Holidays in a gardener's world

Even the most ardent gardener should make time to see the world's botanical wonders, says Emma Townshend
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The Independent Online

On a dark, rainy afternoon, my eye was drawn to the small advert in the corner of the page, right at the back of the Alpine Garden Society's bulletin. "Tulips in the Zagros Mountains of Iran," it said, tempting me. Gardening holidays come in all different shapes and sizes, but the dank days of November are the time to be perusing brochures and thinking about where exactly it is you fancy tootling off to.

Lots of gardeners claim they can't go on holiday because they can't leave the watering. Not even for a week? Even gardeners who insist they can't go anywhere during growing season can still enjoy a holiday - how about all those South African spring flowers in early October?

Gardening holidays with guides can be incredibly relaxing, verging on slothful. I went to Scotland with Brightwater Holidays last spring ( www.brightwater to admire thousands of flowering rhododendrons. Functioning mobile phones and internet connections were soon fading memories.

Brightwater's trips with Tresco's head gardener, Mike Nelhams, as guide are particularly good, according to my fellow travellers. "He knew the name of every plant, he walked around with you, he was just so helpful," said one. An Islay Wildlife Spring Watch starts from 495 for four days. You can go further afield, too: in October Brightwater has a tour to Brazil, the holiday of a lifetime for those who long to see the exotic post-colonial gardens of Roberto Burle Marx. Linger in these private showpieces, then get escorted around Brazil's extraordinary botanical gardens (starts from 2,995).

Another well-loved company is CTS Horizons, which runs a fiendish-sounding trip to China to look at camellias in their natural habitat ( "Our guide was extraordinarily able," says my friend Janet. "I thoroughly recommend the company." The Empress of Winter Camellia Appreciation Tour leaves again for Yangshuo in March 2008, priced from 1,695.

You don't have to restrict yourselves to gardening holidays. Greentours (www. takes small groups to some of the world's wildest places to look at birds, butterflies and flowers. "Iran is the most gorgeous country," says Fiona Dunbar, who co-runs the firm. "The people are friendly, and the food delicious."

Greentours organises all the Alpine Garden Society's tours. "It's not just experts who come on the holidays," says co-founder Ian Green. "Yes, you get members of the group who've written books, but you also get those who are there to learn, and those who just want to walk and see these incredible places."

The Greentours brochure is inviting to the plant connoisseur and animal lover alike, the tour to Kazhakhstan's Tien Shan mountains, for example, promises both beautiful flowers and rare mammals and butterflies. Prices start from 1,925 for two weeks in April.

If two weeks sounds a bit too much, Naturetrek ( offers trips that are generally a week long and cost around 1,000. You can start off wanting to spend your days walking in Corsica with an expert botanist, or exploring the national parks of Croatia, or searching for wolves, bears and orchids in the forests of Romania, but a bath-time perusal of its encyclopaedic brochure could lead you somewhere completely different in the end. A "Wildlife of Transylvania" trip, for example, sets off in late-May and costs 995.

But many gardeners will simply wantto travel under their own steam. After all, you won't find many package tours to Ian Hamilton Finlay's modernist masterpiece at Little Sparta. And sometimes chance leads to the happiest event. My friend, Christine, spent a week in the Outer Hebrides this autumn. "While I was there I saw some photos of the machair, which appears in early summer - a mass of wildflowers between the beach and the land. Cows graze the area the rest of the year. It's most unusual. I'm definitely going back next year to see it in real life."