Launching ‘Project Dahlia’

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Having completed twenty five years service at John Lewis, ‘Partners’, as we are all known, are rewarded with six months paid leave. I will qualify for my ‘long leave’ in three years’ time. Of course, a lot could happen between now and then, but I have already started to daydream about what I might do with that precious to time. It is possible to tag annual leave onto either end of the break, making up to eight months off in total. A generous sabbatical is not the kind of opportunity one wastes; friends and colleagues have spent the time in many different ways, including traveling, moving house, learning a new skill, doing charity work and indulging in a hobby. It’s the first and last activities on that list that appeal to me most.

I have had many ideas about what I might do, but one resurfaces time-after-time: a round the world trip visiting some of the finest and most interesting gardens on the planet. Such an adventure would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; an exciting trip to do whilst a few shreds of my youthful vigour remain. Recording the journey would certainly make a good blog and maybe even a book. It will also require meticulous planning, especially if I am to reach some of the more obscure gardens on my list. This trip, and a few other ideas I am working on, go under the name ‘Project Dahlia’.

Monty Don’s recent ‘Paradise Gardens‘ two-parter, the warm soothingness of which I enjoyed enormously, reminded me of his previous series, ‘Around the World in 80 Gardens‘. This ten-part series began airing exactly a decade ago and took eighteen months to film, ten more than I have at my disposal. Timeless Monty still looks exactly the same today, if a little less grey. I immediately bought the little paper-back book that was released to accompany the programme, and I must get the DVD too. The book cost 1p, plus nominal postage. Together the book and DVD will provide a solid foundation for my own research and planning. Monty did not do the whole trip in one go, breaking it down into several smaller ones, which is a consideration for me also. I would miss my own garden, friends, family and creature comforts too much to be away for six or eight months in one stretch.

Apart from being a complex project to plan, I also need to start saving my pennies. This is not a scheme I wish to embark on unless I can do it properly, thoroughly and in reasonable safety and comfort. I might seek sponsorship, or record the trip in such a way that I can recoup some of the cost afterwards. I might even call in on some of my followers across the world. Wouldn’t that be great? I am already starting to compile a list of countries I might want to visit, followed by gardens. If you could only recommend one or two gardens in your home country to visit, which would they be, and why? Wherever I go on my adventure, I invite you to be part of it.

For updates on Project Dahlia, please visit my ‘Projects’ page.

Categories: blogging, Dahlias, Musings, Travel

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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47 comments On "Launching ‘Project Dahlia’"

  1. What a wonderful trip to be planning. I haven’t been to many gardens in Australia (huge distances) But one that is highly thought of is near to the town of Orange in NSW. It isn’t far from us, and I’ve planned so many times to visit it, but haven’t got there yet!

  2. I take garden tours away in Australia, Europe and the US each year and regularly visit the garden that Monte says is the best in Australia (The Garden Vineyard). You’ll need an introduction if you want to visit as it’s not open to the general public. It’s fab but there are others equally drool worthy in Melbourne. If I can be of any help drop me a line.
    I work as a garden guide, garden writer and podcaster (All The Dirt – it’s a weekly gardening podcast out of Australia). The tour company I work for has an informative website with many tours highlighting some of the world’s best gardens. If you want to get in touch visit my website
    I agree with you, spending the entire 8 months travelling is too much. I’d have chunks of time visiting specific areas and then a rest at home as travel is both inspiring and tiring.

  3. Such a great opportunity to be grabbed wholeheartedly. You will do wonderful informative and lively blogs and I am definitely going to follow you and help if I can. Have travelled a lot but not seen many gardens except the natural ones like the Galapagos. Looking forward to the planning and the execution very much. Xxcarol

  4. What an opportunity! My sister brought back wonderful tales and images from the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech. I haven’t been myself, but its colourful history makes it a good writing subject as well as a visual stunner. From certain angles it looks like Kipling’s paradise.

    The gardens of Ninfa have a pretty big reputation, I’d like to know if they really are as beautiful as legend has it…

    1. The gardens at Ninfa are unlike anything you will ever witness. Notorious for opening at the owners convenience they are not your typical Garden of man taming nature. I was left gobsmacked at the end. If you go don’t miss the town of Sermonetta next door. Famous for their truffles. You can buy a decent one for 10 euro.

  5. You could also spend a month volunteering at a great garden? About 12 years ago I spent a month working as a “student” at Kirstenbosch. I got accommodation in the grounds (which, of course, I paid for) but it meant not only working there but wandering around the garden at 6am with the meerkats and guinea fowl and no one else. I still can’t believe my luck.

  6. What a wonderful way to spend well deserved vacation time! If the US is part of your grand tour, I highly recommend Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania. It’s magical.

  7. What a fantastic opportunity. You should definitely chart your progress on planning your trip and the trip itself (or trips). How exciting!

    1. Thanks Sam. I am going to create a Project Dahlia page so that I can create my itinerary using all the generously offered feedback I receive over the coming months and years. Just writing about it is making me excited!

  8. How exciting, I think planning garden visits is at least 50 percent of the fun. To get you started go to Janna’s blog, she visited lots. And I will be looking forward to your book describing your trips. I just ordered Claire Takacs’s “Dreamscapes” as I am unlikely to visit all the best gardens in the world. It is on its way from UK but it is only photographs. Yours will be much better as I love the way you write.

  9. Project Dahlia – OMG – what a dream, a fabulous advernture to plan. Never in my wildest, could I think about having such an extended break. How lovely that JL treat their staff to this – in Australia, everyone has access to this benefit, it’s called Long service leave and staff qualify for 3 months paid leave after 15 years service.

    Lots of lovely gardens in Oz to visit and I suggest a combination of winery visits interspersed with gardens in this part of the world. (Four Pillars!! could be added to the list as well) Always a bed at ours for you and I am up for joining you If you need a travelling companion for a week here or there….

    Can’t wait to here more about the plans….. xx

    1. Don’t you worry Helen, you are a non negotiable fixture on my trip! I’m hoping we can get to Phillip Johnson’s garden and numerous wineries. Four Pillars a must! And perhaps a skip over to New Zealand?

      Mustn’t get too excited it’s a while off, but hard not to think about it!

  10. What a fabulous idea!
    I bought a gorgeous book recently – Wildflower Wonders by Bob Gibbons which “showcases the most spectacular displays of wild blooms on the planet”. The photos are completely awe inspiring. Perhaps you could add some wild displays to the schedule?

    1. Certainly, I will. That book is a recent acquisition for me and has just added to the list of fabulous possibilities. Wildflower displays can be fleeting, so I need to get my timings right. Even then I suspect nature may thwart me!

  11. Definitely you should go to NZ (you might just have a travelling companion for that bit!) it is a fabulous place – so untouched in comparison to the rest of the world – magnificent scenery, lovely people, fabulous food and wine…its like stepping back in time. Been a few years since I was there but it won’t have changed much – and have quite a few friends – some of us see it as another state of Australia!!! which is very cheeky of us. Know nothing about the gardens there but I am sure we can find some magnificent ones. so many wonderufl places and gardens to explore in the world. I am excited!!!

    1. Hi Helen. Given how diverse the climate is in NZ, and all the fantastic plants that come from the islands, I imagine there are some very good gardens to visit. I have a work colleague who has taken a career break and is there now, busy posting photographs of lush forests, waterfalls and empty white beaches on Instagram. It really is quite irritating!

      Still extremely cold here, although getting milder for the weekend. Lots to report so I will update you soon in an e-mail. Dx

  12. What an amazing perk for long service! I hope your dream of a world tour of gardens is made possible, as I’ll definitely want to own your book detailing all the gorgeous photos & your thoughts on all the venues you’ll visit. In British Columbia we love the 55 acre Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island
    These gardens are very busy in high tourist times & if it makes your list, they may have early access to professionals such as photographers, and authors!
    All the best with Project Dahlia Dan, this is a very special endeavour.

    1. Marvellous and appreciated suggestion Kathleen. I am going to create a Project Dahlia page to record all recommendations and who made them, so I can give thanks accordingly when the time comes.

      I love to visit gardens early in the morning or in the evening. The light is generally much better and wildlife more active. One gets a better sense of the place than in broad daylight. Dan

  13. Your website is an oasis !! Envious of your plans for your sabbatical. Don’t miss the La Louvre at Bonneaux ( Provence). Not far from where the famous Peter Mayle lived.

    1. What a lovely compliment. I actually think I might use ‘creating an online oasis’ as one of my guiding principles. It fits with my ‘lush, tropical’ gardening style. Thank you. La Louve will be going on the list!

  14. Come to Australia and visit Diggers. The Garden of St Erth, Cloudehill and Heronswood. Feel free to email me when you are planning…

  15. I’d suggest David Glenn’s Lambley Nursery and gardens at Ascot in Victoria, Australia. Either spring or autumn would be my preference, if possible.
    Look forward to reading more suggestions, and the eventual commentary.

  16. Wow what a great opportunity Dan’s Grand Tour! How exciting and what a great project to plan…Look forward to hearing more about it in the future!

  17. Gosh Dan, I’ll cross fingers and toes that all goes well until – and during – those six to eight months! Please reserve a copy of that book, and I insist on an autograph to go with it 😉 . Pure envy here. Although myself, I’d definitely spend the whole lot away – time flies by so quickly and you won’t have time to feel homesick or really miss people. At least that’s my own experience from when I was free to travel as I pleased.

    I’d also prefer to go backpacking (though no-one says you can’t roll up at a hotel with your backpack!) and – rather than meticulous planning the trip – would leave a fair amount of time for spontaneous encounters and where they might lead you. Not totally drifting, but certainly not planned-through or every accommodation and transport figured out months or even days in advance. However, I’m not sure that this kind of travel appeals to you (it certainly doesn’t suit my man!)?

    Definitely go see New Zealand! It has some wonderful gardens for all I’ve heard, but even if you don’t see a single one of these you wouldn’t want to miss out on that corner of the world! Before uni, I spent 10 month travelling and working there (in farm jobs and horticulture) and I still consider it the most beautiful time I had. Six weeks is the absolute minimum, I’d say 🙂 .

  18. Enjoy planning. I am six days into my own 10-month break, and planning is indeed the key. Circumstances meant that I had to leave it to the first eight-weeks of my break, so am midst it at the moment. I am combining my break with language and horticulture study.

    Italy has some wonderful gardens, especially around Lake Como, so I recommend going there. If you have a National Trust card, it gives you free entry to many overseas gardens (in Italy, that’s FAI).

    Vancouver Island is also worth visiting, for

    The gardens I’ve visited abroad are listed at:

    Happy planning.

  19. 6 months paid leave! That’s going down in my companies idea bank. What a terrific perk. Oh the trouble you could get up to in 6 months! The trip and book sound like a good plan though…

    1. It was an idea thought up a long time ago when it was customary for ‘Partners’ to spend their entire career in the company. It was designed as a mid-career break so that people could recharge their batteries before the final stretch. Needless to say I am ready for it!

  20. Hello Dan, just got back from hols to Naples and Ischia. You will love love.. Giardini La Motella in Ischia Forio. Having been to many gardens across Japan, India, US..this somehow felt so accessible, helpful staff, good tea shop & all well labelled. Check out their website beforehand and get there for opening time. There is a plant centre across the road but it was shut for lunch time😞. There’s another garden nearby called Ravino Gardens.. with exotic mediteranean cactii etc. Happy for you to contact me via email if you’d like tips on accommodation and travel. Good luck

    1. Will do! Goodness your holiday sounds wonderful. I had some sun in Cornwall but it was hardly what you’d call Mediterranean. I hope you’ve come home feeling refreshed and inspired by your experiences? Dan

  21. What a fantastic project. I do hope it all works out well. I notice that in your UK selections there is no mention of possibly one of the most influential gardens of the last 50 years- Beth Chatto’s at Elmsted Market. Her iconic dry garden is amazing but it is the way she combines plants that works so well. She is an artist who paints with plants,

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