Violets & Tea
English gardens can call to mind scenes from a Jane Austen novel. You can picture Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy walking among a profusion of primroses and wild bluebells; or stately lawns backdropped by elm, hawthorn and gooseberry bushes; perhaps a romantic meeting amid blooming magnolias.
Yet the country’s gardens are not merely fiction. Nor do they always conform. While the classic 18-century English garden has always been in vogue, there has been a lovely evolution in style as well.
Mixed borders reflect modern extravagance at Great Dixter. Japanese maples extend the season at RHS Harlow Carr. Even Prince Charles’s personal gardens at Highgrove Estate have taken on a youthful tinge with a serene and fashionable wildflower meadow. Walking through gardens like these sparks the imagination and creates a romance that awakens all the senses.
“It’s not that the traditional is going out of fashion. Far from it. Two core elements help make English gardens the finest in the world and these have never changed,” says Eliza Ford, founder of English garden tour specialists Violets & Tea.
Firstly, flowers are only one part of the picture. Blooming alternately through the seasons, the gardens are naturally floriferous. Yet the English garden is made whole by romantic grottos, meandering gravel paths, gently rolling hillsides, or a stately manor house backdrop. There’s so much more going on and you can’t appreciate it all without being there and immersing yourself.
Secondly, English gardens have always been made to be enjoyed. Despite their vast sizes, these are family gardens at heart, very much lived in rather than just glossy photos. Most are home to centuries of history and to at least a few colourful characters applying personal touches to their creations.
The recent growth in experiential tourism has made English gardens accessible, so visitors can truly experience their enchanting beauty and stories. Think about a spot of afternoon tea surrounded by the herbaceous borders of a 400-year-old estate. Or sipping Pimms as the roses are coming out in bloom. Even the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is not the same without a flute of Champagne and some floral-inspired nibbles.
For Eliza, experiencing the best of England’s gardens is both where and when to go: “Caerhays Castle in Cornwall excels in spring abundance while Coughton Court’s walled garden really comes into its own in late June. Sussex needs to be visited in spring, while for autumnal colours I love the late-summer exuberance of North Yorkshire.”
Violets & Tea is founded on these passions and principles. Its approach is to go beyond a typical garden tour, creating unique experiences that are enjoyable and memorable. Rather than just passing through, the carefully curated programmes are designed so that garden lovers can fully experience the world’s finest iconic and private gardens, with head gardeners and estate owners often providing insight and inspiration from behind the scenes. “What most tour companies call extras are included as standard,” says Eliza. “These are not just tours; they are holidays with a very personal touch. Think of us as your local friend sharing our passion for gardens and our favourite hidden gems with you.”
With Violets & Tea you leave the everyday behind. You explore estates and gardens usually closed to the public, or visit famous gardens before their gates open for the day. Sumptuous dining and accommodation in handpicked four- and five-star hotels help you return home refreshed and relaxed.
And with a range of tours across England throughout the gardening months, you are invited to explore the wide range of wonderful gardens England has to offer.
And yes, sometimes you could feel you are wandering through a scene from a Jane Austen novel, like Lizzie, admiring bucolic English gardens. Perhaps with a spot of tea, too.