With the Chelsea Flower Show fast approaching, here’s a roundup of this year’s event, as well as some of the great gardens of the world you can enjoy all year round.
This year’s Chelsea Flower Show takes place from 22-26 May and organisers are hoping it’ll be one of the biggest and best yet, with a wide array of gardens, plants and flowers for visitors to enjoy.
The five-day event is probably the world’s most famous flower show, attracting thousands of enthusiasts from all over the globe to the Royal Hospital in London’s traditionally well-heeled borough.
Organised by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), the show always demonstrates cutting-edge - or maybe that should be ‘cutting hedge’ - garden designs and floral displays, and this year’s event is no exception. Ten ‘Show Gardens’ are set to wow visitors on the venue’s Main Avenue, and there’ll also be creative displays from dozens of the world’s best nurseries to inspire amateur and professional gardeners alike.
This year’s show will see the addition of a number of new attractions, including the ‘Space to Grow Gardens’, highlighting new trends and offering original ideas, while ‘Chelsea Late’, an evening of music, entertainment, demonstrations and more takes place in Ranelagh Gardens on the Friday evening.
Sue Biggs, director general of the RHS, said the event is a timely reminder of the simple pleasures of visiting a beautiful garden. "It is fantastic to see the gardens at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show are reminding us all of the power of plants,” she said. "They demonstrate the huge impact gardening and green spaces can have on so many aspects of our lives, whether that be at an individual level, such as helping to improve health and wellbeing, or to mitigate against wider environmental challenges.”
Visiting the event sounds like one of those ‘win-win’ situations that business people like to shout about, but you don’t need to wait for glorious events like the Chelsea Flower Show to reap those benefits and enjoy nature at its best. Many of our favourite destinations have blooming wonders of their own that you can enjoy all year round, with fabulous floral gardens all over the world - many in regions popular with holidaying RCI members. Here are six of our favourites from across the world…
1. Chatsworth House Garden, England
Located in the heart of the Peak District, the exquisite stately home of Chatsworth will be familiar to fans of costume dramas from its appearance in the movie version of 'Pride and Prejudice'.
The house itself contains an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, books and furniture - good to know if the weather fails to behave itself - but it’s the 105 acres of gardens that are the main draw here.
Some 300,000 visitors a year come to enjoy Chatsworth Garden, which is the product of almost 500 years worth of careful cultivation, and contains features from six different centuries.
That history is a major part of the appeal of these stunning gardens, which mix historic and modern elements, most notably the incredible water features (which play from 11am-5pm) and include the gravity-fed Emperor Fountain, 300-year-old Cascade, and Willow Tree Fountain. The latter is one of a number of especially child-friendly attractions, and there’s even a ‘little explorers garden trail’ for the youngsters to follow.
All the family will enjoy the ‘hidden gems trail’ - which takes in the Grotto and Trough Waterfall among others - and there are more than five miles of walks where you can enjoy an array of rare trees, shrubs, streams and ponds. There’s also a ‘Sensory Garden’ that’s fully accessible to the disabled and features a variety of fragrant plants.
The estate is the county seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, who continue to add new features and attractions to ensure it changes and evolves as its plants do, keeping those visitors coming back.
Everybody loves a Maze, and Chatsworth’s is one of Britain’s biggest and best, comprising of more than 1,200 yews, all planted in 1962. You get a decent overview of it from the top of the Hundred Steps, which is part of the Arboretum Walk.
Make the most of your visit by joining one of the free guided walks, which last up to an hour. There’s also a 40-minute buggy tour that’s ideal for the less mobile and costs £4.
RCI has nine resorts in Central England.
2. Jardim Botânico (Botanical Gardens), Madeira
The sunny Portuguese island of Madeira is a gardener’s paradise, with a wide variety of exotic flora and fauna courtesy of its sub-tropical climate and rich volcanic soil.
Plants from all over the world can and do thrive here, with gardens in bloom all year round, and nowhere more so than in the capital Funchal, where parks and gardens - as well as town streets and private houses - are a kaleidoscope of colour.
But Jardim Botânico, the city’s botanic gardens, takes gardening to a whole new level - literally in one respect, as it’s located on a hill three miles above the town centre, with wonderful views of mountains and sea, depending whether you look north or south.
The colourful, fragrant gardens are a wonderful place for a relaxing stroll, let alone the chance to see more than 2,000 exotic plants from all over the world, including orchids, magnolias, azaleas, ferns, palms, and cacti.
You’ll also hear a variety of birdsong here, and not just from native feathered friends, as the gardens are home to Louro Bird Park, which contains a range of rare and exotic breeds, including dwarf parrots, cockatoos, parakeets and more. The garden’s other attractions include a Natural History Museum, amphitheatre, terrace café and a belvedere to make the most of those views.
You can’t miss the garden’s iconic mosaic of plant patterns that overlook the city, but if you fancy some fossils and artefacts to go with your flora and fauna, the Natural History Museum makes a great diversion, particularly if it gets too hot outside.
Turn your trip into an adventure by taking the cable car up from the seafront in Funchal. You can buy combined tickets that cover the ride and entrance fee to the gardens.
RCI has 20 resorts in Madeira.
3. Butchart Gardens, Canada
Located in a former limestone quarry near Victoria on Vancouver Island, and designated a National Historic Site of Canada, the Butchart Gardens have a fascinating past as well as exciting future.
The gardens are located at Brentwood Bay, about 14 miles north of Victoria, and were created by the Butchart family, who made their money from cement production. In 1909, when their quarry was exhausted, Jennie Butchart set about converting it into a sunken garden - something hugely popular at the time - finally completing it in 1921.
The gardens have expanded ever since, and now cover 55 acres, drawing an incredible one million visitors a year.
And there’s plenty for them to see and do, whether that’s strolling along flower-lined paths (the gardens contain more than 900 plant varieties), cruising on the lake or enjoying a meal in one of three on-site restaurants. There’s also a Children’s Pavilion that includes a carousel featuring beautifully hand-carved animals as well as a couple of ornate chariots for those with mobility issues.
Like the plants, the gardens change with the seasons, and while serious flower lovers might opt for some daffodil and tulip action in the spring or ‘fall colours’ from the Japanese maples in the autumn, the summer and winter offerings hold a greater all-round appeal.
There are boat tours, live entertainment, illuminated gardens and weekly firework displays on summer evenings, while winter brings the festive excitement of Christmas decorations, colourful lights and an outdoor ice skating rink.
Perhaps not in keeping with the genteel daytime feel, but the spectacular firework displays every Saturday night in July and August are not to be missed.
There’s lots to see here, so give yourself plenty of time - the park also offers guides of how to make the most of a two- three- or four-hour visit. Also, the park gets especially busy on firework nights so avoid getting stuck in the lengthy queues of people leaving by lingering around to enjoy the illuminated gardens and final strains of live music.
RCI has 57 resorts in British Columbia, including 10 in Vancouver/Vancouver Island.
4. Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden, Finland
If you’re visiting Finland on an RCI exchange holiday then there’s every chance you’ll be passing through Helsinki - especially if you’re arriving by air - and the country’s capital is definitely worth taking some time out for.
RCI Travel can help with arrangements if you want to tag a city break onto your RCI Exchange Holiday, and Helsinki is definitely worth the effort. Not only does the increasingly cosmopolitan city contain some of Finland’s finest architecture (even the railway station is Art Nouveau), but its attractions also include a picturesque town square, a church (Temppeliaukio), carved into rock, the family-friendly Linnanmäki amusement park and the fabulous fortified islands of Suomenlinna just off the coast.
Flower and plant lovers meanwhile will make a beeline (like the bees themselves, ahem) for Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden, which is located close to the central station and is part of the University of Helsinki and thus a major teaching resource.
The garden contains an impressive mix of exotic flowers, shrubs, herbs and ornamental plants alongside native wildflowers and flora, and there are more than 800 different plant species in its greenhouse. Some date back to the 1700s when the garden was in Turku (it relocated to Helsinki in 1828), and a visit to this peaceful relaxing garden often feels like taking a trip into the past.
The garden’s main attraction is the Santa Cruz water lily (also known as Victoria cruziana), which alongside a single cypress, was the only survivor when the original greenhouse was destroyed during World War II. The lily pad can grow up to two metres in diameter, and take the weight of an adult!
It’s also worth taking a trip to the University Botanical Gardens’ newer site at Kumpula, three miles north of the city centre. Opened to the public in 2009, it contains plants from all over Europe, North America and the Far East.
RCI has 39 resorts in Finland.
5. Santa Cruz Palmetum Gardens, Tenerife
Tenerife’s sub-tropical climate makes it the perfect environment for exotic flora and fauna to thrive, and there are gardens all over the island, including Parque del Drago, Risco Bello Aquatic Gardens, Jardines Victoria and many more.
Consistently rated the best is Santa Cruz Palmetum Gardens, which is the ultimate ‘green’ attraction in more ways than one - as the gardens are the result of a fantastic 20-year transformation project to turn a former landfill site into an oasis of plants, and the artificial hill it sits on was once a rubbish dump!
The contrast between before and after couldn’t be more marked, with trash truly turned into treasure, in the form of beautiful gardens which showcase spectacular vegetation that’s maintained without the use of pesticides or fertilizers.
The gardens claim to give you the chance to walk around the world without leaving Tenerife, and in terms of the variety of flora it has a strong case, with 2,000 different plants species, including more than 450 palm trees, considered the world’s largest botanical collection of tropical island palms. There’s even a palm museum if you want to find out more.
Head for the Caribbean section if you want to see some particularly rare and valuable plant species, while the New Caledonia area contains a range of plants endemic to the Canary Islands. And when you’re not ticking the various examples off your checklist, be sure to save some time to enjoy all the waterfalls, streams and ponds.
The gardens contain a number of vantage points where you’ll get brilliant views of the sea, the city and the Anaga Mountain Range - truly wonderful vistas, especially if palm fatigue has set in.
The display shade house does exactly what it says on the tin, offering a display of palms in a shaded environment that offers a great break from the sun.
RCI has 59 resorts in Tenerife.
6. Botanical Garden of the University of Szeged, Hungary
In much the same way as Helsinki in Finland, the lovely city of Szeged is worth a detour from your RCI Hungarian Exchange Holiday. The country’s third largest city has a charming old town, variety of cultural activities and a great garden-like main square, ideal for grabbing a coffee and enjoying a spot of people watching.
Located just outside the city (take the line 70 bus) the 17-acre Botanical Garden of the University of Szeged makes for a great and tranquil day out, where you can stroll through beautiful woodlands, a nature reserve and along pathways to lakes and other water features.
Soon to celebrate its centenary - it opened in 1922, the garden is split into three sections. The Park contains annual plants, cacti, greenhouses, lotus and water lily lakes, and a rock garden; the Aboretum is home to trees, forest and a rose garden; and the Communities area contains dye, fibre, oil and food plants, as well as a herb garden and farmyard.
The magnificent Indian lotus plant is probably the garden’s most famous, and revered species, but make sure you check out the Metasequoia, a rare redwood conifer from South China.
And if that all sounds a bit trainspotter-ish then there are plenty of fun activities and learning tools for children to enjoy, including an insect tree that’s sure to be a winner.
Don’t miss the colourful ‘flying flowers’ of the butterfly house, where you might even be lucky enough to get a rare species land on your shoulder.
Try to time your visit to see the Indian lotus in full bloom during July and August. The plant is also celebrated by an annual festival featuring traditional Indian food, music, dance and other cultural activities.
RCI has 16 resorts in Hungary.
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