If you enjoy soft adventure, you’ll want to check out the Gourmet Garden Trails Tour where you can explore, eat, drink and stay and experience some of England’s finest food and glorious gardens by following carefully curated itineraries. In this article, we write about our recent Gourmet Garden Trails experience. 

This experience was a paid partnership in support of Visit England’s Escape the Everyday campaign.

What are Gourmet Garden Trails?

Imagine visiting gardens designed by award-winning horticulturalists, each display telling a unique story that transports you to different global destinations. 

One moment you’re strolling through a tropical rainforest and the next, you are marvelling at a patch of alien-like, rare cactus plants of all shapes and sizes. 

On a hot day, scents from Mediterranean trees emerge to fill the air from leaves rich in natural oils. You pause and inhale deeply. Next, signposts direct you towards quiet contemplation along paths bordered by 100-year-old Bonsai trees before guiding you into a meadow of alpine wildflowers dancing in the wind.

Now imagine that some of those plant/flower displays include edible plants from different parts of the world. Rest your imagination and instead, relax in the garden and activate and engage your taste buds as you are presented with dishes made from edible plants and other locally sourced ingredients by top chefs. Each mouthful is delicate, aromatic, and full of flavour.

Surely you can’t be in a hurry to leave now? To truly “escape the everyday’, you’ll want to slowly travel from one garden to the next while sampling the local gastronomy along the way. So, imagine that for the night, you stay in an ancient farmhouse property which features a converted barn housing a gorgeous boutique hotel.

The above experience is one of a range of Gourmet Garden Trails across England. These carefully curated itineraries are put together by Gourmet Garden Trails (GGT), a tourism product developed by England’s Travel Trade and Fully Independent Travellers (FITs) associations.

Regions, where you can follow GGT itineraries, include Cheshire, East Sussex, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, The Peak District & Derbyshire, and West Sussex.

Our Surrey and West Sussex Gourmet Garden Trail

For our own Gourmet Garden Trails adventure, we selected three gardens that are part of a network of gardens curated by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

On our list were RHS Garden Wisley located in Surrey and Borde Hill Garden and The High Beeches Woodland and Water Garden both located in West Sussex.

The RHS has been inspiring gardening in England for over 200 years. Together with their five RHS Gardens (Wisley, Rosemoor, Hyde Hall, Harlow Carr, and Bridgewater), there are also over 200 RHS Partner Gardens spread across the country where visitors can enjoy horticulture, fresh air, historical properties as well as a choice plant centres, gift shops, and delicious cafes and restaurants featuring local cuisine.

As seasons change, the gardens offer a different experience on every visit. An ever-changing calendar of events includes art installations, food festivals, and music concerts.

We set off on a two-day summer itinerary to explore gardens in Surrey and West Sussex as part of our Gourmet Garden Trails adventure. We feel that each of the gardens offered a different perspective and had a distinct personality which we tried to capture during our visit.

RHS Garden Wisley – The Diverse One

RHS Wisley (first established as an experimental site in 1878) probably had the most plant diversity of the gardens we visited. 

Located in Surrey, Wisley (as it is fondly referred to) is home to a collection of plants, including plants of national significance and others considered rare or endangered. Wisley took us on a journey from the rainforest to the Mediterranean, desert, and high mountain regions.

Recent investment in infrastructure includes the brand new RHS Hilltop (opened in 2021), a purpose-built space for gardening science. A visit to the Hilltop’s rooftop bar was one of our highlights. From that vantage viewpoint, we were able to take in the World Food Garden, the Wildlife Garden, and the Wellbeing Garden, all designed by RHS Chelsea Gold Medal winners.

Keeping with the gourmet garden theme, we explored the World Food Garden and were immediately inspired with ‘plot to plate’ ideas for growing our own vegetables back home.

Having worked up an appetite from all that walking, our visit ended with a relaxing meal at the Terrace Restaurant (book ahead!). Our menu included fresh produce from Wisley’s garden.

HDYTI Tip: You’ll need an entire day to visit the RHS Garden Wisley (and even then you might not see it all). Arrive early, grab a map and begin at the Glasshouse. From there aim to wander in a circular direction. Don’t miss the Bonsai Walk and the Rock Garden! See the RHS Garden Wisley website for a calendar of events.

Borde Hill Garden – The Artistic One

From Surrey, the next day we headed 36 miles south towards Borde Hill Garden in the High Weald of West Sussex.

Borde Hill is one of 200 RHS Partner Gardens. It sits on property owned and developed by the (now fourth generation) Stephenson Clarke family. What began in the early 1900s as an amateur garden is now a magnificent plant collection spread over 200 acres of parkland and woodland.

Our visit coincided with ‘Form in Nature’ (May to September), a sculpture exhibition that explores the symbiosis between horticulture and art. Seventy-five sculptures from 34 artists interweaved seamlessly with plants, transforming this already spectacular garden into an outdoor gallery large enough to feed the curious mind.

Sculpture highlights for us included ‘Greer, Guardian Angel’ by Ed Elliot and ‘Kestrel Landing’ by Paul Harvey. We also enjoyed walks through the romantic Italian Garden and the intriguing Garden of Allah. 

Borde Hill Garden is a great location from which to appreciate views of the scenic West Sussex landscape. Of particular interest is the Ouse Valley Viaduct (aka Balcombe Viaduct), the majestic arches of which are just visible from the north side of Borde Hill Garden.

HDYTI Tips: For a true gourmet garden trails experience at Borde Hill, make time for afternoon tea at onsite Café Elvira. The menu items are creative and prepared from fresh local produce. On your way to or from Borde Hill Garden, stop for a quick visit to the Balcombe Viaduct and admire this architectural marvel.

High Beeches Woodland and Water Garden – The Contemplative One

We rightly left this garden to last on our itinerary. The High Beeches Woodland and Water Gardens make up 27 acres of original woodland that has been thoughtfully designed to complement the designation of this area of Sussex as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

High Beeches is considerably smaller when compared to the other two gardens we’ve showcased. However, this garden is where you can spend hours enjoying the beauty, serenity, and many opportunities for quiet contemplation.

A garden for all seasons, magnolias, camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas are some spring highlights. Summertime brings on the orchids, ox-eye daisies, and cowslips. Wildflower meadows intersect with ponds, little bridges, and soothing streams year-round.

However, according to insider knowledge we gleaned during our visit, autumn is the best time to visit. This is when the woodland garden transforms into a breathtaking display of crimson and golden. We shall certainly be returning for some more woodland magic at the High Beeches!

Useful info for planning your Gourmet Garden Trails adventure

So, if you’re looking for a unique staycation experience that puts great gardens, food, and unique places to stay at the center of your experience, a Gourmet Garden Trails adventure is definitely for you.

You can create your own gourmet garden trails itinerary to include vineyards, stately properties, and more. Visit the Gourmet Garden Trails website for more ideas.

From our experience, we think that driving is the most convenient way to do a Gourmet Garden Trails adventure. 

Car parking is free at all three gardens.

All gardens are family-friendly and suitable for children.

All three gardens offer guidebooks for self-guided tours.

While walk-ins are accepted at the restaurants we visited, advance booking is advised.

Where to stay

We stayed at The Old House (theoldhouseinn.co.uk). This historic building offers a delightful stay at a six-room, converted farm worker’s cottage-meets-modern-rustic country kitchen. You’ll want to immediately sink yourself into one of their roll-top baths, or take in the view spanning over West Sussex farmland. B&B rates for the Sussex room (pictured) begin at £124pn.

Besides their diverse cocktail, ale, and spirits menu, the Old House Inn has the kind of British rotisserie chicken that dreams are made of. The gourmet chicken is marinated for over 24hrs, and then slow grilled for 3-plus hours — basically, fall-off the bone goodness! Seriously…Nando’s could never!

Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).