2023 turned out to be my record year!
2023 gave me back what the pandemic took away in 2020. When I scroll through the over 2000 photos on my phone, I cannot help but smile and pinch myself: did I really go to all these beautiful places? Did I really make 7 trips happen for a total of 80 travelers to five different countries? Well, the photos are there to prove it - so I did!
Chateau de Brécy, Normandy, June 2023
Giardino Lorella, Lake Orta Italy, May ´23
The photos show lots of beautiful gardens, unusual plants, moments shared with the garden owners and head gardeners, but above all what strikes me is the mood, the incredibly joyous, dynamic and enthusiastic mood that pervades these photos, even in the rain.
Rockcliffe House, Cotswolds, June 2023
The Mount, Lenox, MA, June 2023
BEST OF ALL: THE CAMARADERIE
And that is what stays with me from this record year—that is the highlight of 2023 for me: the camaraderie that I observed, and experienced, during these garden club trips.
Garden Clubs are to me a very American institution – I have yet to find the equivalent in Europe where I have lived for most of my life. From my experience creating and leading tours for them these past 13 years, US garden clubs are, in the best sense of the term, an engaged pillar of their community.
Garden club members are dynamic women, accomplished women, with a sense of civic responsibility. Don´t be fooled: these serious goals don´t mean there is no sense of fun – on the contrary. It´s about getting things done well and thoroughly but with a laugh and a good dose of humor. There is a strong sense friendship, built on years of working together on common projects for the common good of their community.
Isola Bella, Italy, May 2023
Les Jardins de Castillon, Normandy, September 2023
When these ladies decide to travel together, they do so with an un paralleled sense of curiosity, a desire to learn, to experience a new place together and be inspired. I would say, though, that the overriding objective is to cement their friendships by a common experience outside their comfort zone, creating memories and stories to last many years hence.
I am grateful for the three garden clubs who entrusted me with making their dream garden trip come true in 2023. Two knew me but one was a first-time client. Though I knew the destination managing a bigger group than usual (20!!) proved a challenge. Judging by their comments, I still delivered what they expected: an unforgettable trip, a source of memories for years to come.
Great Dixter with assistant head gardener Coralie Thomas, June 2023
Inspired by a garden in Millbrook NY, with Page Dickey, June 2023
My intention in crafting itineraries for garden trips is for the travelers to discover places with me they would not see on their own. We enjoy exclusive visits with head gardeners, owners and the best local guides. This way travelers learn first-hand about the history, the day to day challenges and the intention behind each garden. They can ask questions and gain new insights, often forging memorable bonds, sometimes even across language barriers.
Hubert Sainte Beuve, owner of the Jardins de Castillon, discussing his garden with travelers, September 2023
Christine Facer, owner of Througham Court Gardens, explaining her vision to our travelers, June 2023
Charlie Harpur, Head Gardener at Knepp Castle Estate, introducing the concept of rewilding, before leading us on a tour, June 2023
Jacopo Cicogna, owner of Villa Cicogna in Italy, leading us on a tour of his villa and garden, May 2023
A GOOD SENSE OF FUN
Learning doesn’t mean we can´t have fun. Indeed, the best way to process all the beauty and impressions is to relax in the evening or at lunch over a good meal.
Cocktails on the terrace, Day 1, Bellagio Italy, May 2023
Lunch al fresco, Lake Maggiore, May 2023
I will always remember the group that requested to take a doggy bag, not with left-over food but with the two wine bottles, which had just been opened and not drunk at lunch on the Borromean Islands.
I admit I was a little shocked, especially as this meant carting the wine all afternoon to the next garden we were going to visit. I should have taken my cue from the unflappable waiter who, in no time, produced the necessary corks and a bag. To the ladies, ever concerned about limiting waste, leaving two paid-for bottles was unthinkable, even if these had to be carried all afternoon. The prospect of enjoying the wine at the end of the day, in the hotel garden after a swim in the lake, made the effort worthwhile.
I was told a good time was had by all!
Though these special moments are the most important to me, a lookback to 2023 would not be complete without an answer to the question I´m sure you´re asking: what was your favorite garden in 2023?
I have many, old favorites and new ones I discovered in 2023. The most surprising and therefore the one that sticks in my mind the most is Wethersfield Estate in Amenia, NY.
We visited on the occasion of the Garden Tour to NW Connecticut & Environs that I arranged with Page Dickey for a small group of clients from Virginia back in late June.
Why Wethersfield? Part of the reason it sticks in my mind is the surprise I felt at being utterly charmed by the sense of place of this garden. It sits in the landscape, making the most of the sweeping views, combining formal and romantic elements in a masterful way. It is a mature garden and the tall trees, the sizable shrubs, all add to the magic. It is a grande dame of a garden, at once sophisticated and unpretentious.I
Tara Shafer, Executive Director of the Wethersfield Estate, a member of the family who grew up there, leads us on a tour. June 2023
Looking ahead to 2024 – less is more
The more I craft itineraries and the more I travel, the older I get, the more I realize that less is more. I don´t want my trips to be about ticking all the boxes, seeing so many gardens in one day that you can´t remember where you´ve been. I want my itineraries to be about curated experiences where you have time to wander, to feel, to think, to discuss with the owner or the head gardener, to learn and to process. I want you to have fun with your friends, moments of camaraderie that deepen your friendships and create lifetime memories.
In 2024 I´ll be developing itineraries for Portugal and England. Is there anywhere else you´d like to travel with me? Drop me a line below!
In the meantime, best wishes for a 2024 filled with friendship, camaraderie and many memorable moments in your garden!
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