Trips overseas to view gardens are apparently catching on in America, and I always wondered if they were worthwhile.
Last year I went on one to England (I was the accompanying horticulturist for a tour of 27 gardens, put on by Horticulture Magazine) and thought the whole thing splendid.
They may vary in luxuriousness and therefore in price. The one I went on was sufficiently reasonable in cost that I think the sponsors lost money on it, but surely that makes no difference since we all had such a fine time.
We stayed at splendid, if not luxurious, places. I well remember the Randolph Hotel at Oxford, which sounded the fire alarm at 5 o'clock one morning. You knew when you heard it that you were supposed to get out of bed, though it didn't sound like any fire alarms in America. Louder, for one thing.
Men got to the street before the women, I could not help noticing, and some of the guys were shirtless and shoeless. No woman came down without being fully dressed, and some of them had even done their hair and applied makeup, on the theory that it's bad to be burnt to a crisp, of course, but much worse to appear in public in disarray. I thought that interesting.
Anyway, it was a small fire and nobody was hurt. I mention it to show that travel commonly brings unexpected excitements. Naturally, they do not guarantee the old Randolph will burn up for every tour.
Then the Lion at Shrewsbury was dandy. Some people may never have found their rooms, actually, since the ancient hostelry is built to a design furnished by rabbits, but I have never stopped at a more pleasant warren than this. The food was, ah, English, throughout the tour, and moderately dreadful so it is odd I gained a bit of weight. I ate everything to show them I bore no ill will.
This year, however, they want me to lead a tour of gardens in France, and I did not protest.
Anyway, here are a few tours listed this year. Anyone interested in any of them should of course deal directly with the sponsors, all of whom issue brochures about the gardens to be visited, the precise dates (it may make a difference to know you will be in Chartres one day rather than another) and accommodations.
Horticulture has tours to England beginning May 9 (to include the Chelsea Flower Show in London) visiting a number of the great mild-climate gardens of Cornwall and the West.
They offer a tour of Southeastern English gardens May 18, also including Chelsea.
A tour with emphasis on roses and perennials departs June 30, and one of the Midlands departing July 7. These are all 12-day tours, by the way. Gardens of Scotland will be visited Aug. 1, and a tour for experts and professionals (with emphasis on propagation and management) is set to leave Aug. 4, visiting great English places.
Tours of France leave June 21 -- Normandy, Paris and the Loire -- and again on June 28. Cosponsors with Horticulture are White Flower Farm, the well-known nursery, but inquiries should be addressed to Travel Desk, Horticulture Magazine, 755 Boylston St., Boston, Mass. 02116.
Serendipity Garden Tours in association with the Arnold Arboretum offers a 10-day tour to London May 12 including Sissinghurst and Wisley and various gardens to be announced later.
Beginning July 2 Serendipity offers a wildflower tour of Switzerland, returning July 17, featuring daily excursions to the Julier Pass, Radons, and other sites of alpine botanical interest. They also plan a tour of gardens of the Maine coast Aug. 1-6.
A tour of some great Italian gardens (Villa d'Este, Villa Pia among them) runs May 27-June 11 and the final Serendipity tour is Sept. 10-24 through some of the greatest gardens of Scotland, which are always at their best later than gardens in warmer places. Details are available from Serendipity Tours Inc., 3 Channing Cir., Cambridge, Mass. 02138.
Another temptation is offered by the American Horticultural Society, with a tour May 8-23 of English gardens (Wisley, Exbury, Stourhead, Tresco, among others), and a tour July 11-25 through Switzerland and northern Italy. Details of both are to be had from American Horticultural Society, Box 0105, Mount Vernon, Va. 22121.
There are also tours offered by foreign companies such as those leaving from England to visit Turkey and other places, and these are no doubt good if you find yourself living abroad for a time. A friend of mine went on one of these tours to Cyprus and said it was one of the grand experiences of her life.
The cost of these tours run about $3,000 to $4,000, but gardeners with some extra cash on hand might find them far more interesting than just going to Paris to see the Louvre or Italy to see the Vatican or England to see the changing of the guard, and the point of this column is not to drum up business for any of them but to let gardeners know such things now exist.