Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Emerald Isle and Virginia Garden Week

 I am very happy to FINALLY announce our first two travel destinations for 2016! The end of April finds us closer to home than usual, but visiting some truly remarkable gardens during Virginia's Historic Garden Week. We'll also see some sights in Washington, DC!  Beginning the last week of May and carrying over into early June, we will spend 10 days exploring the stunning gardens and countryside of the Emerald Isle. We're off to Ireland!

Please email me at and I will be happy to email you itineraries of your very own!  I hope some of you will join us!

Historic Virginia Garden Week
April 21-29, 2016

Spend a week with us visiting some of the most exceptional historic cities, homes and gardens that Virginia has to offer, as well as the most famous monuments in Washington, DC!

COST: The cost of this trip is $2,200.00 including accommodations, bus travel to the gardens, and all meals included in the itinerary.  If you have traveled with Garden Travelers previously, the cost is $2,100.00 per person.  If you have traveled with Garden Travelers on four or more trips, please ask about your special price.

DEPOSIT OF $5OO.OO DUE BY FEB. 15, 2016.  FINAL PAYMENT DUE MARCH 15.  WE DO ACCEPT VISA AND MASTERCARD. A fee of 2.5% will be assessed for credit card payments to cover the fees charged by the banks for processing. Payment in full will gladly be accepted at any time. Deposit will be fully refundable before February 15, 2016. After that date, see our return policy in the “Terms & Conditions” below.

AIRFARE:  Airfare is NOT included in the price of this trip. All participants will be given the name and location of the host hotel in Alexandria, Virginia (you will fly into Washington, DC) and will be responsible for their own transportation to the hotel prior to 6:00 p.m. on April 21, 2016. The tour will officially start with a Welcome Dinner for the group that evening.

Email me at for an email 

copy of the fully detailed itinerary and pricing!

The Emerald Isle
Dublin and Southern Ireland
May 25-June 7, 2016

Bantry House & Garden, one of the most stunning homes & gardens in Ireland!

Blarney Castle, where you'll have the chance to kiss the Blarney Stone!

Corke Lodge and its exceptional exotic garden!

Helen Dillon's world-renowned garden in Dublin!
These are just a small sampling of the beautiful gardens we'll visit. For a fully detailed itinerary with pricing, email me at

COST: The cost of this tour is $4,295.00 per person based on double occupancy and a minimum of 20 travelers. Single supplement is available upon request.

PAYMENT SCHEDULE: A deposit of $1,000.00 per traveler is due at the time of booking. Deposits will be refundable until February 15, 2016. Payment in full is due no later than March 25, 2016. We will gladly accept payment in full at any time.

INCLUDED: Daily breakfast, some lunches and dinners as described in the itinerary, hotel accommodations, transportation by private coach, entry fees into all places visited by the group as part of the itinerary, fees/tips for the local guides hired as part of a site visit.

NOT INCLUDED: Airfare, travel insurance, any meals not described in the itinerary, bus driver gratuity, any personal travel (taxis, trains, buses, etc.) that participant chooses to use during free time. 
AIRFARE: Garden Travelers does not book group or individual airfares for the majority of our trips. This allows our travelers to use airline miles or credit card points to pay for their airfares through direct association with the airlines, which they are unable to do through our company. We are, however, happy to assist anyone who has questions and will monitor and happily recommend flight itineraries that seem reasonable and will get you to our designated meeting point on time.


Monday, December 28, 2015

What Happened To Winter?!?

What happened to winter?

I've had so many messages either by email or on Facebook that I thought addressing everyone's concerns here would be a great way to officially re-launch the blog just before the first of the year. So, here we go.

El Nino. El Nino is what happened to winter. Hanging out over the northern Pacific, El Nino has rearranged our "normal" (whatever that is these days) winter weather pattern and brought the warmest, mildest late autumn and early winter (remember, winter did just officially start one week ago today) in recent memory. Considering that the past two winters have been two of the coldest and snowiest on record in at least the past 25 years--and in some places much longer--this one is feeling quite tropical! I did work in the garden most of the day yesterday in a short-sleeved t-shirt, after all!

No need to belabor the fact that it is warm, though. We all know that by looking around at the garden. Things are happening that just shouldn't be happening at this time of year and we're concerned, right? Right. Well, mostly right. Some things are happening just the way they're intended to, while others are cause for some concern, so let's try to sort that out.

What am I worried about? None of it, really. Plants are resilient characters. Do I have some plants that are blooming far earlier due to the incredibly mild temperatures we've experienced so far this season? Yes. Is there anything I can do about it? No. Will my plants die because of it? In all but the rarest cases, they will not. Yes, I'll lose some blooms. Yes, the buds on the quince that are expanded FAR too much for this early in the season will probably freeze and I'll have little to no show in a couple of months when it should be the star of the garden, but those are the breaks. That's life in the garden.

Will the Lenten roses survive? Yes. Will their flowers get frozen? Some of them, yes, but it really depends on the plant. Helleborus niger, for instance (aka the Christmas rose), is flowering absolutely normally and at just the right time of year. You can't fool it, and the temperatures can get well down into the twenties and even the upper teens (Fahrenheit, for those of you who read the blog in other parts of the world--we still use it here) and the blooms will be just fine. If a few of the wide open blooms get frozen, more buds will appear from below ground and new flowers will appear. This is especially true of the newer hybrids like 'Jacob' and 'Josef Lemper'.

Helleborus orientalis 'Sally'. These fully open blooms will hold up well, even down into the 20's, but if we get into the teens, the blooms will probably be lost. The plant, however, will re-grow normally in the spring.
I'm a little more concerned about some of Helleborus x hybridus types that are flowering WELL ahead of their normal season, which usually doesn't begin until late February. They are fully two months early and some have flowers completely open. These will probably get frozen, as we'll most assuredly have some temperatures cold enough to kill the open flowers. Those that are tightly budded and whose buds are still hovering at ground level will be just fine. They're built to withstand the cold, so don't despair! And even for those with flowers fully open, the plants themselves are not at risk. You may lose this year's blooms, but the plant will grow normally in spring and will get right back to its normal cycle next year.

What about the cherries and the forsythia and the winter jasmine that I see blooming around town? What will happen to those? What about my saucer magnolia? It already has blooms, you know!

The answers to these questions vary, but here's the gist of it. The cherries you're seeing in "full" bloom now are almost certainly one of two varieties--Prunus subhirtella var. autumnalis or a hybrid called 'Hally Jolivette'. It is PERFECTLY NORMAL for either or both of them to flower during the mild days of autumn and into winter when we have one as mild as we've had this year. If you have 'Yoshino' or 'Kwanzan' cherries (far more common in the landscape), you'll notice that they are still tightly budded. They'll flower in spring at their normal time because they have to have a certain amount of cold weather to break their dormancy. We haven't had that cold weather, yet, so they're hanging out, cooling their heels until we do. Plants are so smart! The same applies to your apple trees, pear trees, fruiting cherries and plums, etc. etc. They have built in mechanisms that keep them from flowering too early and getting frozen (late spring frosts can get them, but they'll rarely--if ever--bloom in winter). As for forsythia, a few blooms may open now, but most will be saved for later. No worries there. And the winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is a risk-taker, anyway. Some years we get a full show and some years we don't. Enjoy it now! The same goes for the saucer magnolias. You can't cover a big tree with a sheet and its blooms are so cold sensitive that it wouldn't do you any good, even if you could. Choose your battles!

I am sad about my quince. Its spring show is one that I look forward to every year, but its buds--while still tightly closed--are expanded so far that they are showing color. If winter continues to be mild and we don't experience temperatures too far down into the teens, I may be lucky enough to still get a show. Quince is very tough! But-- when the buds are expanded far enough to show color, they are much more susceptible to cold damage, so I'll just hope for the best.

The quince is really budded up and even showing some color. I figure it has a 50/50 chance of flowering. If temperatures cool down, the buds can stay like this indefinitely and bloom normally in late February or early March. However, they're showing quite a bit of color and if we have temperatures down into the single digits (or even low teens) the show is probably over for this year. These things do happen!

Some plants that I am truly concerned about in the garden are some of the ephemeral spring wildflowers. While doing some cleanup yesterday, I found Trillium luteum, our native yellow trillium, pushing well through the surface of the mulch. This is at least two-and-a-half months ahead of schedule. I'd be concerned seeing it before mid-March in my climate. The same for the bloodroot. Already up! Just breaking the soil surface, but up, nonetheless. And of course, it isn't just the old run-of-the-mill bloodroot. No. That's too smart and is still below ground. It's the somewhat rare, incredibly slow and sickeningly expensive double-flowering form that has decided to stick its nose out of the ground 3 months before it normally makes an appearance. These will get a little extra mulch over the top of them today and they'll be fine, as long as I'm diligent and make sure that winter rain and wind doesn't expose the tender growing points before we have a little warmer weather again in March.

This Trillium luteum, the yellow trillium, I am truly concerned about and will cover with mulch. It is usually not at this point of emergence until sometime in March!

I'm also a little concerned about Asarum maximum 'Ling Ling'. It can be somewhat tender and has not gone dormant. In fact, it's in full bloom! Usually, this is a very early spring bloomer here, but the mild winter has prompted it into flower now. I'm not worried about losing the blooms. That happens. But I do worry that the plants are not fully dormant and that a sudden temperature plunge may do significant damage. They'll get some evergreen branches (leftover from Christmas) laid over them before the weather gets too cold.

I'm also a little concerned about Asarum maximum 'Ling Ling'. It can be tender here and is obviously not dormant. I don't care so much about losing the blooms--even though they are incredibly cool!--but I don't want to lose the plants. They'll get a light covering of evergreen boughs (leftover Christmas greens) to protect them.

One mid-winter bloomer that is right on schedule and that I am always happy to see is Mahonia bealei, the leatherleaf mahonia. I'll get some flack for saying that I love it, I'm sure, since it is on the invasive exotic plant list in many areas, but here's the flip side to that story. Leatherleaf mahonia (and all of its hybrids and related species) are laden with nectar and pollen. On these warm winter days, they are one of the few things flowering in the garden that the honeybees can collect from. My plants were so full of honeybees yesterday that from 10 feet away, you could hear them buzzing all over the plants. If you're concerned about them being invasive or don't want the hassle of pulling seedlings from the garden, take 15 minutes one day and go out--after all of the flowers have fallen off--and clip the heads off where the berries are developing. No berries, no seed, no seedlings. It doesn't take long and you still get the beauty of the mid-winter flowers and--more importantly--you help our bees!

Mahonia bealei, the Leatherleaf mahonia, is in full bloom now (perfectly normal for this plant!) and is abuzz with honeybees. The native plant purists abhor this plant and it can be--admittedly--invasive in some locations. But if you'll take a few minutes to go out--after flowering is completely finished!--and cut off the clusters of berries, you'll effectively eliminate the seedling problem and still feed the bees!

So, really. What am I going to do about all of these things that are out too early? For the most part, nothing. I'll cover a few noses that are easily covered, but beyond that, Mother Nature must take its course. You'll run yourself ragged trying to protect everything in the garden and as I said earlier, while you may lose some blooms (you can pretty much scratch the hydrangeas this year), the plants aren't going to die. If they do, it's a gardening opportunity. I never have enough room for new plants, anyway!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Gardener|Cook Redux

After many months and numerous delays, Gardener|Cook returns with an all-new look, an all-new attitude and a re-energized approach to bringing you the most beautiful gardens, the finest food and the best-of-the-best in travel destinations from around the world. 2016 is shaping up to be a banner year with numerous speaking engagements already on the calendar and the hopes of a new book to be photographed and written in the coming months, for publication in early 2017!

When it comes to travel, I am hitting the road and the skies more than ever before and I want to invite you along! Soon-to-be-announced destinations for 2016 include:

Ancient Sicily and the Amalfi Coast

Virginia Garden Week and Historic American Gardens

Under the Tuscan Sun (with Volunteer Gardener/Nashville Public Television)

Gardens of the Emerald Isle

Gardens and Natural Wonders of New Zealand (with an optional extension to Sydney)

All of you, no matter where you reside, are invited to join us on any or all of these exciting excursions to beautiful destinations. I will be posting complete information here, at Gardener|Cook, as well as on my website at as it becomes available in the very near future. If you have interest in a specific destination, please email me at and I will make certain your receive the information by email as soon as it becomes available.

In other travel news, we are now offering customized, private tours for garden clubs, Master Gardeners groups, plant societies, plein air painters groups, or any other professional organizations who would like to explore travel for their members. These can also be turned into fundraisers! Email me at for more details.

In the new format, posts will appear at least weekly and sometimes more, alternating between garden posts (some from my own garden and some from gardens I visit), food posts (some I cook and some I just eat--and yes, I'll post recipes when I can!), and travel posts (including upcoming destinations for tours that I will be leading or co-leading, as well as those about places we have visited previously). There will be lots and lots of photos (though I'm going to have to start watermarking them--sorry about that, but people are "borrowing" them without permission and then republishing them as their own) to go along with the plentiful information.

If you haven't signed up to receive blog updates via email, you can do so immediately to the right of the articles, in the sidebar where you see the "Subscribe" link. It's good to be back and I'll see you in the garden (or in the kitchen, or on a plane)!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lenten Roses

I have posted several times in the past about the "roses" of winter--Lenten rose, Christmas rose and their kin--none of which are roses at all, or even closely related. That said, they are, perhaps, the most anticipated flowers of the year for me if for no other reason than the time of year they bloom. Well, that's not the only reason. They're also incredibly beautiful, but the timing of their flowers has much to do with it since their blossoms can appear anytime between Thanksgiving and Easter depending on which species and cultivars you grow. Helleborus is the Latin name you should call them by if you want to be most accurate. Mine took a beating this winter when the temperatures dropped into the single digits out here on my bitterly cold and windswept ridge with no snowcover. With snow, they wouldn't have suffered at all. Unfortunately, their buds were already pushing through the soil during the last cold snap and many were severely damaged. The show will not be as spectacular this year, but this is the way of things. Next year will be better!

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few pictures from years past of some of my favorite varieties and those that have performed well here. Keep them happy by planting them in bright, dappled shade in well amended "woodsy" soil. If you're successful with hostas, Solomon's seals and other denizens of the shade garden, hellebores will pose little problem. Once established, many are quite drought tolerant, particularly the "bear's foot" or "stinking" hellebore (though there is nothing stinking about it!), Helleborus foetidus. Enough rambling! On to some personal favorites:

Helleborus x hybridus 'Golden Sunrise'--I love the color of this one. Hybridizers have been working on a good, clean yellow for decades and this is one of the best. It also is one of the more vigorous plants in the Winter Jewels series from Ernie and Marietta O'Byrne, near Portland, Oregon.

Helleborus x hybridus 'Sparkling Diamond', also from the O'Byrnes and part of their Winter Gems series of double-flowering hellebores, has performed admirably here. Give it a couple of seasons to settle in before you expect a real show, but once it gets its feet under it, it is nothing short of spectacular!

This flower and the following both belong to the same varietal group, again from the O'Byrnes Winter Gems series and perhaps one of the more coveted (at least by me) of the bunch. 'Golden Lotus' bears semi to fully double blooms in the most luscious shades of buttery yellow, often with a reddish or purplish picotee edge. 

A clear, unmarked form of 'Golden Lotus'. Exquisite beauty! The variation in these strains come from the fact that they are grown from seed, but in a very select way that ensures the colors remain true to form. This slight variation in forms and colors, for me, is part of the fun!

A more complex hybrid, 'Winter Moonbeam' has performed exceptionally well in the garden here for several years. The extreme cold of this winter did freeze most of the blooms as they were beginning to emerge, but the plant will rebound and next year, the show will go on. The first flowers often open here in January and continue opening and changing color for 6 weeks or more.

'Elly' is another double flowering variety that is a little looser and almost frilly in form. Unfortunately, the plant has been weak here and I may remove it to plant something that will be a better performer.

'Tutu' was a gift from a friend and I love it! The plant is vigorous and the blooms plentiful. Each is highlighted by a central boss of enlarged nectaries that do, indeed, look like a tutu.

'Red Lady' is part of an old seed-grown strain which, if you can buy them when the plants are in bloom to get the richest and purest colors, are well worth adding to the garden. This one has flowered reliably every year, even when we've had crazy swings in the temperature.

I love this form of Helleborus foetidus named 'Gold Bullion', with bright, golden yellow leaves and chartreuse flowers. Being evergreen, this adds a great splash of color to the garden throughout the year. Helleborus foetidus reseeds prolifically where it is happy and 'Gold Bullion' comes largely true from seed. Solid green or weakly variegated seedlings should be pulled out to keep the brightest gold forms thriving.

One of the more unusual species I have in the garden is Helleborus multifidus, its pale green flowers appearing in early spring followed by the most finely dissected leaves of any of the hellebores. It is worth growing for its foliage, alone, and the flowers, in my opinion, are just a little extra beauty in the early spring.

A personal favorite in the garden that I have, unfortunately, lost and need to replace is Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy', one of several double-flowering forms of the so-called Christmas rose. While it is usually just a little later than Christmas, it does flower quite early in the year, opening its pristine white blooms by mid- to late January here.

As it ages, the sepals (petals) of 'Double Fantasy' often turn green while the petals in the center remain white, giving a beautiful two-tone effect to the flower.

And finally, one of the top performers here, Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper', from the Heuger breeding program in Germany. This is the "little engine that could" in my garden, with its blooms appearing as early as mid-November and continuing without stopping for more than two months. As it finishes flowering in mid- to late January, the other species are beginning to emerge so the show never stops!

This doesn't even begin to cover the many species and cultivars that are in the trade today (it doesn't even scratch the surface of all that I grow), but showcases a few that have grown well here over the past several years as I've developed the garden. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Two Amazing Travel Opportunities, Autumn 2015

As most of you know, 2012 found me partnering with Ron & Linda Williams, of Garden Travelers, to further expand my business and see yet another part of my dream come true--to be able to travel the world seeing some of its most beautiful natural and historic sites while also visiting some of its truly exceptional gardens. Autumn 2015 finds us traveling to two truly stunning destinations, the basics of which are below and the fine details availalbe by emailing me at 

The first of the two trips finds us traveling to Belgium & Normandy where we will visit the cities and towns of Brussels, Bruges, Canon, Rouen and others, as well as sites like the Castle & Garden at Freyr, the Castle & Garden at Annevoie, le Jardin Plume, Monet's Garden at Giverny and, of course, the beaches of Normandy.
Date: August 24-September 5, 2015
Cost: $4450.00 per person, double occupancy, ground package
Please inquire for more details and information regarding airfare at

The garden at Annevoie

Bruges, Belgium

Monet's Garden at Giverny

The Rouen Cathedral

Le Jardin Plume

Le Jardin Plume

These are but a few of the destinations we will see on this stunning trip with the gardens in their late summer glory and the prestigious chateaux and castles always at their finest.

Our final trip of 2015 finds us exploring wild and wonderful New Zealand & Australia, discovering some of the world's most pristine landscapes and amazing gardens, as well as wineries, wildlife and so much more! We will spend 9 days touring both the North and South islands of New Zealand before making our way to Australia's mainland, where we will spend time in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Date: November 19-December 8, 2015
Cost: $7500.00 per person, double occupancy, ground package
Please inquire for more details and information regarding airfare at

Scenic New Zealand

Thermal Spring in Rotorua, New Zealand

Glow Worm Caves, New Zealand

Penguins returning to Philip Island from a day of fishing. Melbourne, Australia

Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, Australia

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

 We take travelers from all over the U.S. to some of the world's most beautiful and exciting destinations. We hope you'll join us on one of these or on a future trip! If you would like to be added to my permanent mailing list and receive information about our travel for the upcoming year (we publish itineraries 9 to 12 months in advance), please email me at

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Come Out and See Me Sometime!

It's a new year, and along with a new year come new opportunities! As most of you know, I spent much of last year (and part of the previous one) writing two books, both of which are now on the shelves! Plant This Instead! arrived almost a year ago (can't believe it!), in February, and Southern Gardener's Handbook followed on November 1! While writing two books in a year's time is not a schedule I recommend, I am so proud of both of them and am happy they are selling well. It also meant that I really neglected the blog. Well, it's 2015 and I'm back! Be ready! I'm going to start filling your In-boxes with all kinds of fabulous things from floral design to gardening to food and lots and lots and LOTS of TRAVEL!!! Here we go!

I'm going to be out doing a lot of speaking and promoting of these books over the next few weeks and months, so I thought I'd share my schedule with you in case I'm going to be in your area. I'd love for you to come out and see me where I'm going to be!

First up is Callaway Gardens (where I did my first college internship 24 years ago!), followed by an appearance at the Wilson County Master Gardeners meeting in Lebanon, TN and then I'm off for 5 days in Seattle as a Garden Judge and Speaker for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, the 2nd largest show of its kind in the country. Only the Philadelphia Flower Show is bigger! I am honored. My full schedule for the spring and early summer is listed below. We are getting ready to publish this to my website, where it will be updated as new events are added:

January 23, 24, 25--Callaway Gardens Southern Gardening Symposium

January 30, 31 and February 1--Antiques & Garden Show of Nashville
I am not speaking, but will have a hand in Cheekwood's garden, which will be located at the show's entrance. We are going to take STYLE to a whole new level!

February 3--Wilson County Master Gardeners, Lebanon, TN

February 10, 11, 12--Northwest Flower and Garden Show, Seattle, WA

March 5, 6, 7 & 8--Nashville Lawn & Garden Show, Nashville, TN
I will be speaking at least once and signing books on at least two occasions, I will update this information on my website with exact times and dates once they are confirmed. More information will also be posted on the Nashville Lawn & Garden Show website at

March 21--Book Signing, Barnes & Noble, Cool Springs, Franklin, TN
More information to come.

March 23--Hosta Society of North Alabama, Huntsville, AL
Speaking and signing books at the monthly meeting, which begins at 6:30 at the Huntsville Botanic Garden.

March 25--Centennial Club of Nashville, Private Speaking Event

March 27--Soleil Garden Center, Union City, Tennessee
Speaking and signing books at Soleil Garden Center in the afternoon and evening. Times and further details will be added once confirmed. In the meantime, here is a link to their website

March 28--West Tennessee Home & Garden Show, in association with WLJT TV.
Details to be announced.

April 16-28, Ancient Sicily and the Amalfi Coast with Garden Travelers

June 7--University of Tennessee Hosta Garden Dedication, Knoxville, TN
Details to be announced.

June 8--Marietta Gardener's Garden Club, Marietta, GA
Speaking and Book Signing at the Marietta Education Garden Center, 7:30 p.m.

That get us through the first half of the year and I hope that if I'm in your area, you'll come out and say hello! I love meeting fellow gardeners and plant enthusiasts and am having a blast doing these talks and book signings! We have two more trip announcements coming soon, too!

Enjoy this beautiful arrangement from a prior Northwest Flower and Garden Show. I can't wait!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Garden Travelers On The Go In 2015!

Ancient Sicily and the Amalfi Coast
April 15-28, 2015
(with an optional Amsterdam extension, April 28-30)
While winter weather sets in across much of the country, my mind is on traveling! 2014 found me leading groups to England, Scotland and Tuscany and 2015 is setting up to be even more exciting! We will be doing a total of three trips next year, the first in April to Sicily and Southern Italy with an optional extension to Amsterdam. You will find the full itinerary and pricing below.
September 9-21, 2015 will find us leading a trip to Normand and Belgium. That itinerary will be available soon and will also be posted on the blog, as well as on my website when complete.
November 19-December 4, 2015 will find us leading one of our biggest tours yet, exploring Australia for 17 days. We are currently working on this itinerary, hoping to have it complete by mid-December. It will also be available both on my blog and my website.
I hope you will consider joining us for one of these amazing tours to some of the world's most spectacular destinations. For questions, please email me at
Ancient Sicily and The Amalfi Coast
April 15          Depart the U.S. for Palermo, Sicily
April 16          Arrival in Palermo, Sicily--Dinner at our hotel in Erice
April 17                      Today we will visit the ancient Greek temple at Segesta, which can make a valid claim to being the best preserved in the world. This archeological site, about seventy kilometers southwest of Palermo and reflecting the presence of several ancient civilizations, will certainly amaze you.  Its amphitheater boasts a hilltop position on Mount Barbaro that is second to none.  We will return to Erice in time for you to enjoy free time in this wonderful town.
April 18                      Our second day of sightseeing finds us at The Cathedral of Montreal, one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture in the world. It was begun in 1174 by William II and in 1182 the church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was elevated to the rank of a metropolitan cathedral. The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.   We will continue to the Villa Romana del Casale, a Roman villa built in the first quarter of the 4th century and located about 3 km outside the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. Containing the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world, it is one of 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.  We will spend the night in Taormina.
April 19                      This morning we will visit the private garden of Rossella Pezzino, Giardini Le Stanze in Fiore. Rosella began the villa restoration in 1996 and the garden followed shortly thereafter in 2000.  After visiting this garden masterpiece, we will be treated to a wonderful garden lunch. This afternoon we are in for another treat as we visit Villa Cuseni.  Often considered to be the finest house in Taormina, Villa Cuseni has enviable views of both the sea and Mount Etna. The terraced gardens were carefully designed to hold the rainfall from winter until needed during long, hot summer months. The gardens each display a stunning, eye-catching feature, as well as being adorned with some of the original citrus, other fruit trees, roses, vines and wisteria. As a relatively modern 20th century garden, you will see bold Rococo and Art Deco design. Dinner on your own tonight in Taormina.
April 20                      We will begin our day with a trip to the Benanti Winery where we will not only enjoy a tour of the winery, but also lunch and a wine tasting.  This winery, one of the most important in Sicily, has won several awards over the last twenty years and is located directly on the slopes of Mount Etna.  After lunch, we will return to Taormina where you will have an opportunity to visit this charming town at your leisure.
April 21                      Today we will visit the Garden of Biviere and Villa Borghese.  The garden’s owner, Maria Carla Borghese, will be our guide.  We will have a wonderful lunch after our guided tour and we promise that this will be one of the highlights of the trip!  After lunch, we continue to the garden of the Grand Marquess of San Giuliano at Villasmundo, near Siracusa. The property has been in the Marchesi PaternĂ² Castello di San Giuliano family for more than 800 years.  After our visit we will check into our hotel in Siracusa.
April 22          Today we will see ruins!  An early visit to The Archeological Park of Siracusa will start our day.  Until the Arab conquest of 878, Siracusa was the capital of Sicily and was by far the most important city on the island. We will visit the Ear of Dyonisus, the Greek Theatre, and the Ara (altar) di Ierone. Afterwards, we will walk through the historical centre of Ortigia to admire the Cathedral, constructed over the ancient Temple of Athena, the Aretusa fountain and the ancient and baroque streets. Lunch will be at your leisure in Ortigia. We will then depart for Catania where we will spend the night.
April 23          This morning, we will depart Sicily for our short flight to Naples. Once we have landed and collected our luggage, we will meet our private coach for a visit to Pompeii. As you know, Pompeii is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, having been buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. when it was a thriving city of 11,000 people, complete with a complex water system, an amphitheater, a gymnasium and a port. When we finish at Pompeii, we depart for the Amalfi Coast.  Tonight will find us staying in Ravello, one of the most beautiful and picturesque towns in all of Italy.  You will not be disappointed in Ravello!
April 24          We have been on the go since we landed in Sicily more than a week ago, so we hope you find this day a real gift—a day of leisure to explore Ravello! Ravello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town’s Duomo (Cathedral), the villas Rufolo and Cimbrone and their gardens, the church of San Giovanni del Toro, and more await you in this most beautiful place. Or maybe you’ll make your way down to the water for a relaxing and leisurely afternoon.
April 25          Today we will travel to the Island of Ischia where we will visit the private home and garden of the late Lady Susana Walton.  This is a truly magical place and you will be awed by its beauty.  We will tour the garden and be treated to a garden lunch, followed by some free time in Ischia before returning on the ferry to Ravello for the evening.
April 26          This morning, we will depart Ravello and make our way north to Rome via the Palace of Caserta, known as the Versailles of the south. This extraordinary palace and garden is difficult to describe. Its sheer size and beauty will take your breath away. You really have to see it to believe it!  We will also make another special stop before arriving in Rome.
April 27          Today, we will spend the day in Rome. You will have the opportunity to see some of Rome’s most famous sites, including the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and more.
April 28          Depart Rome for the U.S. or take the optional extension to Amsterdam, listed below.
The cost of this trip is $4,250.00 per person. This package includes all ground transportation by private coach in both Sicily and Italy, your flight from Sicily to Naples on April 23, all entrance fees into the public and private sites visited as a group as noted in the itinerary, a minimum of one meal (breakfast) each day with some lunches or dinners also provided. Not included are the tips for our coach drivers in Sicily and Italy, usually $5.00 per traveler, per day.
Should you wish to travel singly, a single supplement is available on request. Single spaces are always limited due to limited availability of single hotel accommodations, so please inquire early.
Dec. 15, 2014—Deposits of $450 are due no later than December 15 and preferably sooner to secure your space on the trip. ***If you are traveling singly, your single supplement will be due at the same time as your deposit to secure your space.
Jan. 10, 2015—The first installment of $1,000.00 is due to Garden Travelers.
Feb. 10, 2015—The second installment of $1,400.00 is due to Garden Travelers.
Mar. 10, 2015—The final installment of $1,400.00 is due to Garden Travelers.
Optional Extension:  Due to the timing of this trip, we have a unique opportunity to add an optional, 3-day extension to Amsterdam to visit the world famous bulb display at Keukenhof, Het Loo palace and leisure time to explore Amsterdam. The cost of this extension is $450 per person, which will include a 3-night hotel stay (April 28, 29 and 30), ground transportation for group visits, cost of admission to the sites we visit as a group and breakfast each morning.  ***PLEASE NOTE*** If you choose to join us on this optional extension, you will be booking a “multi-city” international flight. You will be flying from the U.S. to Palermo, Sicily and then from Rome, Italy to Amsterdam, returning to the U.S. from Amsterdam at the end of the extension.  This is not difficult to book and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have. If you choose to join us on this extension, you will be returning to the U.S. on May 1, 2015 (staying in Amsterdam the nights of April 28, 29, 30 and flying out the morning of May 1 to land in the U.S. that afternoon/evening).
AIRFARE:      International airfares are NOT included in the price of the trip. This allows travelers to use a variety of means, including airline and credit card points, to purchase their airfare. Garden Travelers will be happy to answer questions and can offer some assistance to travelers in booking airfare and will suggest flights for all travelers to ensure that the group arrives at the appointed destination in a timely manner and we stay on our first day’s schedule.  ***PLEASE NOTE*** (repeating from above) You will be booking a multi-city flight if you choose to do the Amsterdam extension—U.S. to Palermo, Sicily, then departing Rome for Amsterdam and then Amsterdam to the U.S. at the end of the extension. Please consult with us regarding flights and times to ensure that the group arrives in a timely manner at each destination where the group will meet.
TRAVEL INSURANCE:  Garden Travelers does not offer travel insurance, but it may be obtained reasonably by individual travelers. We strongly suggest that you consider insuring your trip, as none of us knows when an unforeseen issue may arise. If you have questions about purchasing travel insurance, please do not hesitate to contact us, as we are happy to help.
PASSPORTS: Current passports are required for travel to nearly all destinations outside of the U.S.  Please be sure that your passport is current or that you apply for your passport (if you don’t have one) at least 90 days prior to departure, and even further ahead of time is preferable and highly encouraged.  Better to be safe than sorry!
G  A  R  D  E  N     T  R  A  V  E  L  E  R  S
T   E   R   M   S       &       C   O   N   D   I   T   I   O   N   S
RESERVATIONS & PAYMENT:  To guarantee your reservation, a deposit, noted above, is required at the time of booking. Payments must be made in accordance with the payment schedule.  Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure, or as noted in the itinerary, after which time a late fee of $100 per person may apply.
CANCELLATIONS & REFUNDS:  A full refund minus $500/person administrative charge will be made where written notice of cancellation is received more than 90 days prior to departure.  If the airline ticket has been purchased, the client will own the ticket and will pay for it in addition to the $500.00 administrative charge.   Cancellations received 45-90 days prior to departure will incur a cancellation fee of 50% of the total tour price.  It the airline ticket has been purchased, the client will own the airline ticket and must pay for the ticket in addition to 50% of the total tour cost.   A cancellation fee of 100% of the total tour price will apply where notice of cancellation is received less than 30 days prior to departure. Garden Travelers will try to recover from its vendors part of the cost of the trip, but cannot guarantee what will be recovered for the client.  Once a tour has commenced there can be no refunds on unused portions. We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation insurance, which we are happy to make recommendations for.
PRICE CHANGE:  Tour price is based on a minimum of 20 passengers. Should the number of passengers fall below 20, Garden Travelers reserves the right to alter the tour price, in order to reflect that change. Price is also based on hotels as given, motor coach costs as negotiated, and an exchange rate of 1.5. Should hotels change for reasons beyond our control, or coach companies impose a fuel surcharge, or should the value of the dollar drop significantly against other currencies, the tour price may increase. Increase in tour price, for whatever reason, will not exceed 15% of list price.
TOUR PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE:  Airfare (unless otherwise noted), excess baggage charges, items of personal nature, telephone calls, room service and alcoholic beverages or other special beverages ordered at group meals, optional extensions, meals not listed in itinerary, or tips to the tour guide and driver. (At some special meals the cost of beverages will be included, and the customer will be made aware of these occasions.)
PRICES:  All prices are based on double occupancy and are in US dollars. Single supplements are charged to cover additional costs imposed by hotels on Garden Travelers for single occupancy rooms.
RESPONSIBLILTY:  Tour itineraries are planned in advance.  Garden Travelers reserves the right to make necessary alterations, should local conditions dictate.  When weather or unforeseen conditions beyond our control affect our routes or itinerary the best alternative will be provided. In exceptional circumstances outside the control of Garden Travelers, its agents or suppliers, such as, but not limited to the threat of war, political unrest, riots, civil disturbances, terrorist threat or action, legal or illegal labor disputes, adverse weather conditions and Act of God, Garden Travelers, its suppliers, or agents cannot be held responsible for such limitations or withdrawal of facilities. The use by Garden Travelers of transport and accommodations in connection with the tour is subject to the conditions of the operator/owners of such transport or accommodations, for whom Garden Travelers act as an agent.  If air travel is not booked with Garden Travelers, the client is responsible for meeting the group at the destination airport upon arrival.
Passengers agree that Garden Travelers or any associates thereof, will not be held liable in the event of any circumstance that may cause personal distress or injury to any traveler.