Britain guide rich in flowery prose

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NEW YORK -- VisitBritain is pulling out all the stops to show visiting garden-tour enthusiasts a "bloomin' " good time in 2004, designated the Year of Gardening by the U.K.'s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

As Britain's legendary gardens and tradition of horticulture are a major draw for U.S. visitors, the tourism board released the Britain's Gardens guide, available in print and online versions.

Rob Franklin, executive vice president for the Americas, said that VisitBritain "recently refocused its marketing strategy to tap into potential visitors' lifestyle interests, and we know gardens are a key factor that motivate Americans of all ages to travel to Britain."

The free, 46-page guide includes information on events and festivals; insider tips from British gardeners; garden tours and educational courses; and seasonal information on gardens in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Event listings include scores of happenings organized by the RHS, which will launch the year -- its 200th anniversary -- in a Feb. 16 ceremony at London's RHS Horticultural Halls.

Tourwise, Litchfield, Conn.-based Expo Garden Tours offers six garden-themed departures to Britain, including four that stop at the Chelsea Flower Show. For example, the seven-night English Country Gardens and Chelsea tour -- priced at $3,836 per person, double, with air or $2,858, land-only -- runs May 21 to 29 and includes hotel; daily breakfast, three dinners and one tea; ground transportation and admissions; and private garden visits.

Call (860) 567-0322 or visit www.expogardentours.com.

For its part, Maupintour is offering a nine-day English Social Season package -- priced from $2,689 per person -- that pairs a visit to the RHS Gardens at Wisley with stops at the Chelsea or Hampton Court flower shows, depending on departure date. For more information, call (800) 255-4266 or visit www.maupintour.com.

Virgin Vacations is offering a six-night Chelsea Flower Show package, departing May 22 and priced from $919 per person, with air, when booked by April 1. Call (888) 937-8474 or visit www.virginvacations.com.

Other operators offering garden tours to Britain follow:

• The British Connection; phone: (404) 373-1420.

• The English Experience Travels; phone: (215) 699-6863; Web: www.english-experience.com.

• Huron Valley Travel; phone: (800) 392-6869; Web: www.huronvalleytravel.com.

• Coopersmith's One of a Kind Tours, phone; (415) 669-1914; Web: www.coopersmiths.com/index.html.

• Copper Beech Garden Tours; phone: (864) 582-1498; Web: www.copper-beech.com.

For copies of the VisitBritain garden guide, call (877) 899-8391, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.visitbritain.com/usagardens.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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