Passengers will meet Monty Don on an 11-day British Isles, Castles, Gardens, History & Birdlife cruise aboard MS Hebridean Sky’s sister ship, MS Island Sky, departing May 29; from $13,890 a person twin-share, from Edinburgh to London. Botanica World Discoveries also operates garden-themed cruises to Japan and South Korea between January and April, and river cruises in Europe, including tulip time in Holland and Belgium, rural France, Portugal, Spain and Scandinavia. More: 1300 305 202; botanica.travel. walled garden is just as enchanting with its ancient and wonky yew hedges trimmed Dutch style, once known as wobbly topiary.
In Belfast the sumptuous Edwardian interiors at Mount Stewart are as diverting as the whimsical (and world-famous) gardens created by Lady Edith Londonderry. The great and the good, including Churchill, ate in the breakfast room with 14 dogs and Edward the macaw (there were flamingoes on the lake). The garden is filled with allegorical allusion and curious statues representing family and friends (her husband is a cheetah). And there’s a good shop where I pick up some vintage Irish linen.
Back on MS Hebridean Sky, our fantastic kitchen team is flat out; most meals are taken on board and the food is very good, with lunch and dinner offered on the lido deck as well as in the elegant dining room. Early risers generally congregate in their PJs at the 24-hour tea and coffee station in the club lounge, sneaking a prebreakfast pastry or two.
Many days bring a choice of shore excursions. In Wales we can visit the village of Portmeirion or better yet the remote garden of the town’s creator Clough Williams-Ellis. At age 21 he inherited the 16th-century Plas Brondanw and, with the Snowdonia Mountains as backdrop, created an enchanting, theatrical garden.
Next stop is the jaw-dropping 32ha Bodnant, perched above the River Conwy. We arrive on a glorious sunny day when the famous laburnum walk is ablaze — like moving through a tunnel of light — and the rose garden is brimming with thousands of blooms so fragrant that some of us are swooning.
Near Dublin there’s Powerscourt, a mini Versailles, where 100 men laboured 12 years to carve out the enormous terraces and lakes under the instruction of a slightly squiffy garden designer who was apparently conveyed in a wheelbarrow brandishing a bottle of port. In the restaurant in the glorious shell of a house (gutted by fire in the 1970s), I eat a scone the size of my head.
Outside Waterford we explore the vast Mount Congreve and its 16km of pathways cuffed by 3000 varieties of rhododendrons, great borders stuffed with peonies and vast waterfalls of wisteria spilling over high stone walls. And the romantic Lismore Castle, perched on a cliff above the River Blackwater, home to Lord and Lady Burlington, heirs to the glittering dukedom of Devonshire, where the stunning Jacobean garden is the oldest continuously cultivated in Ireland and the west wing houses a brilliant contemporary art gallery.
Towards cruise end, I’m laid up in my cabin with a garden-variety form of swooning Stendhal syndrome. My Instagram account has exploded with thousands of photos of wobbly topiary, peonies the size of dinner plates and rare Himalayan poppies.
There’s not much the ship’s doctor can do. Female passengers have it bad, because Botanica World Discoveries has one more ace up its sleeve — a visit to the ship by the delightful, slightly crumpled rock star of the middle-aged gardening world, Monty Don.
Pass the smelling salts.
Christine McCabe was a guest of Botanica World Discoveries.