Planning a trip into the great outdoors with green-fingered groups couldn't be easier with a huge choice of stunning gardens to explore at English Heritage properties. Here are just three to whet your appetite…
MAGNIFICENT WREST PARK IN BEDFORDSHIRE
Group visits to star English Heritage attraction Wrest Park in Bedfordshire are much more flexible this year thanks to newly extended opening hours, as the site is opening its doors seven days a week for the first time from Easter through to October.
Since the launch of the first stage of its revival two years ago, Wrest Park’s once secret 90-acre landscape has quickly become one of the country’s most talked about garden attractions.
And as the revival continues, visitors can see how the restored areas including the French Parterre, the Italian Garden and Rose Garden are now maturing beautifully. Fruit trees have been planted in Wrest Park’s enormous Walled Garden in the original location and matching the old fashioned varieties documented as being there in 1900. The wonderful conservatory once again contains the plants which were there in the early 20th century. Groups members less able to walk can hitch a lift in motorised golf carts to explore the restored walks and woodland areas, stop off at the amazing Baroque and French-style buildings with new displays inside, and enjoy views of the statues throughout this lovely historic landscape.
■ Catering: A modern café in the visitor centre seats 74 and provides light refreshments.
■ Garden Tours: Groups can pre-book tours to see round the stunning grounds and lovely garden buildings.
For more information or to download a group booking form visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/wrestpark
GRAND AUDLEY END HOUSE & GARDENS IN ESSEX
English Heritage’s Audley End House & Gardens in Essex, a stunning Jacobean stately home near Cambridge, truly is a garden lovers’ dream. Surrounded by extensive 18thcentury landscaped parkland dotted with ornamental garden features, there is also a beautiful 19th-century parterre and an acclaimed organic kitchen garden.
These glorious grounds also include the chance to visit horses and their grooms in the spectacular stable block. The stables had long been a beautiful but neglected feature in the Capability Brown-designed landscape, but came back to life with a new exhibition which interprets the gardens, parkland and estate in 1880 and links them to the working life of the house.
Groups can also see a unique early Victorian parterre and secret pond garden, plus England’s most authentically restored walled Victorian kitchen garden covering 12 acres, which is gardened organically.
■ Catering: Tearoom seats 90 and provides light refreshments. Cart Yard Café seats 28 inside and 40 outside. Pre-book a group voucher ahead of your visit which group members can exchange for a choice of hot or cold drink and a slice of cake.
■ Garden Tours: One hour tours are available Wednesdays- Fridays of either the landscape gardens or the organic gardens. Maximum of 25 per group, with back-to-back tours available for larger groups.
For more information or to download a group booking form visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/audleyend
OPULENT OSBORNE ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT
Osborne House’s breathtaking interiors are legendary - not just for their sheer magnificence but for the unique insight they give us into the everyday life of one of the country’s most powerful monarchs, Queen Victoria.
But it is the grounds of Osborne that are its crowning glory. The extensive parkland of Victoria and Albert’s seaside retreat is a veritable growing paradise, with a semi-subtropical climate, ideal for cultivating luxurious displays.
Each spring and summer, the formal parterre terraces are planted with a colourful theme and the extensive parkland, the walled fruit and flower garden, with fountains and flower beds and a pretty wildflower meadow, shouldn’t be missed. A gentle stroll through the grounds brings visitors to the Swiss Cottage, which was built for the royal children who each tended their own fruit, vegetable and flower garden.
Groups can now also visit Queen Victoria’s newly opened private beach which features her bathing machine restored to its original condition and colours. From Easter through to the end of September this year there will be traditional games like skittles and quoits in full swing each day and on weekends in July and daily during August there will also be Punch & Judy shows to enjoy.
Visitors can relax in a deckchair and paddle in the bay’s sheltered waters. The beach is a twenty minute stroll through Osborne’s delightful grounds. A mini-bus shuttle service is also available.
■ Catering: The waiter service Terrace Restaurant is available for group bookings all year. There’s also a self service café in the visitor reception plus a beach café which serves light refreshments.
For more information or to download a group booking form visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/osborne
Groups receive a 15% discount for 11 or more people (10% at Stonehenge). A tour leader and coach driver are admitted free with each group. Free familiarisation visits can be arranged for the trade. To discuss opportunities for group visits, to subscribe to the free travel trade newsletter Attractions, or to order a complimentary copy of the new 2013/14 Group Visits Guide, call 020 7973 3529 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Details can also be found on www.englishheritage.org.uk/traveltrade.