Gardener's world of botanical escapes

With the centennial RHS Chelsea Flower Show in full swing, Lucy Gillmore digs up the best locations for a green-fingered holiday

What's the attraction?

London is in bloom, celebrating the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show until Saturday with bigger, better and more elaborate displays than ever (rhs.org.uk).

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) launched its first holiday brochure at the beginning of the year, featuring 10 tours to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and far-flung destinations such as Japan, South Africa and New Zealand (0800 804 8710; rhsgarden holidays.com). Other companies leading you down the garden path include Ramblers Worldwide Holidays (01707 331133; ramblersholidays.co.uk) whose trips include the two-week Floating Garden of Madeira from £1,035pp with flights; and HF Holidays (0845 470 7558; hfholidays.co.uk) which has a one-week holiday from 1 June led by The One Show regular, Christine Walkden, around the gardens of the Lake District (£889pp, full board).

At the Husbandry School (01626 821145; husbandry.co.uk) in South Devon, you can also learn about sustainable gardening, with courses such as Eat your Flower Beds (4 August, £60).

Green fingers

At Francis Ford Coppola's southern Italian hotel, Palazzo Margherita (00 39 0835 549060; coppolaresorts.com/palazzomargherita) guests can plant local herbs and fruit trees with the gardener in the grounds. Doubles from €360, with breakfast and a cooking lesson.Welsh country-house hotel The Grove (01834 860 915; thegrove-narberth.co.uk) in Pembrokeshire has a new Family of Four package: book a luxury self-catering cottage and children get a free gardening lesson. The one-week package, available until June, costs £980.

Colstoun House (01620 822922; colstoun.co.uk), a 2,000-acre estate in the Scottish Borders, offers luxury house-party accommodation and a cookery school. Volunteers can also help to restore the gardens; the two-night weekend Green Gym costs £150 per person, full board.

There's a new five-night Abbey Garden break from 23-28 September on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly (01720 422849; tresco.co.uk). Guests will develop their gardening techniques and plant knowledge, returning home with a bag full of seeds and cuttings for their own garden. The cost is £900pp full board, including flights from Land's End to St Mary's and transfers to Tresco.

Water feature

Swan Hellenic (0844 488 0724; swanhellenic.com) has a 15-day cruise, Realms of the British Isles, in conjunction with the National Trust, departing from Portsmouth on 20 June and taking in the historic houses and gardens of the British Isles from the southern coast of England to the Highlands and islands of Scotland. Highlights include the Queen Mother's old holiday home, the Castle of Mey with its walled rose garden, and Abbotsbury Gardens. The trip costs £2,895pp, full board.

Far-flung flowers

Sunvil (020-8568 4499; sunvil.co.uk) has a new one-week group tour of Sao Miguel, "the green island" in the Azores, led by renowned plantsman David Sayers. The group will visit private gardens as well as botanical and historic palace gardens and Europe's first tea plantation. The trip departs on 8 June and costs £1,691pp including flights and half board.

More than 12,000 species of wildflower are in bloom in Western Australia between June and November. Naturetrek (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk) has a 17- day trip in September to see the best blooms: £4,995pp, with flights.

Insider information

"My personal favourite of all the gardens on our current tours has to be The High Line in New York, an amazing non-profit garden built up on a historic elevated freight line, which was scheduled for demolition, saved and turned into a spectacular public space. It just shows how important gardens are, wherever you live." Sue Biggs, Director General, Royal Horticultural Society (rhs.org.uk).

Grand designs

The Cotswolds' Barnsley House (01285 740 000; barnsleyhouse.com) was once the home of the renowned garden designer Rosemary Verey. You can join the hotel's head gardener Richard Gatenby at an afternoon tea event, Summer Madness on 12 June, for a talk on Rosemary Verey's vision for the garden, along with his tips on how to get the most from your own garden; £25pp; doubles from £280 including breakfast.

The Landmark Trust (01628 825925; landmarktrust.org.uk) saves and restores historical buildings and turns them into holiday lets. Goddards, a magnificent Arts and Crafts house in Surrey, designed by Edward Lutyens in 1900, is set in stunning grounds created by celebrated garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (sleeps 12, four nights' rental from £1,454). The Gothic Temple, meanwhile, is in the National Trust's Stowe gardens and surrounded by temples, grottoes and lakes (sleeps four, four nights' rental from £512).

Flower power

To tie in with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show's centenary, the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Vanderbilt (020-7761 9000; radissonblu- edwardian.com/afternoontea) in Kensington, London is serving Floral Afternoon Teas from £29.50 per person, including a selection of floral teas and a glass of champagne, orange blossom and lavender-infused scones, elderflower crème brulée and rose fruit jellies. Available daily from 2-5pm until the end of May; must be booked in advance.

Meanwhile, Belgraves (020-7858 0100; thompsonhotels.com) in London's Knightsbridge has transformed its terrace into an Edible Garden, with cocktail classes and complimentary food and flower pairing tutorials until Saturday. Guests can also enjoy a botanical brunch in bed, an Edible Flower recipe book, two complimentary Edible Flower cocktails and a tasty turndown as part of the Bed, Brunch and Botany package, from £650 per double.

Secret gardens

Cobblers Cove hotel on the north-west coast of Barbados has recently launched a programme of garden tours (from £80 per person for half a day, including entrance and transport), peeking behind the gates of grounds rarely open to the public such as Andromeda Gardens, planted by renowned horticulturalist Iris Bannochie in 1954 and brimming with bougainvillea, hibiscus and cacti. Destinology (0808 252 3828; destinology.co.uk) offers a week at Cobblers Cove from £1,589pp including flights, transfers and breakfast.

Expressions Holidays (01752 878045; expressionsholidays.co.uk) has a selection of small group tours around Italy's gardens this year, most normally off-limits to the public. "Gardens and Villas of the Amalfi Coast and Capri" is a six-night trip from 18 September or 19 October including a visit to the island of Capri and the extraordinary villa and gardens created by Axel Munthe. From £1,950pp including flights from London and half board.

Who said that?

"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." Marcus Tullius Cicero

"A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust." Gertrude Jekyll, garden designer

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