At the RHS Hampton Court Flower show this week, destinations from Charleston to Galicia, Normandy to Peru, came alive in the gardens from around the world. Each was inspired by the plants and landscapes that make these little corners of a country unique and special. The show is on for a few more days, so do go along to see these and many other beautiful gardens to find some inspiration for your next holiday.
As I was visiting on the 4th July, celebrations were in full swing at the three USA gardens from Oregon, Charleston and Austin.
Landscapes of Austin
At the Austin garden, the strumming of singer songwriter Carson McHone took me straight back to our holiday in Texas a few years ago, remembering all the street performers playing in the bars and by the food trailers in Austin. The stone walling, beaten earth paths and and rusting metal bowl filled with water were just as I remembered, even in the smart hotel where we stayed on our trip to Texas.
I loved the soft swathes of grass that looked as if they were rustling in the breeze, mixed with the dusty reds and yellows of Echinacea and other wild flowers. The spiky Agave were there too, to remind us that Texas is tequila country and they mix a mean margarita in Austin.
Mountains and Vineyards of Oregon
In the Oregon garden it was all about the mountain landscape with rocky outcrops and mountain streams backed by pine forests (or as much of a forest as you can realistically transport and plant at a garden show). There were a few vines too to show that they are a wine growing region and at the front a naturalistic planting of daisies and grasses looking as if they might be growing in the border of some farmer’s field. To represent the many cycling routes around the state, the edge of the borders were decorated with bicycle wheels.
Hidden gardens of Charleston
Quite different to the naturalistic feel of the other USA gardens was the Charleston garden, which exhuded elegance and old world charm. Box hedges surrounded the manicured lawn with wrought iron benches to linger a while. The pink and white planting gave a romantic feel mixed with a few more tropical shrubs. It was just the sort of place you’d like to take iced tea with your grandmother and hear her reminisce about her days as a southern belle.
The Inca Garden with inspiration from Machu Picchu
The Inca civilisation of Peru that created awe-inspiring structures like Machu Picchu was the inspiration for a tropical garden sponsored by British Airways and Journey Latin America. From the outside we were met by a wall of native foliage with banana plants and sculptural leaves, but as we walked further into the garden, the carefully crafted dry stone terraces like those at Machu Picchu were revealed.
Water trickled down from the grassy terraces into pools that could be used for irrigation, with gardens of maize, potato and quinoa standing in well kept rows. The planting was spiky and exotic with variegated red and green planting mixed in with the yellow and orange astromeria. Perhaps if the explorer Hiram Bingham had been able to step back in time, this is what he would have seen of Machu Picchu when the Incas were at their full power, rather than the deserted remains of a lost civilisation that we think of today.
The Normandy 1066 Medieval Garden
To celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the ‘Le Clos d’Hastings’ garden took on a medieval theme that reflected the garden plants and countryside from both sides of the channel in Normandy and the area around Hastings. The garden was divided diagonally into two parts with a woven hazel fence, the ends of the branches sprouting in places.
On one side of the fence was a field of crops waiting to be harvested; flax and wheat speckled with red popies and daisies. On the other side of the fence were garden plants in shades of white and purple, a rich mixture evoking the Bayeux tapestry. At the back of the plot, a green hedge was planted with saplings to represent the farming landscape of Normandy while at the front a couple of Norman soldiers were standing guard, quite happy to pose for photos!
From Galicia in Northern Spain – the Route of the Camelia garden
One of my favourites among the world gardens was the Route of the Camellia garden, sponsored by Turismo de Galicia. I visited northern Spain a few years ago on a family summer holiday and well remember the mixture of brilliant sunshine and showers that we had – there’s a good reason why it’s called ‘Green Spain’!
The garden celebrates the pilgrim’s route of Santiago de Compostela, which I’d love to hike some day, with the pilgrim’s symbol of scallop shells scattered on the path. Overhanging the romantic shrine to the Virgin Mary was a Camellia tree, frequently found in this part of Spain. Since the camellia flowers in the spring, designer Rose McMonigall had used pink coloured shells to represent the camelia petals that might drop onto the pilgrim’s path.
RHS Garden Holidays
If you’re a garden enthusiast, take a look at the RHS Garden Holidays, which are organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, offering tours of the world’s great gardens, accompanied by horticultural experts.
RHS Hampton Court Flower Show
The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show takes place 5-10 July 2016 – visit the RHS website for more information on this and all the other RHS flower shows.
Thanks to RHS Hampton Court Flower Show who provided me with free entry to the show.
The Texas Hill Country is that area between San Antonio and Austin where the flat plains give way to rolling hills with small towns that were founded in the 19th century by settlers from Sweden and Germany. We toured around this area last year, finding things that seemed strange and unusual to our European eyes, even though we share a common language (well nearly). Here are some of the things that we enjoyed on our drive around the Texas Hill Country;
Texas Barbecue and a slice of pie
In England a barbecue would probably mean sausages and burgers cooked over smoky charcoal, but we found that in Texas it means something quite different. At Black’s BBQ in the town of Lockhart, they’ve been serving real Texan BBQ since the 1940s, using only the finest beef brisket marinaded and cooked slowly over oak chippings for 12 hours until it is meltingly tender and delicious. We queued up for our salads and sides then piled the plates with slices of brisket which was sold by weight and settled down at the red checked tables to enjoy, surrounded by hunting trophies and sporting photos. Afterwards we got a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour to feel the heat of the ovens and learn more about how the brisket is carefully trimmed and cooked for that authentic BBQ taste.
Driving back to the Interstate 35 we stopped for something sweet at the Texas Pie Company in Kyle which we easily recognised from the huge slice of cherry pie on the roof. Their slogan is “Life’s short, eat more pie” and with delicious flavours like fudge pecan, lemon chess and strawberry peach to choose from we didn’t need any encouragement. On the wall was a picture of chief pie-maker, Julie Albertson, who uses her grandmother’s recipes to create 18 different pie flavours, with individual sizes as well as the classic 10 inch size. You’ll find home-made pies like these in many local bakeries and diners – it’s a taste of Texan home cooking.
Tubing and Blue Bell ice Cream in Gruene
We passed through the German settler town of New Braunfels and stopped on the outskirts at the smaller historic district of Gruene. A popular local pastime, especially in the sweltering heat of the Texas summer, is to go rafting or tubing on the Guadalupe river that flows through the area. Although it was a little early in the season we hired our tubes at Rockin’R, right by the river and opted for the tubing as we were advised that there wasn’t really enough water in the river for rafting. The company owns a number of camp grounds along the river so you can drift downstream and then they will arrive in the van to give you and your tube a lift back to the starting point. It took an hour and a half drifting along to reach the pick-up point and we took a good look at all the fabulous houses along the banks as well as the river turtles sunning themselves on logs in the river. There was the occasional small set of rapids to get the heart pumping, but nothing too challenging, just enough for a few whoops of delight.
After we dried off and returned our tubes, we took a look around Gruene Historic District which has plenty of cafes, antique and souvenir shops and a nice old fashioned drug store serving Blue Bell ice cream, as well as a famous Honky Tonk Dance Hall. We stopped for a bite to eat at Cantina Del Rio, a colourful Mexican cafe with a deck overlooking the river where we enjoyed some excellent tacos and fajitas.
The Cowboy life at the Silver spur ranch
Further west, we headed for Bandera, another small town with big ambitions that proclaims itself to be the “Cowboy Capital of the World”. Our mission was to get into the Cowboy spirit with a trail ride at the Silver Spur Ranch, one of the many Guest and Dude ranches in the area. While the ranch accommodated guests who would stay up to a week and get to try other cowboy stuff like sitting around the camp fire, learning lasso skills, or even a rodeo, we just went for an hour’s ride into the Hill Country State Natural Area. It wasn’t nearly long enough, even though my city legs were aching afterwards, but we enjoyed our time on the horses who were very gentle with novice riders like us.
Huntin’ Shootin’ Fishin’ at Cabela’s
While staying in San Antonio, we had spent a day on Picosa Ranch and were recommended to stop at Cabela’s, on our drive north to Austin. This enormous warehouse store has everything that the enthusiastic hunter or lover of the great outdoor might need, with a camping section upstairs, but it was a real eye opener for us on the Texas gun culture. First thing was the big sign asking you to check your gun in at the door and then the entire wall of the warehouse given to guns of all shapes and sizes. My 19 year old son was absolutely thrilled that there was a stand where he could just pick up and try the feel of a real gun and there was almost a theme park feel to some parts of the store, such as the central display of stuffed animals with details of where they were shot and by whom. In another side room there were displays of more stuffed animals with a model of a hunter who would start talking to you when the button was pressed. For a family from the city who would never go hunting this was definitely one of those “only in America” moments.
The Alamo and a cycle to the Spanish Missions in San Antonio
The city of San Antonio is the southern border of the Texas Hill country and the home of The Alamo, one of the unmissable attractions in Texas. The Alamo is what remains of the chapel and the buildings of the old Spanish Mission, one of several in the area, and has a huge significance in the struggle for Texan Independence from Mexico. This is where, in 1836, a couple of hundred volunteers made a last stand against the Mexican Army led by General Santa Anna and although they were all killed, the episode became a turning point in the war of Texan Independence with the rallying cry of “Remember the Alamo”. The monument is not as large as you might expect considering its fame, but the attraction is free and the chapel and the long barracks contain plenty of information about the history with several courtyards and pleasant gardens.
After visiting the Alamo we hired bikes from the shop behind the Visitor Centre and cycled along the river bank, through the historic King William district overlooked by old mansions and greenery. Gradually the river widened to become Mission Reach, with a cycle path that takes you all the way to the other Spanish Missions that lie just outside San Antonio. Eventually the path took us to Mission San Jose, known as the “Queen of Missions” for its size and beauty, with a church with a carved stone facade that was under restoration and a working water mill where there was a demonstration on grinding grain. On the way back, we stopped at the Blue Star Brewing company where you can see the big steel brewing containers behind the bar although I ordered a refreshing glass of iced tea.
The Texas Hill Country has plenty more to offer in vineyards, interesting small towns and beautiful wild flowers and is ideal to tour by car for a few days, stopping at anywhere that looks interesting. You can also combine it, as we did, with stops in the cities of Houston, San Antonio and Austin for a holiday that takes in the best that Texas has to offer.
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More places to enjoy in the Texas
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December 29, 2012 by Heather Cowper
Filed under Devon and Cornwall, Europe, featured, Gothenburg, Greece, Guernsey, Namibia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Texas, Tour de Mont Blanc, Tour de Mont Blanc, United Kingdom, USA, Wales, World, Zakynthos
At this time of year it’s nice to reminisce a little and let the pleasant memories of the year wash over us to create that rosy seasonal glow. Then we can all brace ourselves mentally to look forward to new plans, new places, things we want to do more of, things we want to do differently. I’ll be sharing my plans for Spring 2013 very soon, but in the meantime, here are some of my travel memories from the last year, which perhaps will provide some travel inspiration for your plans in 2013.
December 2011 – Gothenburg, West Sweden for a pre-Christmas break with my husband
I’m cheating a bit here when I include our trip to Gothenburg from the end of 2011, but then it’s my blog, so I’m allowed a little cheating and we did have a great time despite the snowy and windy weather.
Why Gothenburg? I’ve always liked Scandinavia; so clean, so together and everyone speaks perfect English, and I wanted a pre-Christmas gettaway with my husband when we could eat great food and get into a Christmas mood, with just the two of us.
Happy memories? Fantastic seafood and a chat with the oyster-opening champion Johan Malm at Restaurant Gabriel, our memorable Michelin star tasting menu at Basement with head chef Camilla Parkner, sheltering in Cafe Kanold from the wind over a cup of hot chocolate with chilli, the Christmas market on the cobbled streets of Haga with the music of the marching band, the workman’s graffiti in the back of the statue of Mother Svea just outside our window at Hotel Elite Plaza, the millions of sparkling Christmas lights at Liseberg.
Where did we stay? The beautiful, 5 star Hotel Elite Plaza, once the headquarters of the Swedish Fire and Life Insurance company and full of grand marble staircases and chandeliers.
February – a winter weekend on the Gower in South Wales
Why the Gower? My son is at university at Swansea nearby and I wanted to get the whole family together, including my parents, to spend some time together near the sea.
Happy Memories? Long, blustery walks along the cliffs, the wide open beaches of Langland and Caswell, sitting with the papers and a cappuccino at Langland Bay Brasserie watching the rain beat on the windows, pretty painted beach huts and exotic spiky palms on Langland beach, watching the surfers bobbing in the water from the clifftop.
Want to read more?
Our winter weekend on the Gower in Wales – Langland and Caswell – Video
April – Texas, USA for a family road trip
Why Texas? My husband had visited Texas on a military exchange a few years before and kept raving about it, plus we wanted to find somewhere we could enjoy as a family with good weather at Easter and flights that were not too expensive.
Happy Memories? Experiencing a Blast-off at Space Center Houston, the finger-licking BBQ at Black’s in Lockhart, cycling along Mission Reach to the Spanish Missions in San Antonio, an afternoon wobble shooting at Picosa Ranch (I actually shot something!), tubing down the river at Gruene followed by Bluebell ice cream at the old fashioned drug store, tequila tasting at the Cibolo Moon at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country, eating trailer food, trying on cowboy boots and shopping for vintage in SoCo, Austin.
Where did we stay? The comfortable Park Inn Houston North, conveniently close to the airport, The Mediterranean style Hotel Valencia Riverwalk in San Antonio with views over the Riverwalk, The luxurious JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort complete with its own waterpark, our Holiday Rental in the Barton Hills area of Austin booked through HomeAway and the gorgeous boutique style Hotel Sorella in the vibrant City Centre neighbourhood of West Houston
Want to read more?
Our Texas Road Trip Part 1 – Podcast – Houston, San Antonio, Picosa Ranch
The best of Texas – finger-licking BBQ and a slice of pie
Picosa Ranch – a luxury Ranch with a slice of Texas history – video
May – a girl’s weekend in Winchester
Why Winchester? I wanted a weekend gettaway with my sister and Winchester was easy for both of us to get to, as well as having loads of things to see and do in the city and the beautiful Hampshire countryside nearby for some walking on the South Downs Way.
Happy Memories? The Anthony Gormley statue standing ankle-deep in water in the crypt of the Cathedral, seeing the small wooden table in the house at Chawton where Jane Austen wrote her greatest novels, eating lardy cakes bought from the farmer’s market with a view of the sulphur yellow fields on the South Downs Way, watching the mesmerising water wheel grinding the grain into flour at the Winchester City Mill, spotting the artistic bollards outside The Old Vine where we had a delicious supper.
Where did we stay? The Winchester Hotel, a stylish, modern hotel that is an easy walk from all the historic sights.
June – Guernsey and Sark in the Channel Islands
Why Guernsey? It’s just a short flight from Bristol and has a fascinating history as well as a beautiful coastline, plus we were all intrigued at the thought of visiting Isle of Sark where there are no cars
Happy Memories? Walking along the coast from Fermain Bay to Jerbourg point through the pine trees, the exotic treasure trove of Hauteville House, home of Victor Hugo, eating crab sandwiches from a beach kiosk with a view of the sea, cycling around the island of Sark and eating fresh lobster in the garden of the Sablonnerie Hotel, hearing the stories of the German Occupation from Guernsey tour guide, Gill Girard.
July – Zakynthos, Greece for a family holiday
Why Zakynthos? My sister lives on the island where she runs two hotels with her Greek husband, Denis so we like to visit her every year and explore some new corners of the island.
Happy Memories? Discovering Porto Limnionas, a rocky cove in the north of the island with turquoise water and a great taverna, sitting with a drink on the terrace of Harbour House restaurant at Agios Sostis with new friend Derek Linley hearing stories from his years coming to the island, our boat trip from Agios Sostis to spot the Caretta Caretta turtles in Laganas bay and swim in the sea caves at Keri, the Greek dancing night at Windmill Hotel which never fails to entertain us.
Where did we stay? My sister’s hotel, the Windmill Studios in Argassi with a view over the sea from the geranium filled terrace. She also runs the Windmill Bay Hotel just down the road.
Want to read more?
10 gorgeous beaches and places to swim on Zakynthos
Get in your car and drive! the bits of Zakynthos that you won’t see from your sunbed
Swimming the turquiose Blue at Porto Limnionas
August – an adventurous weekend on Dartmoor with the teenagers
Why Dartmoor? My husband knows the moor well from his army days and we all love the wild scenery and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure that kept my teenage son and his friends busy
Happy Memories? Having lunch at the Okehampton station buffet imagining that I was Celia Johnson in the film Brief Encounter, watching my son and his friends splash around in the river on their gorge scrambling adventure, our walk on the moor with friends above Peter Tavy followed by a hearty lunch at the Peter Tavy Inn, climbing up to the Great Staple Tor and finding a letterbox to stamp our hands, the blissfully warmth of the heat cabin at Woodovis Park and a swim with the family in the pool.
Where did we stay? Woodovis Park in a comfortable mobile home. It’s an immaculate, 5 star, family run camping and caravan site which is a great base to enjoy all that Dartmoor has to offer.
Want to read more?
Wild and Wet adventures on Dartmoor – staying at Woodovis Park
September – walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc in Switzerland and Italy
Why the Tour de Mont Blanc? I’ve been walking the TMB which is a long-distance mountain trail, in stages with my friend Julia and this was our third year on the trail. We both love the wild mountain scenery, the feeling of escaping our busy lives and the physical challenge of the walk.
Happy Memories? Watching the scenery change on the train journey from Geneva alongside Lake Lausanne and on the St Bernard Express, feeling on top of the world on the Grand Col Ferret at the border between Switzerland and Italy, staying at the fantastic Rifugio Walter Bonnati, undoubtedly the nicest refuge we’ve stayed in so far, having a picnic on the mountain overlooking Courmayeur and surveying the route we had just walked, the excitement at the start of the Tour des Geants in Courmayeur.
If you plan to go
Click here to get my FREE Tour de Mont Blanc Packing guide
September – Girona, Spain for TBEX
Why Girona? I attended the TBEX Travel Bloggers’ Conference being held in Girona where it was great to meet some of my blogging friends in person and hear the speakers on different aspects of blogging.
Happy Memories? Staying in an apartment with Barbara Weibel, Isabel Romano and Laurel Robbins and just a floor down from Janice Waugh, Simon Falvo and Sarah and Terry Lee made for some great late night chats and bonding, eating pretty Pinxchos in a side street cafe with new blogging friends, wandering along the river with the tall pastel houses and criss-crossing bridges, the historic food by El Celler de Can Roca at the TBEX opening night party, the day out at Vall de Nuria in the Pyrenees after the conference
Where did we stay? A comfortable apartment in the old town of Girona booked through Wimdu
Want to read more?
Staying in the heart of Old Town Girona with Wimdu – video
A Sunday Stroll in the Pyrenees – Vall de Nuria
Case study – Costa Brava Marketing campaign – podcast interview with Jaume Marin
And what about the family?
Of course for many of these trips I was with various members of my family, but they also did some travelling on their own that they wrote about for me on the blog;
My husband Guy spent much of August on a school trip in Namibia looking after a large group of teenage girls, where they did some community work in a local school, went trekking and had close encounters with the desert elephants and other African wildlife.
My oldest son, William had a fun snowboarding trip in Andorra with a group of friends from university, which was spent mostly snowboarding, drinking and doing what students do on holiday. Read William’s article on Snowboarding in Pas de la Casa – a student’s guide
My daughter, Sophie-Anne wrote about her moving visit to Auschwitz with the Lessons from Auschwitz educational programme, designed to ensure that young people understand what happened and don’t let history repeat itself in the future. Read Sophie-Anne’s article on What every schoolgirl should know about Auschwitz – video
I hope you enjoyed my travels in 2012 and that you may feel inspired to visit some of these places yourself. I’ll be sharing my exciting travel plans for the spring of 2013 with you very soon.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey