A Gardener's Delight: A European Tour

The plantings of the continent and beyond both formal and naturally stunning draw more than bees to their beauty.
By Olwen Woodier

When there's frost on the windows and snow on the ground, the garden lover yearns for blooms, and travel fantasies take shape. What better escape than to the birthplace of great garden designs; Europe has a gardening history that is centuries old, traced to the medieval herb gardens grown around the monasteries and the kitchen gardens cultivated by wealthy manor house owners.

With spring just ahead, now is the time to start designing a trip to Europe's best gardens. Learning about the flora of foreign climes, and seeing first-hand the formal designs of famous landscape architects are unmatched experiences, from France's Versailles to Belgium's best. I have also enjoyed the many gardens that skip formal designs, but are much more naturalistic and emotionally accessible, created mostly by talented home gardeners or dedicated plant collectors, passionate about the physical and emotional aspects of gardening rather than the academic rationale of landscape design.
Each city will have botanical gardens, but you may want to plan around great shows or a certain designer (for guidance, refere to our primer on garden touring). I have friends that time their annual trips to the UK around the Chelsea Flower Show in late May, adding on tours of the myriad choices of gardens within an hour of London. Europe's accessibility will allow you to combine several of these choices into one week or two bursting with gardens. Exhausting? Not at all if you are passionate about gardening. The secret to true enjoyment, though, is to travel with other gardeners who share that blooming passion.


Olwen Woodier, an advanced master gardener living in Virginia, has written several books on the subject and numerous magazine and newspaper articles, including chapters for the Time-Life series on gardening. She combined her love of plants with a passion for cooking in her award-winning Apple Cookbook and teaches adults in both endeavors.

Published: 21 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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