Garden trip: Bella Italia

Looking down the Italian hill
Bella Italia means beautiful Italy

You know how much I loved Italy when we went on a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome last March. Well, now it’s your turn to take a garden trip to Italy and see the sights.

A stairway garden in Assisi.
A stairway herb garden in Assisi.
A garden trip you’ll never forget.

A few days ago, I sat down with my friend Julia Laughlin, co-host of the Garden Party on KTOK, horticulturist, and gardener extraordinaire, to chat about her garden trip to Italy in 2018. The trip is from Wednesday, May 30, 2018, to Sunday, June 10, 2018.  

Ah, late spring in Italy visiting gardens. Could life be any better?

A courtyard in Civita di Bagnoregio, the disappearing city on the hill.
A courtyard in Civita di Bagnoregio, the disappearing city on the hill.

I don’t think so.

Bill and I traveled with Julia to England–remember the Chelsea Flower Show and London, Wisley and Sissinghurst? Those wonderful locations were just part of our England itinerary. I can honestly say I would jump at the chance to go with Julia to Italy, and this is the garden trip of a lifetime. Julia’s co-leader is another great friend, Linda Horn, Director of Marketing and Community Relations for Total Environment, Inc.

Passionate about gardening? Italy is full of passion, gardening too.
The gorgeous Italian countryside in March. It will be even more beautiful in June.
The gorgeous Italian countryside in March. It will be even more beautiful in June.

These two women are expert horticulturists, who bring a real passion to gardening. There’s no more passionate place that Italy so I know you’ll be in good hands. Julia has traveled to Italy before, and she custom designed this trip to see as many gorgeous gardens as possible. The tour starts in Venice, moves on to Lake Como, Florence, Rome, Sorrento, Pompeii and finally, the Isle of Capri.

The Swiss Guard don't really like to have their picture taken so I had to be surreptitious.
At the Vatican, the Swiss Guard don’t really like to have their picture taken so I had to be surreptitious and shoot from the hip.

I don’t have any photos of the gardens you will visit, so I’m using my photos of the Italian countryside and Rome. Hope you don’t mind. Click on gallery photos to make them larger.

Here is the travel itinerary, and below is the map. The tour is through Go Ahead tours, the grown up version of EF Tours, the college tour company. Therefore, all hotels and other accommodations are upgraded for adults. Presently, the trip cost is $5399 with an Oklahoma City departure and two persons per room. If you would like to have a private room there is a $400 supplemental cost. If you wish to make your own flight arrangements the cost will be $1700 less.

From Julia’s handout: “Note that if you enroll you will be locked into the price the website quotes you, but your cost could (and will likely) go down as we enroll more travelers. Your price goes down as we reach enrollment plateaus. I just like to start at the top price and then there are only good surprises! That is to say, your fee cannot go up but will more than likely be discounted by as much as $300 or more as we fill the trip.”

Map for Julia Laughlin trip to Italy.
Map for Julia Laughlin trip to Italy.


Although this is a garden tour, it isn’t all gardens. Italy is known for its fantastic food, and you’ll have wonderful lunches and dinners throughout the northern and southern regions. This is my daughter, Claire’s, video of our visit to Italy. It shows our trip and some of the food you can enjoy. It also shows a lot of the Vatican including the museums and St. Peter’s Basilica which will be part of your trip too.

“Horticulture and the natural world, in general, are like music,” said Julia, “When you think you’ve learned everything you can about it, you can always learn more. It just goes on and on and on.”

I couldn’t have said it better. If you have questions or want clarification, you can email Julia at or

Traveling is the best way to learn more about the world and yourself. I hope you go.

One more thing, I received no compensation for this post. I just think it would be a great trip, and Julia is a good friend.

A visit to Hillwood

Marjorie Merriweather Post's Hillwood in Washington, D.C.

Hillwood, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s estate, in Washington, D.C. opened its doors for the Garden Bloggers’ flingers on our first morning of tours. Hillwood reminded me of numerous other estate gardens I’ve visited over the years. It’s kept in about the same condition and style as it was when Post still lived there from the mid-1950s to 1973.

Post wanted her last home to be a museum, and, after some wrangling, it eventually happened. Post was an heiress, socialite, and philanthropist who inherited the Postum cereal fortune from her father. She began running the company at the age of twenty-seven after her father’s death. Post collected Russian and French art, jewelry, and furniture. You can view some of her jewelry, including a pair of Marie Antoinette’s earrings, at the Smithsonian. She is also known for overseeing construction of Mar-a-Lago, now owned by President Donald Trump. Her Imperial Russian collection, established while her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, was ambassador to Russia, is located at Hillwood.

Post purchased Hillwood, originally named Arbremont, after her divorce from Davies. That’s quite a story in itself. You can read it at the link about Post’s museum hopes, above.

Being a garden writer, I was most interested in, you guessed it, the gardens. Although the gardens comprise twenty-five acres, they don’t seem that large because they are broken up into rooms. Post was a fan of 18th Century France, and her French parterre is a tribute to her interests.

There is also a small Japanese garden which despite its size, is very well appointed. It’s quite beautiful and has wonderful views. You can see it in the first photo gallery show above. Click on the photos to make them larger.

My favorite part of the landscape was the cutting garden. Situated near the greenhouse, this garden supplies all of the flowers used inside the house/museum. It’s probably the best cutting garden I’ve ever seen.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a lot of gardens, but I’m a bit weary of grand estate gardens. They all seem to have similar attributes, especially if they were created between the 1920s and 1950s. You can almost always bet upon a formal rose garden, a Japanese garden, either an Italian formal landscape piece or a French one–you get the idea.

Post did also have a really interesting pet cemetery and a dacha in her garden too.

Graves in pet cemetery at Hillwood.
Graves for Post’s favorite pets still reside in the pet cemetery at Hillwood.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s all very pretty, but I’m more interested in a working garden, and the cutting garden was just that. I loved how the gardeners placed netting in the rows for the flowers to grow through–a brilliant idea to keep stems straight and strong. Also, this cutting garden had great filler plants like bells of Ireland, dill weed, and Queen Anne’s lace to nestle between larger blooms.

After we had our photo made on the Lunar lawn and had lunch, the bloggers split up and were off to our next destinations. I really enjoyed Hillwood and hope you enjoy my thoughts about it too.