Gardening is an incredibly popular pastime for people of many ages – so any sort of garden-themed trip is likely to be popular. Naomi Mackay takes a look at some great ideas likely to appeal to green-fingered folk. AT HOME STAFFORDSHIRE’S GLORIOUS GARDENS A new Staffordshire Garden Trail, featuring 20 of the county’s finest gardens has been launched to celebrate the Year of the English Garden; and the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. A leaflet, with a map and useful discount vouchers supports the Garden Trail, which includes two Capability Brown creations – the Trentham Estate near Stoke-on-Trent, and Weston Park, South Staffordshire. The National Trust’s Biddulph Grange Garden, which is home to exotic plants from all over the world and an eclectic range of sculptures including sphinxes, a sacred cow and even a Great Wall of China – is also on the trail. Fellow National Trust properties including South Staffordshire’s Moseley Old Hall, known for its intricate knot garden and connections with King Charles II – are also on the list, along with the Dorothy Clive Garden on the Staffordshire-Shropshire border, with its new Royal Botanic Glasshouse. Find out more and download the leaflet at www.enjoystaffordshire.com/greatgardens

GARDEN MUSEUM, LAMBETH ROAD, LONDON For those interested in the history of gardens and gardening, the Garden Museum in London is a great place to spend a couple of hours. Closed at the moment for completion of a major capital project, it will re-open in early 2017. Situated on the south bank of the Thames next to Lambeth Palace and opposite Tate Britain, the museum is home to around 6,000 objects spanning 400 years of gardening in Britain. Visitors can browse among tools from days gone by, and learn more about the history, culture or design of gardens. It’s not all about grand stately homes either – small back yards are covered too – and you’ll find exhibits from the rare and precious to the more everyday. www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/page/ collection

CHATSWORTH HOUSE RHS GARDEN SHOW RHS Flower Shows are a highlight in the gardening calendar and 2017’s musthave show will be the brand new RHS Chatsworth Flower Show. Running from June 11-17, 2017, the show is set in the beautiful surroundings of the Derbyshire Hills, with the backdrop of Chatsworth House. The theme of this new event is ‘Design Revolutionaries’ and its aim is to celebrate the genius of gardeners and garden designers from both the past and the present – in particular Joseph Paxton, the estate’s former gardener. Expect to see cutting-edge design and lots of new ideas. Some gardens will use local crafts and skills such as dry stone walling but in a contemporary way. A new category, FreeForm, will encourage sculptural designs and features without limits, offering a fantastic spectacle for visitors to enjoy. The reconstruction of Joseph Paxton’s magnificent Great Conservatory will house amazing floral displays and plant sales, and mini plant worlds will be themed around habitats such as jungle, woodland and Mediterranean. For group bookings call 0844 412 4650. www.rhs.org.uk

RYTON ORGANIC GARDENS For anyone interested in the practice and principles of organic gardening, a visit to Ryton Organic Gardens is a must. Just five miles outside Coventry, garden enthusiasts can learn about the benefits of gardening in harmony with nature, and see Heritage vegetables growing throughout the seasons. Take a stroll around the sensory garden, learn about organic gardening therapy projects, composting and more. The shop sells a good range of organic gardening products such as, seeds peat free composts, books and gifts, and you can take a break for breakfast, lunch or coffee and cakes at the Stock Pot Café. The gardens are accessible to wheelchair users and are easy to navigate with a pushchair. Disabled and coach parking is close to the entrance. Groups of 10 receive a discount and you can book a tour led by a volunteer guides, with the chance to ask questions along the way. www.gardenorganic.org.uk

PLANT HUNTERS’ FAIRS These fairs, held in the Midlands and North-west, are located in beautiful gardens, with reduced rates for admission. The nurseries at these shows are all proper growers, who can also offer expert advice on the best plants to choose for your garden – expect RHS medallists and National Collection Holders among the exhibitors. New for 2017 is the first Lincolnshire event, to be held at Pottertons Nursery and Garden, near Caistor – a must for alpines fans – on May 28, 2017. The fairs can all accommodate prebooked coaches and offer tea rooms, cafés or restaurants. For more details on groups visits call 01270 811 443 / 0771 699 0695 or email janet@planthuntersfairs.co.uk www.planthuntersfairs.co.uk/Venues/ groups.htm

THE BISHOP’S PALACE AND GARDENS A visit to the City of Wells is not complete without spending time in The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens. Set in the heart of the city next to the bustling market place and Wells Cathedral, it offers more than 800 years of history and 14 acres of gardens at Somerset’s only medieval palace. You’ll also discover the well pools, which give the city its name. The gardens feature formal planting, the picturesque style favoured in the Victorian period, and a wild arboretum. Come away inspired and choose from a range of Palace-grown plants that are for sale in the shop. Events range from historic re-enactment and activity days to outdoor theatre and concerts, and of course the Bishop’s Palace Garden Festival from Friday 9 to Sunday June 11, 2017 Groups of 10-plus benefit from discounted admission, expert-led tours, free admission for driver, and free admission of leader in groups of 20 or more. For groups of 35 or more catering may be possible to arrange in the vaulted, medieval Undercroft. Group bookings: Moira Anderson, Group Bookings, The Bishop’s Palace, Wells, Somerset BA5 2PD. Call 01749 988111 (ex 200) or email info@bishopspalace.org.uk https://bishopspalace.org.uk/

CAPEL MANOR GARDENS Your group can explore more than 60 different gardens at Capel Manor Gardens in Enfield, Middlesex. This 30-acre estate surrounding a Georgian Manor House and Victorian Stables allows visitors a unique insight behind the scenes at Greater London’s only specialist College of Horticulture, Arboriculture, Floristry, Garden Design, Animal Care and Countryside Studies. Explore historical gardens, an Italianate maze, Japanese garden and many others; see the Which? Gardening Magazine
GARDEN demonstration and trial gardens, and be inspired at the National Gardening Centre with its specially designed impressive Theme Gardens. Guided walks can be arranged, plus there’s a full programme of shows and events such as a food festival, harvest festival, apple fair and lots more. Disabled access is offered around most parts of the estate, and there is free wheelchair loan and motorised scooters if booked in advance. Group rates apply to groups of 20 or more booked in advance. Driver and guide admitted for free. Group Lunch and Teas are available from the Terrace Restaurant or you are welcome to bring a picnic. www.capelmanorgardens.co.uk

BLENHEIM PALACE Blenheim Palace’s Flower Festival takes place from June 23-25, 2017. The festival takes place at the palace, which is surrounded by more than 2,000 acres of parkland and formal gardens. The Pleasure Gardens have been especially designed for younger visitors. Discover the Marlborough Maze, the world’s second largest symbolic yew hedge maze and the Butterfly House with more than 200 butterflies fluttering around inside. They will probably also like to see the Cedar of Lebanon tree, which was used in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Perfectionists should head to the Italian Garden, where the box-hedges are trimmed using spirit levels, string and many hours of dedication! If you haven’t been to Blenheim for a while, take the time to see the Churchill Memorial Garden. Opened by the Duchess of Cornwall in June 2015 to commemorate three of Winston Spencer Churchill’s anniversaries, it was commissioned by the 11th Duke of Marlborough and created by Kim Wilkie. It sits next to the Temple of Diana where Winston proposed to his wife Clementine in the summer of 1908. Also new is the ‘Capability’ Brown Viewpoints Trail, with 12 cherry-picked views, each of which represent a classic Brownian landscape. Download the map or collect one from the Visitor Centre. Highlights include The Grand Bridge, which was designed as a viewing platform from which visitors can admire the beautiful surroundings. Look out for some of Brown’s original Cedars of Lebanon, which are more than 300 years old. And don’t miss Brown’s ‘finest view in England’ across the lakes. www.blenheimpalace.com

ABROAD AMSTERDAM & BULBFIELDS SPECTACULAR The Dutch bulb fields are a real sight to behold and the River Cruise Line offer a very special Amsterdam and Bulbfields trip, which is accompanied by former Ground Force star Charlie Dimmock. The cruise, which departs on April 26, 2017, will see Charlie sharing her considerable gardening experience and wisdom, and answering questions from fellow passengers. Other departure dates are 11 April and 18 April. The cruise sails from Dordrecht – Schoonhoven – Zaandam – Amsterdam, and excursions to the famous Keukenhof Gardens, with its stunning bulb displays set in 32 acres, which also includes 100 works of art and seven themed gardens. Optional visits to Aalsmeer Flower Auction & the Historic Garden and an Amsterdam canal cruise are available. Prices start from £290pp for four days. Group leaders can try before they buy-and if they decide to bring a group they will get a refund. Call Janet Fielding on janet.fielding@ diamondhols.co.uk or 01858435631. www.rivercruiseline.co.uk/grouptravel-0

BATTLE OF THE FLOWERS Jersey’s Battle of the Flowers celebrates its 115th birthday next year. First staged to celebrate the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902, it is now one of the biggest floral carnivals in Europe. The main event is held in August each year, but there is also a Battle of Flowers Christmas Parade, which is free to attend, which this year will be held during Jersey’s popular annual Fête dé Noué. La Fête dé Noué sees a number of spectacular festive events in St Helier, including magical parades, Christmas lights, festive films, street theatre and Christmas markets. The Battle of Flowers takes place around the second Thursday in August. It lasts for two days, and attracts around 20,000 spectators – so book tickets and accommodation well in advance. So why is it called a battle? Well the floats are covered in flowers in the most spectacular floral creations, and the practice in days gone by was for petals and flowers to be thrown to ladies in the crowd in the hope they would throw them back! Floats come in all shapes and sizes – you might see a giant elephant or petal- covered Dalek! The Moonlight Parade is a more modern introduction, which first appeared in the 80s. The floral floats take on a magical air as they are illuminated for an evening parade, which ends in a firework display. Tickets for The Grand Day Parade and Moonlight Parade with covered seating, seating, standing and wheelchair accessible options are on offer. www.battleofflowers.com

FLOWER CARPET, BRUSSELS Every two years, in August, (the next being in 2018), the floor of the Grand Place in the Belgian capital is covered in an intricate floral design ‘carpet, measuring 77 x 24 metres, which uses around a million begonias. The display lasts over a long weekend. FESTA DA FLOR, MADEIRA Madeira is famed for its springtime flowers, and it’s the perfect time to visit the island to see both the wild flowers and the stunning gardens. Every year, after Easter, the Festa da Flor (Flower Festival) is held to celebrate the springtime. The island’s capital, Funchal, is the setting for the festivities, which start with thousands of children building a mural of flowers called the Wall of Hope. The following day, a parade of floats decorated with flowers from the island take part in the Flower Parade; artists create floral carpets around the city, and shops compete for the title of best decorated window. Dates for 2017 are May 4-17.

GARDEN CENTRES Garden centres can be a perfect stop-off on a garden-themed trip – often with large car parks and generous restaurant sizes, some are big enough to be a destination in themselves, or the ideal lunch or afternoon tea stop. For example, Heighley Gate, a Wyevale garden centre in Morpeth, Northumberland welcomes coaches with ample parking, free wi-fi, discounted pre-order menu, free meal for driver, and events such as the Craft and Coffee Club on the first Tuesday of every month and the first and third Sunday of every month. Hayes Garden World enjoys a special location in the beautiful Lake District and is the largest centre of its kind in the North of England, with easy access from Windermere. Pre-booked coaches get a special Meet and Greet service, which includes a welcome pack and free gift for each passenger. You will be met in the special coach access park, and drivers bringing in 30 or more passengers will receive a £25 gift voucher. Its Four Seasons Terrace café can seat up to 250 people, plus 160 on the roof terrace – groups rates are available for anything from coffee and cake to a threecourse meal. And visitors can enjoy plenty of retail therapy with all the usual garden centre offerings, plus gift and homeware, pets and aquatics and Cotswold Outdoor and Edinburgh Woollen Mill concessions. For more information and to book contact Chris Lawrence on 01539 433 434 or via email chris.lawrence@ hayesgardenworld.co.uk www.hayesgardenworld.co.uk

SPECIAL ATTRACTIONS Forest Lodge garden centre offers a visit with a difference, combining a trip to the garden centre with a visit to Birdworld! The centre is two miles south of Farnham on the A325. Between April and September, you can include an afternoon visit to Birdworld at a special group entry rate, which is accessed by a level footpath link from Forest Lodge. Set in 26 acres, Birdworld is one of the largest bird parks in the UK with an amazing collection of colourful and exotic birds from around the world. You can also visit Jenny Wren Farm, with its cute farm animals and Underwater World, a stunning aquarium. Groups benefit from free coach parking, meet and greet, incentives for organisers and coach driver and catering in the contemporary restaurant, Email therestaurant@forest-lodge.co.uk or call 01252 22375.www.forest-lodge. co.uk.