“The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden.”
It's so true.
Enter a garden, one that has been carefully cultivated or even apparently left wild, and you immediately know that you're in a special place.
Your shoulders drop a bit as tension is released and you relax in the sensual splendor of the oxygen-filled grounds.
I have experienced this yet I know nothing about gardens. I have friends who know gardens and travel to see them – my sister is one. For those readers who love gardens and want to travel and experience some of the more spectacular gardens in the world I've turned to an expert, Carolyn Mullet. She's an award winning garden designer and tour host with CarexTours and specializes in educational European garden tours. Carolyn also hosts a self-built community of 1.5 million garden lovers on Facebook where she provides daily design inspiration.
Garden Tours Offer a Window onto History and Culture
I already know that gardens are places of beauty and often serenity. That's what I have found at gardens I've visited on my travels. But I suspect that there is much more to gain from a garden visit so this is where I started my questioning. I asked Carolyn, beyond the beauty, what do gardens offer?
“I believe that gardens are cultural expressions of a particular time and place just like architecture and painting,” she said.
On her tours Carolyn discusses the historical, architectural and cultural context of the gardens in addition to the garden’s design and flora. As an example she told me about Sissinghust Castle Gardens in England.
“The gardens were created in the early 20th century by the poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat husband Harold Nicolson,” she said. “They are an opportunity to talk about the bohemian lifestyle that paralleled the Bloomsbury Group in England at the time. In the garden bohemianism translated into a deep romanticism in plant choices and repeated use of magnificent, fragrant old roses. Being bohemian allowed Sackville-West to think creatively and develop a totally new idea. She created the all-white garden which has been copied endlessly ever since.”
Garden Tours Reveal Our Connection to the Natural World
The second half of her response to my query about what gardens offer was, “They are especially revealing about how a culture relates to nature and what the culture sees as man’s place in nature.”
When she tours a garden, Carolyn looks for:
- How it controls nature or allows a natural wildness.
- Whether the garden is inward looking to screen out it’s surroundings or open to the scenery beyond.
- If the design makes the garden an intimate and comforting place, or grand so that the visitor feels small
Again, I asked for an example. “A good example is the contrast between the Dutch royal gardens at Palais Het Loo and the gardens at Great Dixter in England. The first is grand with acres of tightly clipped parterres inside tall planted berms that block any view of the world beyond. The second has a wildflower meadow at its entrance, very narrow paths and openings between garden rooms, mixes topiary with unruly perennials, and opens up to the surrounding countryside. Each reveals how its makers felt about nature and how man fits into the natural world.”
Garden Tours and Tips for First-timers
It became clear in my conversations with Carolyn that gardens offer unique ways of exploring a new country. But for those how take a garden tour there's more. There's the expertise in helping you see what's before you and there’s the pleasure of traveling in the company of other garden lovers. “I may be biased,” Carolyn said, “but I have come to believe that people who love gardens are really people to spend time with.”
Carolyn also offers these tips for selecting a garden tour.
- Make sure the country you’re visiting has a garden style that you like. If you must have flowers to be happy in a garden, don’t go to a country that has gardens that are all about clipped hedges.
- If you enjoy personal intimate spaces, make sure the tour you’re considering is visiting private gardens.
- Research what the weather will be and bring proper attire and footwear since you will mainly be outside.
- If you prefer discovering a garden on your own, choose a tour that doesn’t expect you to walk through a garden behind a guide.