Touring Gardens with Carolyn Mullet

carolyn mullet

Garden designer and social media influencer Carolyn Mullet has launched a new business: Carex Tours. I interviewed her about her first season of planning and leading garden tours, and if you’re anything like me your interest is piqued and you’re thinking about booking her upcoming Fall 2015 tour: Piet Oudolf & the Dutch Wave Gardens, which will include visits to gardens in The Netherlands and Germany.

xoxo  Margie

You’ve been deeply invested in the world of garden design for a long time. How does this shape the way you plan garden tours?

The historical significance and modern influence of garden design is inseparable from the way I plan and organize tours. By offering an immersive experience and arranging visits to many gardens in a short time frame, I am able to introduce gardens on a personal and cultural level. I believe that gardens connect people to nature which is essential for a well-rounded life. As a professional designer, I also understand the complicated skills needed to create wonderful gardens. I try to introduce basic design principles to help people find new ways to appreciate a garden.

Lastly, I am convinced that experiencing gardens in countries outside of our own helps us recognize the creative contributions of other cultures. While I’m personally and professionally very excited by modern design trends, I also believe that a study of garden design is incomplete without an introduction to traditional gardens. Ultimately, that’s why I create tours that include gardens from the past and gardens that exemplify the best of contemporary design.

Huge vining plants cover soft brick walls everywhere at the iconic Sissinghurst Castle Gardens but in this quiet little corner, just a few small spring bloomers are tucked into crevices. Photo credit: James Golden
Sissinghurst Castle Gardens.    Photo credit: James Golden

For those of us who are passionate about gardens, traveling to see gardens feeds the soul. What kind of feedback did you get from the group who went to Chelsea with you this year? Did they have an “awakening” experience?

They did! The gardens we saw on the Chelsea Flower Show and English Gardens in Spring tour were amazingly accomplished and so inspirational. The best ones fused garden architecture from the early 20th century with the exuberant and sometimes wild, naturalistic plantings of today. Great Dixter is the iconic garden for this blending of periods but we were also awed at Folly Farm, a Gertrude Jekyll/Edwin Lutyens garden recently renovated by the great contemporary English designer, Dan Pearson.

Of course, the visit to the Chelsea flower show itself was remarkable. Any garden lover who has not experienced this world famous show should add it to their bucket list. Everyone on the tour was deeply impressed by the show gardens, the exhibits, and the grand nature of the event. The Chelsea Flower Show will most definitely be a feature in my 2016 tour itinerary.

Chelsea Flower Show. Photo credit: James Golden
Chelsea Flower Show.    Photo credit: James Golden
100 year old Wisteria at Goddards, example of the early 20th century partnership between garden designer Gertrude Jekyll and architect Edwin Lutyens. Photo credit: James Golden
100 year old Wisteria at Goddards, example of the early 20th century partnership between garden designer Gertrude Jekyll and architect Edwin Lutyens.    Photo credit: James Golden

For those looking to book travel with a garden tour guide, what are the factors to consider?

Every individual experiences a garden in a unique and personal way. I think people should be encouraged to look, listen, touch, and smell as they get to know a garden. So, for me, the best tour guide is someone who helps you sharpen your senses and then steps back to allow the garden to reveal itself to you.

On my tours, the guide provides information about the garden’s history, designer(s), and highlights, before the group enters the garden. Then, we provide the freedom for people to explore independently. To me, there’s nothing more rewarding than an opportunity to lose oneself in a garden and I do my very best to make that possible for others.

Stilt Garden at Hidcote Manor Garden. Photo credit: James Golden
Stilt Garden at Hidcote Manor Garden.    Photo credit: James Golden

What differentiates your tours?

My tours come out of my experience as a garden designer and the belief that gardens enrich people’s lives. I plan tours to help travelers understand who the garden maker is/was and I explain the history, style, plants, and architecture in an effort to provide a deeper understanding of what makes a garden beautiful and satisfying. My hope is that this knowledge will transfer back to how people approach their own gardens when they return home.

Curved steps were a signature elements of Edwin Lutyen's early 20th century designs and there are several fine examples at Great Dixter. Photo credit: James Golden
Curved steps were a signature elements of Edwin Lutyen’s early 20th century designs and there are several fine examples at Great Dixter.    Photo credit: James Golden

What are your tour plans for 2016? Could you share some highlights?

We’re still very much in the planning stage for 2016 but we expect to announce the tour season in time for holiday gift season. I’m certain that we will include another May tour to England to attend the Chelsea Flower Show and see more English gardens. This time, we plan to spend several days in London and then head to the country where we’ll see recently designed gardens like Pettifers, Broughton Grange, and Foller’s Manor.

We’re also considering dipping our toes into Islamic gardens by traveling to Morocco which will, of course, include the great Marjorelle. A final tour may be to Normandy. French gardens are such a fascinating combination of strict geometry and romantic plantings. Le Jardin Plume is a wonderful contemporary example. We are also exploring the possibility of working with some larger organizations to provide exclusive tours to members and are excited to work more closely with garden clubs and associations.

Glimpse of the lower garden swimming pool at Kiftsgate Court Gardens. Most of Kiftsgate's gardens are densely (and beautifully) planted but this space is a serene departure connecting to the countryside beyond. Photo credit: James Golden
Glimpse of the lower garden swimming pool, a serene departure connecting to the countryside beyond at Kiftsgate Court Gardens.    Photo credit: James Golden

Want to learn more about Carex Tours? Click here for details. If you’re passionate about gardens, chances are that you’re already following Carolyn’s Facebook page. But just in case you aren’t, join the million + who do.

Sneak peak into our next blog post…

Villa del Greco Part 4: A Medallion Becomes Brilliant

Tiled Moorish star medallion under construction

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