Islands to delight the eye
Pat Richardson enjoyed an abundance of flowers, and much more, on a holiday made in heaven for garden-lovers.
Perhaps it is because each island is a small world complete in itself, unique and intimate, that they cast such a spell on us. Nor need they be faraway places to work their magic, as this RHS Garden Holiday to two charming Channel Islands shows.
Guernsey has broad beaches, sheltered coves, steep cliffs and a turquoise-tinted sea, plus tranquil farms and wooded valleys inland. A visit to Sark is a step back in time, on roads that carry no cars. And on both islands, rural roadsides, inland meadows, woodlands, valleys and even windblown cliffs are strewn with flowers in every season. Spring sees an abundance of wild primroses and daffodils, bright as sunshine even on cloudy days; and come Summer, there are floral glories galore, including meadows bejewelled with orchids and gardens awash with roses. And even later in the year, this abundance of floral displays is slow to disappear.
In Guernsey, a number of well-maintained public parks have been or are being restored to their former glory, so offer a living window onto the horticulture of the past as well as the present. In the pretty capital, St Peter Port, a succession of colourfully planted window boxes, fixed to the harbourfront railings, overflow with vibrant exuberance. However, not all of this island’s floral delights are immediately visible: some are pampered private gardens; and the advantages of an RHS Garden Holiday included gaining exclusive access to some of these, and being accompanied by an expert host. In Guernsey, that host is Raymond Evison OBE, an RHS Vice President, winner of 28 Chelsea gold medals, and also the founder, President and Director of the Guernsey Botanical trust, whose renowned Guernsey Clematis Nursery is the world’s leading exported of young clematis plants.
Flight time from London Gatwick to Guernsey is around one hour, meaning you’ve time to visit three gardens, all in St Peter Port, on your first day. Terraced on several levels, the garden of La Bigoterie has spectacular views of the harbour and surrounding islands, including Sark. So too does the upper lawn of historic Candie Gardens which, in Victorian times, were part of a private estate that was left to the people of Guernsey in 1887. At Grange Court, known for its beautiful rose garden, colourful mixed borders and rolling lawns, you’ll be welcomed to the island with a drinks reception.
Next day, you’ll visit La Petite Vallee, a private garden covering three terraced acres sloping down towards the sea, and featuring a variety of exotic and traditional plants. After viewing the west coast’s orchid meadows, comes a complete contrast: the formal garden in the grounds of Guernsey prison. Created by both prisoners and a horticultural team, it produces crops used in the prison kitchen every day. Vegetable crops are also grown in the Victorian Walled Garden at Saumerez Park, the third that you’ll visit that day.
On Day Three, accompanied its owner, you will see Forest Lodge garden, home to a variety of unusual and tender plants and shrubs; and then travel to The Guernsey Clematis Nursery, the world’s leading exported of young clematis plants. Its founder Raymond Evison will guide your tour of this state-of-the-art facility and explain the process of breeding and developing new varieties.
Your hotel in Guernsey is the rurally situated La Barbarie in the parish of St Martins. You will make the short ferry crossing to Sark on the penultimate day of your holiday, and stay one night at luxurious Stocks Hotel. This island is car-free so your transport to the hotel is by horse and cart. You’ll visit a small private kitchen garden and then the much larger gardens of La Seigneurie, where numerous eye-catching features include a formal rose garden, a Victorian glasshouse with long-established vines and a kitchen garden which supplies the cafe. In 2011, Sark was named the world’s first Dark Sky Island and if the night is clear you may well be able to enjoy some breathtaking stargazing after dinner.
Returning to Guernsey next morning, you will have free time for shopping in St Peter Port, before your final garden visit, to L’Etiennerie Farm, with its herbaceous borders, wildflower meadow, pond and potager. Afterwards, it’s back to the island’s airport for the flight home.