By Dan Dickson
Linda and Ron Williams of Indianapolis had been hobbyist gardeners and travelers for years. There were several places in northern Italy they saw in garden architecture books that were open only to groups. They decided if they were ever going to see them, they needed to assemble a group.
“I sent letters to friends, and 23 responded within five days with deposits,” Linda Williams said. Their garden travel business was launched.
The Williams’ Garden Travelers take flower-lovers to Europe from April to November. “We specialize in garden groups. If you go to England, Italy or Spain and to any great country house, there’s a garden with it,” said Linda Williams. “About 60 to 70 percent of our garden travelers are members of garden clubs at home, like a rose or a hosta group.”
One of their typical garden trips to Europe will last 10 days to two weeks.
“Gardens are an underdeveloped niche in travel,” she said. “Italy, Germany and other countries started promoting garden travel again.”
Garden clubs plan group travel nationally and internationally to share the pleasure of nature’s floral shows.
Connie Cornelius of Affinity Group Tours and Travel in Phoenix is taking reservations for a trip to Europe for members of the Desert Botanical Garden. “The cruise will be in August, when most people want to get out of Phoenix,” Cornelius said with a laugh.
The cruise includes Germany and Belgium and culminates in Venlo, the Netherlands, home to Floriade 2012, a world horticultural exposition staged once every 10 years that features remarkable displays of flowers, plants, trees, fruits and even vegetables.
“These people will enjoy traveling there with their friends or with others they don’t even know,” said Cornelius. “Whether it’s a garden club, gourmet club or alumni association, they travel and share a common bond.”
The Tallahassee Garden Club in Tallahassee, Fla., also hits the road in search of gorgeous flora. Lana Arnold, club president, said 25 members traveled from Florida to Boston for last year’s World Association of Flower Arrangers (WAFA) show. WAFA is the governing body for floral-art events and standards for 30 nations.
“It was quite spectacular, a wonderful trip,” Arnold said. “There were people from around the world doing floral designs of unbelievable scale. It was interesting standing on the floor looking at designs and hearing different languages being spoken and knowing our commonalty was flowers.”
Shelley Atkinson, a travel consultant for Holiday Cruises and Tours, books some of the Tallahassee Garden Club’s travel.
“We’re putting together trips to Atlanta for the Southeastern Flower Show in 2013; the Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Mich.; and the Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Ga.,” she said.
Atkinson admits that most garden club travelers are women and that only one-third of the trip time is devoted to flowers. “They would be bored if the trip did not also include shopping, seeing different sites and eating in new restaurants,” she said.
Susan Schumacher, president of Groups Inc., a tour planning company in Haverhill, Mass., recently realized the value of booking flower-power trips.
“There are hundreds of garden clubs and thousands of members and many garden-related destinations and venues,” she said. “I just thought, ‘Wow, what an opportunity to do some very interesting tours.’”
Schumacher is working on bookings for horticultural day tours and overnight tours in her region.
“The Brandywine Valley has the Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and the du Pont mansions’ gardens in Delaware. They’re just spectacular, spectacular tours.”
Schumacher noted that young people generally do not go on garden tours. From age 50 on up is the most accurate demographic, and “the economy definitely dictates how much money people are going to spend,” she said.
Sometimes a spouse comes along on a garden trip who isn’t necessarily a flower person, Williams said. “No problem. I always tell them that if there’s a good garden, then you are sure to find a good cup of coffee or piece of chocolate cake, or a great beer or wine nearby.”