In our annual spotlight looking at guided tours, Brenda Watkinson and Abbe Bates highlight some of the opportunities available for groups to book tours with experts or to explore ‘behind the scenes’.Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire offers groups ‘Seasonal Walks’, designed to ensure they see the very best of what’s on show in the tree collection, whatever time of year you visit.
With around 15,000 trees and shrubs from all over the globe, Westonbirt offers the perfect setting for groups to escape and relax throughout the year and ‘behind the scenes’ guided tours in the Propagation and Tree Management Centre are available once a month.
During a visit you can learn how they source and care for trees from the seeds and saplings in propagation to the champions out in the arboretum, and see some of the machines and tools used to care for this remarkable collection. The tour is available to all visitors on the days they run – no prebookings can be made.
New this year at The Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) four gardens – Hyde Hall in Essex, Wisley in Surrey, Rosemoor in Devon and Harlow Carr in Yorkshire – are Horticultural Experience Tours, interactive workshops led by expert RHS horticulturalists in the beautiful setting of the garden.
Aimed at beginners, content can be tailored based on your group’s requirements. Options include ‘Your Garden This Season’, designed to guide your group through the gardening year by providing a whistle-stop tour of techniques, tips, tricks and advice on seasonal tasks so that you know what needs to be done when. Sessions can vary but can include talks, practical demonstrations and walks around the garden.
‘Fruit and Vegetable Garden Walk’ allows groups to discover a wide range of edibles and varieties of them, to help choose which ones to try growing at home. Other tour choices include ‘The Curators Summer Walk’ and ‘Behind the Scenes Garden Tours’. A minimum group size of 10 applies and tours are approximately an hour and half long.
As well as these new offerings, Private Group Garden Tours with enthusiastic volunteers are popular and there is also an exclusive tour for groups available at RHS Wisley that opens up areas of the iconic Wisley Laboratory building, which are not accessible to the general public. This tour includes an introduction to the history of the laboratory, and a look at the Science Library, Entomology, Pathology and Botany departments, with a member of the team sharing more of the work done to support the charitable remit of the RHS.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London also offers groups the chance to tour the gardens and historic buildings with a guide.
The 326 acres of gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and combine glasshouses, a royal palace, art galleries and the Hive – an immersive interactive installation conceived to highlight the plight of the honeybee – as well as stunning floral displays.
Bespoke tours are available every day of the year (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day) and last around one hour. A guide costs £70 and can take up to 15 people so for larger groups you will need to book two or more guides.
The most popular tour for groups who have not visited before is an ‘Introduction to Kew’, which will give your group an overview of the gardens and their history, outline the scientific work of Kew and includes at least one visit to a glass house.
This summer, a new tour ‘Kitchen Gardens’, which looks at the development of the Georgian kitchen garden and how plants were used for medicines, has been very popular and is likely to run again next summer.
An ideal tour for the winter would be of the newly opened Temperate House. Pre-booking of a guided tour for groups of six or more is essential and almost any theme can be prepared to suit the interests of your group.