Not on your standard garden-variety tour do you get out of the cities and off the beaten track to see such sights as a private English cottage garden delightfully and chaotically abloom in washes of every color. Or the painterly landscapes of hillside Italian villas, with their wonderful fountains playing in the bright Mediterranean light.
Nor has Europe cornered the market on tours of beautiful gardens. In Japan, visit an enchanting 14th-Century temple garden; in Ecuador marvel at innumerable orchids dripping off trees in the land of their native primeval forests.
Garden tours, it would seem, are sprouting up like weeds.
"In the last 10 years, there has definitely been an increase in the number of garden tours offered," says Paul Coopersmith of Coopersmith's England, a company that organizes tours to Great Britain and Europe. "And more and more tours are being offered to more and more parts of the world. The market is really expanding."
The reasons? "Certainly it reflects the heightening interest in gardening here at home," says Coopersmith. "But in large part it's that Americans have become more sophisticated as travelers."
One advantage to joining a garden tour, as opposed to setting out on your own, is that you get the benefit of having leaders who are usually knowledgeable in the fields of landscape design or horticulture. You also may gain admission to private gardens that would otherwise be off limits.
Many of the trips that follow are geared toward the devoted, even hard-core gardener: They travel to several gardens a day, every day. But, says Coopersmith, this is not true of all garden-oriented tours. Some participants are "not necessarily into gardens that much. But they like small groups, nice hotels; they like to walk outside and see lovely things." With that in mind, a few of the tours on this list are followed by stars, indicating that they include time for regular sightseeing and shopping excursions. Consider them if your traveling companion is less enthusiastic than you are about plants.
Prices are per person, based on double occupancy (additional cost for single supplement) and are subject to change. Cost includes air fare unless otherwise indicated or labeled "land price." Some prices include a tax-deductible contribution to a nonprofit organization.
* Gardens, Art and Architecture of Madrid and Andalucia.* April 12-27.
Visit Moorish cities and hilltop towns with excursions to the Prado and other famous museums, cathedrals and mosques in Spain. Garden highlights: Generalife in the Alhambra; in Seville, the gardens of Alcazar, a 14th Century palace, and the formal gardens and wild flora of Parque de Maria Luisa; in Madrid, the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Land price: $3,395. Coopersmith's England, 6441 Valley View Road, Oakland 94611; telephone (510) 339-2499, fax (510) 339-7135.
* Flowers Galore.* April 27-May 15.
This whirlwind tour through parts of the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary includes sightseeing and shopping in Amsterdam, The Hague, Maastricht, Strasbourg, the Black Forest, Salzburg, Vienna and Budapest, as well as a visit to Euro Disney. Garden highlights: In Amsterdam, flower auctions and markets including Hortus Bulborum, a museum of bulb culture; the bulb-growing fields of the Netherlands; Hortus Botanicus, the botanical gardens of the University of Leiden, the famous tulip fields of the Netherlands' Keukenhof; the gardens of the 15th-Century Castle Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria.
Cost: $3,486, from San Francisco. Giselle's Travel Bureau, 101 El Camino Plaza, Sacramento 95815; tel. (916) 922-5500 or (800) 782-5545, fax (916) 927-0454.
* The Gardens of Italy.* May 9-23. Also Sept. 19-Oct. 3.
A good comprehensive garden itinerary that includes sightseeing in Venice, Florence, Pisa and Rome. Garden highlights: Historic gardens and villas of the Italian Lake District, Veneto and Tuscany, with visits to Villa Taranto overlooking Lake Como; the palace and gardens of Isola Bella; the 16th-Century Villa Cicogna Mozzoni; Villa Carlotta; Villa Servelloni; Villa Melzi; the famed rock gardens of Villa Hruska; the 18th-Century maze garden of Villa Pisani, near Venice, and Boboli Gardens in Florence.
Cost: $3,895, from Los Angeles. TOC Travel, 4208 N. Freeway Blvd., Suite 121, Sacramento 95834; tel. (800) 505-2505, fax (916) 922-7916.
* West County Gardens and the Chelsea Flower Show. May 13-25.
This tour features the mild climate of southwest England and its many private estate and cottage gardens and a visit to the Bath International Festival of Music. Garden highlights: 20th-Century Savill Garden, Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley Garden, formal gardens and maze of Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle, Bowood House and Corsham Court, both created by famed designer Lancelot "Capability" Brown, Stourhead, Westonbirt Arboretum, Chelsea Physic Garden and the first day of the Chelsea Flower Show.