Exploring gardens is a focus for many groups and Val Baynton learns from travel organiser, Adrienne Barnes, about the trips she organises for the Abbots Langley Gardening Society.Many events in life seem to happen by chance and for Adrienne Barnes her involvement with the Gardening Society was certainly unplanned. She recalls, ‘Peter and I were walking in Abbots Langley with our young son, Toby, when it started to rain, so we decided to take shelter in the village hall, where the local Gardening Society’s annual Spring Show was taking place, and before we knew it we were members!’ From this encounter, Adrienne was gradually introduced to the world of group travel.
Peter, Adrienne says, had a much wider experience of group coach travel than she did – ‘my only group trip was when I was 16 when I went to Israel as part of a cultural tour and it was an inspiring and memorable experience.’ It meant, though, Peter was much more receptive to the idea of joining other members of the Abbots Langley Gardening Society (ALGS) on a four-day trip to the Floriade in The Netherlands, than she was. However, after some persuading and because it was part of a birthday celebration for Peter, Adrienne agreed to go.
She explains more, ‘After the first 24 hours of the trip I had to metaphorically ‘eat my words’, because it was fantastic – everything was so well organised by Kate MacNish, who was at the time ALGS’s travel organiser, and I really loved the fellowship of being with like-minded people. It was great not having to worry about the finer details of the what, where and how, that are obvious concerns with when travelling on your own.’ From then on, Adrienne was hooked to the concept of group travel.
About Adrienne Barnes
Adrienne’s early career after training at art school saw her work as a press photographer and for a construction company. When she married Peter, and they had their son, Toby, her life centred on their new home in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire and she joined in with village life. She and Peter joined the local gardening society, and five years ago she became travel organiser for the group.
Adrienne also works as a personal trainer and is an activities co-ordinator in a nursing home. She says, ‘All my roles have been very people orientated and this is a common trait I think many travel organisers share.’
Adrienne becomes a GTO
Around five years ago, Kate decided that she was no longer able to organise days out and longer holidays and asked for a volunteer to take over. Adrienne says, ‘I had just organised Toby’s Bar Mitzvah celebration with 300 guests and so thought that I had the spare time and relevant qualities – I like organising people and have a confident somewhat ‘bossy’ personality – so put myself forward for the role. I had hardly finished saying I was interested in helping out, when I found I’d been instantly co-opted on to the committee! I’ve organised the travel programme ever since.’
Adrienne usually plans a three-night trip each year and destinations have included Scotland, Devon and Cornwall, Normandy, Wales and, most recently, to Annecy in France. Day trips take place regularly and are usually within a two hour drive of Abbots Langley.
With around 250 members in the ALGS, Adrienne has some guiding principles for her annual programme. ‘Most members are fairly spritely but I make sure that outings are suitable for as many people as possible and I also have a keen eye on the budget, as I am looking for good value all the time. For our longer trips it is important to give sufficient notice so there is time for people to save up, so I am now working on ideas for a holiday in spring 2019, so that I can announce it by early autumn.’
The main consideration for every trip is the destination, what gardens are on hand and what else is there to see in the general area. Adrienne will also investigate if a special tour can be booked – perhaps with the head gardener, a volunteer or the garden’s owner as well as considering the all-important, ‘Where do we eat, where can we have a coffee and are there convenient comfort stops.’
Did you know?
Abbots Langley Gardening Society is one of the oldest in the country – it was founded before 1866!
For transporting her group on day trips, Adrienne uses Watford based coach company, Mullany’s Coaches. She says, ‘they are reliable and friendly, and most importantly if a problem should arise – and my members will quickly bring things to my attention or complain if they are not happy with the coach – then, they know how to resolve it.’
Often the coach’s luggage compartment is well used on the way back from a trip to hold the plants members have bought during their day. Adrienne says, ‘sometimes we come back from a trip with far more plants than people – a trip to Scotland was particularly memorable in this way. We flew to Edinburgh but hired a coach once we were there and it then brought us all the way back to Hertfordshire. It was a veritable moving garden in its own right, by the time we got back home!’
Several of Adrienne’s trips link in to the monthly talks that are part of the society’s offer to members. We have many inspiring talks from visiting experts all organised by another society member, Jo Bromwich. This encourages me, in turn, to look for gardens off the beaten track and ones that will help members come back with fresh ideas for their own plots, however big or small.’
This year a trip to the Walled Garden at Luton Hoo Estate followed on from a talk to the society. Adrienne organised a tour of the garden with one of the volunteer gardeners and she adds, ‘We were able to see at first-hand how the restoration of this garden is bringing it back to life, the Victorian glass houses and other buildings are in a poor condition but are all being slowly restored, thanks to the work of the volunteers.’
She added that since Luton Hoo is close to Abbots Langley, members made their own way by car, and this kept the cost of the day down as it avoided coach hire. Adrienne also says, ‘We are lucky that our president is related to the famous garden designer Tom Stewart-Smith, and we have been fortunate to visit his inspirational Prairie Garden in Hertfordshire.’
Another successful outing was to Capel Manor Gardens in Enfield. The 30-acre Estate is home to a specialist College of Horticulture, Arboriculture, Garden Design and more, and its 60 gardens, set around a Georgian Manor House, include an Italianate Maze, a Japanese Garden and trial gardens. ‘This was a good day out and we all came back inspired with ideas for our own gardens’ says Adrienne.
Other trips have been to the Tulip Festival at Pashley Manor and, as we go to press the group is visiting two gardens – the Swiss Garden at Shuttleworth in Bedfordshire and The Manor House, Stevington to see Kathy Brown’s Garden. Adrienne says, ‘This trip combines two very different gardens – the peaceful, tranquil space at Shuttleworth with the colourful and perfumed rose gardens at Stevington. I have booked a guided tour with Kathy at Manor House so we find out more about the garden and we will then sample her delicious homemade cakes at afternoon tea.
On the way home from a holiday Adrienne asks her group for ideas for destinations for their next trip and with this suggestion list in mind she approaches tour operator, Travel Editions, for some outline ideas and an idea of the budget. ‘I like to work with Ellen Walker at Travel Editions, and she knows just what suits our group – the type of hotels we prefer to stay in, the attractions and gardens we like to visit and the sort of food we like to eat. It makes booking a holiday so easy because I can completely trust Ellen’s judgment – for example I know that she or the team have personally vetted the hotels we use, so that they will be of the high standard that suits us. In a nutshell, Travel Editions is brilliant’.
Recent holidays have been in France, in Normandy and more recently to Lake Annecy, as Adrienne explains, ‘I am very comfortable visiting France as I can speak French. This means we do not require a tour manager but it does mean I need a very precise schedule so I know where I need to be, where I should pay and so on, and Travel Editions is able to provide this for me.’
Like many other GTOs, Adrienne knows it is the small details that her members worry about, for example a specific requirement for a hotel room and her role is to be able to sort those issues out directly without involving the tour operator, but the support of the Travel Editions team is there for more urgent or complex issues, should she need it. ‘Having the backup of a professional ABTA backed tour operator should be an essential pre-requisite for all GTOs planning overseas trips for their groups, the support they can give and peace of mind for me as a travel organiser and responsible for the safety of my members is invaluable.’
The three night break to Lake Annecy in late April was tailor made for the ALGS and it included visits to three gardens including the Botanical Gardens in Geneva, the Jardin des Cinq Sens in the medieval village of Yvoire and the Jardins Secret located between Annecy and Aix-Les-Bains.
‘The gardens were incredible,’ Adrienne says, ‘each was so different, from the Secret Gardens that were once an old farm but now are a mosaic of canals, fountains and pergolas to the Garden of the Five Senses which are inspired by medieval gardens and the senses. The cloister full of medicinal herbs gave us much to think about and the maze with a sensory walk was lovely.’
The itinerary also included a boat trip on Lake Annecy and visits to the spa town of Evian and the Chateau de Menthon-Saint Barnard – a romantic turreted castle with 1000 years of history overlooking Lake Annecy – which is still lived in by the 23rd generation of the Menthon family.
The group stayed in Les Grillions Hotel in Talloires – a lakeside village around six miles south of Annecy. Adrienne comments, ‘The family-run hotel was very comfortable and we enjoyed its extensive grounds and lake and mountain views. A highlight was the home-made food served every evening in the restaurant, using fresh local products, which was perfect for our group.’
On the way to the airport for the return journey, Adrienne asked for feedback from her group, ‘Everyone felt refreshed by the holiday, by the clear alpine air and amazing views as well as inspired to try new ideas in their gardens.
As usual, I asked for ideas for the next trip, and Marrakech in Morocco was a favourite suggestion so I have started work again with Ellen on progressing ideas for this in 2019.
- Ensure you build a good relationship with your tour operator.
- Restrict decision time for your members – when I promote a holiday I ask for sign up and deposits within eight weeks.
- Communication is essential. A GTO liaises between members and the tour operator, decide what you can deal with yourself and what you need to pass over.
- A confident, outgoing personality is essential, with a love of organising and being bossy.
- A loud voice is important too!
- Be in control and know your members, so if some people are always running late or ‘getting lost’ have other members who will look out for them.