In our annual guided tour feature, Val Baynton highlights attractions and venues that offer expert led visits. Discovering the secrets of an attraction or looking behind the scenes are ways to make your group outings even more appealing!Behind every stunning border there’s hours of hard work, and a guided tour of a garden will help your group discover more!
In Hitchin, St Paul’s Walden Bury is a hidden gem. This house has an 18th century landscape garden and was the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – and is still owned by the Bowes Lyon family. The 50-acre garden was laid out between 1720 and 1730 and features formal woodlands and has many rhododendrons, magnolias, shrub roses and drifts of wild flowers. A temple by the lake was designed by William Chambers and is the highlight of a mile-long ‘Tirsi Trail’ taking in the garden’s many statues and architectural features including Venus and Adonis by the 18th century Belgian sculptor, Peter Scheemakers.
The garden is open as part of the National Garden Scheme in early summer each year but groups can book to visit at other times, and personal guided tours of the house and an introduction to the garden are available for groups of more than four people.
The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew is London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site and your group can enjoy a whole day discovering the gardens as well as their scientific role and heritage. There’s something to see in every season and this year, until 27th October, the spectacular work of Dale Chihuly, a leading contemporary glass artist, is on display throughout the gardens and in the glasshouses and galleries. There are discounted rates for groups of more than 15 people, GTOs receive free admission and pre-paid catering vouchers can also be booked. Your group members can join one of the daily tours around the gardens led by a volunteer or you can pre-book a 60-minute ‘Introduction to the Gardens’ tour for your group (an additional fee is payable and six weeks notice is recommended with tours subject to availability).
Other highlights of the gardens include the Great Pagoda and Kew Palace – open during the summer – and a magical light trail is an enchanting focus for group visits during the festive season. The Orchid Festival takes place in the Princess of Wales Conservatory each February creating a riot of colour at an often chilly time of year. To find out more contact the group booking team.
The RHS offers a range of special tours for groups (minimum 10 people and additional fee) at its four gardens – Rosemoor in Devon, Wisley in Surrey, Harlow Carr in Yorkshire and Hyde Hall in Essex – with the most popular at all venues being a ‘Private Garden Tour’. Escorted by one of the volunteers you will learn insights into the history, plantings and seasonal delights of the garden you are visiting by those who love it best!
Other specialist tours include beginner tips with advice and techniques aplenty at Rosemoor and Hyde Hall while Rosemoor also offers an in-depth expert tour looking at one of the areas in the garden such as roses, lawns or meadows. Harlow Carr offers a ‘Gardener’s Garden Walk’, led by a member of the RHS Gardens team, which will take your group to areas such as the wildflower meadow or the kitchen garden depending on the season. Meanwhile, at Wisley, where the new Welcome Building has just been opened by Alan Titchmarsh, there is much for groups to enjoy including a new 100-seater café and a massive new plant centre stocked with rare and unusual plants. Groups can enter the gardens through a dedicated desk and amongst the tours that can be booked is one of the Wisley Laboratory Building.
In the grand entrance you will learn about the building’s history and uses today, and then tour through the Science Library, Entomology, Pathology and Botany departments and meet a member of the team who will share more of the work they do to support the charitable remit of the RHS.