From Bletchley to Blenheim – a Tour Brimming with Delights.
Wisteria Tours’ latest holiday was far more than a tick-list of visits to some of the most impressive gardens and castles in the South East; it was a smorgasbord of treats for the senses, an opportunity to explore the lives, passions and legacies of some fascinating people, a reminder of the enduring ability of gardening to provide an oasis of tranquility amidst the hubbub of daily life.
As the tour unfolded we were presented with a wonderous slide-show of beautiful scenes – flowers, shrubs, trees, lakes and parkland vistas. Arriving at Great Dixter is like stepping into a glorious riot of colourful blooms framed with solid box hedges. Meandering along the narrow pathways, running outstretched hands along the dark-green box, flowers towering overhead, you become immersed in the magic of this garden. Drifts of evening primroses, alliums and palettes of pale pink, vibrant yellow and deep purple draw the eye in and up towards the house of the man whose creative gardening has inspired so many.
This was a tour of contrasts; contrasts of form and texture in planting; contrast in styles and atmosphere and contrasts of garden and architectural history. After the intensity of Great Dixter, the calm elegance of the terrace and lake at Pashley Manor was the perfect backdrop to treat the taste buds with a sumptuous afternoon-tea.
A surprise lies around every corner in Pashley Manor. A girl with her loyal dog, a stag beneath a tree, otters playing in the water or a badger foraging in the glade; Pashley Manor’s commitment to showcasing sculpture throughout the grounds added an extra layer of delight to this garden best illustrated by the statue of a young girl expressing, through dance, her joy of freedom and movement.
Indeed, the sunshine and high temperatures brought out the playfulness in us all. Who could resist plunging their feet into the cool freshness of a happily discovered swimming pool or stream or catching the crisp spray blown from Blenheim’s fountains?
Those intrigued by history were provided with a wide range of evidence of how gardens and houses reflect their ever evolving social and political settings. Nine hundred years of history are infused in the walls of Leeds Castle, home to medieval queens, Catherine of Aragon and the late Lady Baillie. High on the ceiling of the new chapel at Ightham Mote, faded paintings of portcullis and pomegranate symbols declare Richard Clemet’s allegiance to King Henry VIII but just how did he and his art survive the arrival of Anne Boleyn?
Perhaps most striking however was the constant presence of the ghosts of World War II. Top secret strategic meetings at Leeds Castle and the war cabinet rooms of Blenheim Palace were overshadowed by the dedication, determination and creative ingenuity evident at our first venue, Bletchley Park and the joy of one of our number at having found the name of her friend who had worked there during the war years. It was humbling to witness how hard the Bletchley men and women worked to intercept enemy intelligence to save lives.
Then, one final contrast, straight from the 21st century. Our visit to Blenheim Palace fell just two days prior to the visit of the American President and, whilst enjoying the summer scents of the rose garden, the outside world came crashing in as three low-flying Osprey v22 aircraft, escorted by helicopters, carried out a dry-run for his arrival right over our heads. The serenity and grace of the gardens juxtaposed with the harshness of military aircraft circling above certainly prepared us for the end of this lovely tour and the return to daily life.
This tour of the gardens and castles of the South East of England was based around the luxurious comfort of the Tudor Park Marriott Hotel at Maidstone. Properties and gardens visited included:
Great Dixter House and Gardens
Pashley Manor Gardens
Ightham Mote and Gardens
Leeds Castle and Gardens
Blenheim Palace and Park.
Watch out for further fabulous tours in summer 2019. For further information on our tours to East Sussex (May 2019) and the Great Gardens of Cornwall, (June 2019) why not visit the website at Wisteriatours.com.