. She particularly likes to sit over a cup of tea – or pint of real ale – and hear stories from the gardeners themselves. Some of those stories can be found on her blog

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