As the Royal Horticultural Society launches a new garden-themed break to the Channel Islands, Hannah Stephenson joins the tour to find a taste of horticultural heaven on Guernsey and Sark

Proud garden owner Jennifer Monachan sweeps past the long row of
strappy-leaved agapanthus lining the back of her mock Tudor mansion,
admiring the wonders of her sloping garden, which she has lovingly
created over the last 20 years.

"God made a mistake when he didn't make me an artist," she declares,
stretching her arms out joyfully towards her slice of horticultural
heaven. "I feel this is like my canvas and my flowers are my paints and
my colours. That is my raison d'etre."

Her sense of the dramatic has filtered into La Petite Vallee, her
private garden, a five-minute drive south of St Peter Port, which is
part of a new RHS tour featuring visits to both public and private
gardens in Guernsey and its smaller neighbour, Sark, which spans just a
mile wide by a mile long.

In summer at La Petite Vallee, great fronds of soft purple wisteria drip
from its woody framework attached to the house. Jennifer's personal
Garden of Eden evolves endlessly as you explore, revealing a cornucopia
of planting, from the traditional to the exotic.

Jennifer is able to grow such an eclectic mix, largely because Guernsey
- and the neighbouring Channel Islands off the Normandy coast - has such a temperate climate.

Just an hour's flight away, the islands are said to be the sunniest
location in the British Isles, claiming more then 2,000 hours of
sunshine per year with virtually no frost.

It's no surprise then, that Guernsey is a hotbed of horticultural
production and our tour host, the smartly attired king of clematis
Raymond Evison, 28-times Chelsea Gold Medal winner, is testament to

He's a celebrity among gardening enthusiasts and locals alike, and his
nursery produces two million clematis a year, which are exported
worldwide to destinations as diverse as China and Japan.

A genial gentleman who works tirelessly to promote horticulture in
Guernsey, Raymond gives us a tour of his 8.5 acre nursery on the east
coast. As we walk through a network of glasshouses, he explains his
specialism in growing compact types which produce blooms not just at the top of the plant but all the way up the stem.

Some of the palm-sized flowers are double and blousy, others delicately
striped, in every shade from deep purple to cool white.

It's fascinating both for novices and experts alike, as we are shown how
the trial clematis are graded and why some plants don't make the shop

Beginners should not be intimidated by his horticultural celebrity -
Raymond is so approachable, not fazed by answering the most basic 'How do I grow?' questions, to more complex conundrums about propagation, cross-pollination and genus. It's a pleasure just to be able to chat to the man whose plants we have undoubtedly all come across in a garden centre at one time or another.

Yet there are blooms all over the 24 square miles of Guernsey, including
more than 1,000 window boxes, hanging baskets and other planters in the capital St Peter Port alone, adding a colourful stamp to this pretty
town's cobbled streets and picture postcard marina. That's before you
find an array of flora and fauna in the island's historic Victorian
Candie Gardens, once part of a private estate.

The tour, which allows a maximum of 28 people, has been designed with
three different types of garden lover in mind, explains Susie Brand of
the RHS.

"We have people who just like pretty gardens and aren't interested in
the Latin names of plants, or the details of how they are grown;
enthusiastic amateurs who regularly go on garden-themed holidays, and
specialist lovers with particular interests in botanical elements."

Partners who aren't interested can always explore the many idyllic
beaches, coves, cycle paths and coastal walks the island has to offer.

I embark on a cliff-side trail along the south coast, a windy diversion
where it's easy to admire the rocky coastline and the Pea Stacks, a
group of pink-tinged granite jagged outcrops at Moulin Huet Bay, which
inspired Renoir to paint a series of pictures when he visited the island
in 1883.

As we walk along a segment of the signposted coastal path - you can walk around the whole island, but it's 40 miles, so planning is required - we see pint-size white sea campion, clusters of pale yellow Alexanders
(horse parsley) and inhale the scent of wild garlic, also known as
three-cornered leek. In summer, the banks are splashed with pink and
purple wild orchids, pink foxgloves and an array of other wildflowers.

Back on the official RHS route, garden guide Pierre, a ruddy-faced,
bearded volunteer who doubles up as Santa for the children at Christmas, welcomes us into Saumarez Park Victorian Walled Kitchen Garden in the west of the island, still a work in progress, which he has been involved in for 10 years.

Pierre is a mine of information on the history, cultivation and future
prospects for the garden, and its impressive greenhouse in which
heritage tomatoes and other traditional plants are grown.

While records are scant, it is believed the walled garden was built in
mid-Victorian times and volunteers aim to replicate the methods used -
and plants grown - in that era. In rectangular beds there are all manner
of edibles, from Guernsey chives to Ishikura, a type of spring onion.

More than 300 varieties of fruit and vegetables are grown here, which
were all recorded pre-1900. "It's a living museum," Pierre enthuses.

I step back in time again on the second leg of the tour in Sark, part of
the Bailiwick of Guernsey with its own set of laws and its own
parliament. An hour-long ferry journey from Guernsey, It has only 600
residents, no cars and the only vehicles are tractors, bikes or a horse
and carriage.

Choosing the latter, a 15-minute journey to Stocks Hotel takes us past a
small grocery store, described as the 'Iceland of Sark', visitor centre,
post office, school, playing field and vineyard. There's one doctor on
the island and his emergency response vehicle is a tractor.

In a place where the postman also mends washing machines, the small
community needs to be - and is - resourceful.

The hotel has its own permaculture garden, using low-input sustainable
agricultural methods, and fresh seasonal produce - including rhubarb,
raspberries, asparagus, celeriac and sorrel - is served to guests.
Resident chickens provide the breakfast eggs and it's hard to believe
that just four years ago, this was a bare field where horses grazed.

Later, we walk to the horticultural jewel in Sark's crown, La Seigneurie
Gardens, set between flower-strewn granite walls, mature woodland,
towers and battlements of one of the most historic houses in Sark, which
dates back to 1675.

Its riot of summer roses, fragrant lavender and climbing clematis is a
sight to behold, made possible by the wealthy Seigneurs, or titular
rulers, who presided from the early 19th century, and now maintained by
La Seigneurie Gardens Trust.

I feel happily lost in time on these two floral islands with their own
laws, their own quirky ways and their tremendous community spirit. They have surely sown the seeds of success.


:: Hannah Stephenson was a guest of RHS Garden Holidays
(, 020 3735 1855), the specialist travel
division of the Royal Horticultural Society, operated in partnership
with Brightwater Holidays. A five-day Private Gardens of Guernsey and
Sark holiday costs from £1,195pp, departing June 1 and September 21,
2017. Price includes flights from London Gatwick to Guernsey, return
ferry crossings from Guernsey to Sark, four nights' dinner, bed and
breakfast, three nights at La Barbarie Hotel and one night at Stocks
Hotel, visits to selected private gardens and the services of a
professional tour manager.

For more information on Guernsey, go to