Day 1: Great Dixter House and Gardens, Near Rye ● Canterbury
Your tour begins at Great Dixter in East Sussex, a place of pilgrimage for horticulturists from around the world. The garden was designed by architect Edwin Lutyens as a number of ‘rooms’ and developed in the 20th century by the gardener and gardening writer, Christopher Lloyd. Great Dixter is known for some of the most exciting planting in England and features the famous long border with clever succession planting, flower meadow and an orchard. Stroll in and out of the garden rooms; each one has something different. Look up as you enter the Peacock Garden with its 18 topiary birds, towering above the michaelmas daisy hedges. Explore the garden before you visit by downloading the interactive map from the website and while you’re online book one of the study days held throughout the season.
It is an hour’s drive to our next place of interest, the historic city of Canterbury brimming with world-famous architecture. Dominating the skyline is one of the oldest cathedrals in England; together with the ancient ruins of St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's Church, they make up Canterbury's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Canterbury is best enjoyed on foot. Take time to stroll through the winding lanes, bursting with local shops and interesting buildings at every turn. Stop off at Tiny Tim’s 1930s styled Tea Room in St Margaret’s Street for an English tea served with Kentish Huffkins, oval flat loaves, delicious with butter.
Visit the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, the place where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170 and possibly the inspiration for Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Learn all about the cathedral with a guided or audio tour or book a behind the scenes tour where you’ll see the library. Visit during a service and listen to the world-famous Canterbury choir.
Take the short walk to The Westgate Gardens, a tranquil 11-acre public garden located next to the river Stour. Visit during the spring to see swans, ducks and moorhens with their young. End your day with an evening meal at one of the many great places to eat in Canterbury.
Day 2: Sissinghurst Castle Garden, near Cranbrook ● Leeds Castle, Kent
Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent
After breakfast in Canterbury, pop into one of the local delis and select a picnic lunch for your day visiting castles. Enjoy the hour-long scenic car journey to your next attraction, Sissinghurst Castle Garden. One of the world’s most celebrated gardens, it was created in the 1930s by the poet and writer, Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Sir Harold Nicolson and is now managed by the National Trust. Take time to explore the ten intimate garden ‘rooms and doors’, arranged so that as you enter one room, the door to the next opens. Join a guided tour and learn all about the ruined architecture of the original buildings, the working farm and 450-acre estate. Climb up the 78 steps to the top of the tower for a breathtaking view of the Kent countryside and feel like you’ve earned your lunch. Relax in the peaceful setting of the picnic area before you head off to your next castle of the day.
Take the short half-hour drive to Leeds Castle. As you approach you’ll see Leeds Castle rising majestically from the moat and appreciate why it is known as ‘the loveliest castle in the World’. Learn all about the castle’s history; a Norman stronghold, the private property of six medieval English queens, a palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon and a retreat for the rich and famous in the 20th century. The castle is set in extensive grounds. Explore the formal gardens, get lost in the maze or take a tour on Elsie the castle train. You can even quiz the castle gardeners as they take you on a guided tour of the gardens. With a calendar of exhibitions and events, Leeds Castle is one of the most visited historic buildings in England.
Glorious Gardens Week, Penshurst Place and Gardens, Kent: first week in June. Visit and take part in garden events, including a tour with the head gardener, followed by afternoon tea, a photography workshop and floristry demonstrations.
Festival of Flowers Dinner, Leeds Castle, Kent: September. Recreate the floral grandeur of the infamous house parties held by Anglo-American heiress Lady Baillie, the castle’s last private owner. You can even stay overnight.