Day 1: Arrival
Our England Birds & Gardens tour begins with dinner at our hotel near Heathrow where our leaders will meet the group to discuss the upcoming trip and the next day’s activities.
Day 2: Wisley RHS and Stodmarsh
In the morning, we visit the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisely. Wisley is reputedly Britain’s premier demonstration garden with 97ha (240 acres) offering a fascinating blend of the beautiful and practical in horticulture that incorporate innovative designs and cultivation techniques. In the trials area, the finest flowers and vegetables are selected from the countless new introductions for the society’s AGM worthiness. Cultivation techniques, such as composting or pleaching, are demonstrated, and a series of model gardens answers the needs of a variety of landscaping conditions.
Leaving Wisley, we head to Kent and the fine National Nature Reserve site at Stodmarsh. Stodmarsh in the Stour Valley is managed by Natural England. The reserve grew from marshland caused by coal mining subsidence, creating large reedbeds, lakes, ditches, meadows and wet woodland. Diverse habitats support numerous breeding and migrating birds. Lagoons and reedbeds are important for wildfowl. Mallard, Gadwall and Pochard breed on site most years and other birds present on the reserve include Reed and Sedge Warblers, Great Bittern, and Great Crested Grebe. Rare plants include the carnivorous greater bladderwort, greater spearwort and bog bean. Night in Kent.
Day 3: Dungeness Nature Reserve and Great Dixter
Kent hosts several excellent nature reserves, protecting marshland, rich deciduous woodlands, shallow lakes and ponds. This morning we visit Dungeness, one of the oldest nature reserves in England, established in 1929. Wetland areas support breeding Northern Lapwing, Common Redshank, Yellow Wagtail, and birds of prey such as Eurasian Kestrel and Western Marsh Harrier. Waterfowl include Greylag Goose, the ancestral species for domesticated geese. Reedbeds hold Reed and Sedge Warblers and Common Reed Bunting. Brushy areas echo to the songs of Greater and Lesser Whitethroats, Garden Warbler and Yellowhammer, whilst ponds lure Little Egret, Pied Avocet, Great Crested Grebe and Common Terns. There are several hides here, and from these we should locate Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel and parties of Barn and Bank Swallows. The area around the lighthouse is a noted area for Black Redstart and Northern Wheatear, and migrants and overshoots from nearby Europe, and we may be lucky enough to locate a few specialties. We also visit the shingle garden of Derek Jarmin, known for its ecological sensitivity and landscaped with flotsam and jetsam left by tides.
In the afternoon, we visit Great Dixter, the family home of the late renowned gardener and author Christopher Lloyd. The garden is planted around the buildings, with the arrangement of colours, forms and texture of the plants so well orchestrated that house and garden appear as a beautiful painting. Have your digital camera ready, although you may be too entranced to take pictures! Night in Kent.
Day 4: Sissinghurst and Nymans
In the morning, we visit the garden at Sissinghurst Castle. The ‘garden rooms’ style of planting is one of the most described and emulated in the British Isles. It was the joint creation of poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat husband Harold Nicholson. Their work transformed the ruins of this Elizabethan mansion into a remarkable must-see garden. The White Garden, the Purple Garden, the Rose Garden, the Herb Garden, the Lime Walk, and the Cottage Garden - scent and colours to be personally savoured.
April should see stunning displays of camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas, and Nymans Garden has such collections that do just that. Expect to see numerous intriguing topiaries everywhere in this garden. Be prepared for long walks to the heather darden and recently redesigned rock garden. Night in Sussex.
Day 5: The New Forest
We head through Hampshire to the New Forest, an area of pasture, woodland and heaths and noted particularly for breeding raptors. Our main interest is locating the enigmatic Dartford Warbler, as well as Common Redstart, Woodlark, Firecrest, Red Crossbill and hunting Eurasian Hobby. Night in Dorset.
Day 6: Arne & Compton Acres
This morning we visit the RSPB site at Arne, a fine stand of pines and heathland alongside Poole Harbour, and a very rich area for birds, including Dartford Warbler, Black-tailed Godwit, Tree Pipit, Common Shelduck and Little Egret, and we walk the easy trails through the woodland with its huge population of Sika Deer.
We next visit the gardens at Compton Acres, landscaped to provide magnificent vistas over Poole Harbour. The Wooded Valleys nurture tender plant species for year round interest. The 10-acre garden includes an Italian and a Japanese Garden. Night in Dorset.
Day 7: Lodmoor, Radipole Lake, Portland Bill & Dawlish Warren
This morning we visit the RSPB’s excellent wildlife sites at Lodmoor, Radipole Lake and Portland Bill. Radipole Lake is renowned for its breeding populations of Bearded Reedlings and Cetti’s Warblers, which we will certainly hear, and with luck see clearly. Portland Bill is a peninsula jutting out into the English Channel, and is a prime location for migrants and for passing seabirds; it also has nesting Common Murres, Razorbills, Northern Fulmars and Peregrines. We then drive across Dorset and part of Devon to Dawlish in time for a walk out along Dawlish Warren for shorebirds such as plovers, godwits and Whimbrel, perhaps with fly-by Brent Goose and Common Scoter. Night in Devon.
Day 8: Dartmoor
Today we visit the RSPB site at Yarner Woods on Dartmoor, an area of riparian woodland and heathland that supports Lesser and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Stonechat and a good variety of other species including Gray Wagtail, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher. We also drive onto the heather-covered upland moorland of Dartmoor, where Eurasian Curlew, Common Buzzard, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear nest. Night in Cornwall.
Day 9: Lost Gardens of Heligan and Caerhay’s Castle Gardens
Considered to be Europe’s largest garden restoration project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are fascinating because of their “lost and found” saga. The fact that the product of a team of 100 gardeners of a once great estate could so quickly fall into ruins, but then be rediscovered and restored like a giant garden puzzle, makes for a great garden mystery story. Here you will learn the Victorian way of growing pineapples in an alien habitat! The walks through the woodlands and farm fields are pleasant and often filled with birds.
Caerhay’s Castle gardens house the national collection of magnolias which we may catch in full bloom still in late April. It is also a showcase of spring bulbs, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, accessible along woodland trails. A detour to a fast running stream should net us Eurasian Dipper. Night in Cornwall.
Day 10: Trebah and the Lizard
Today we visit Trebah. Listed as one of the great gardens of Cornwall, Trebah is a subtropical paradise framed against stunning coastal landscape. Its colours in spring are painted by ancient rhododendrons, camellias, bulbs in woods and meadows, primulas around streams, and groves of azaleas. Trebah’s champion trees include a Japanese maple, Woolly tree fern, Chilean tepa, and the magnificent pink tulip flowred magnolia. The uphill and downhill walks lead through intriguing landscapes of tree rhododendrons, bamboo maze, Gunnera canopies to a sandy coastal beach with dramatic World War 2 connections.
Later in the day we visit the Lizard, the most southerly peninsula in England, to search for the very few Red-billed Choughs that now nest in England. Night in Cornwall.
Day 11: Hestercombe, birding sites and return to London
We may visit birding sites today for species that we have not found so far. On our return to London, we drop in to the garden at Hestercombe House. The Georgian landscape garden contains ponds, a grand cascade and numerous classical landscape ornaments.. A new Edwardian garden was laid out by Gertrude Jeckyll and Edwin Luytens in the early 1900s. Night in London.
Day 12: Departure
Our England Birds & Gardens tour ends today. You can transfer to the airport for flights home anytime today.