Garden Writer


18-day tour will hit all the highlights

I was thrilled a few weeks ago to announce that my next garden tour would be to a Spain-Morocco in September. But I had no idea it would sell out within a couple of days. We now over over 40 people booked.

It will be an 18-days tour - the longest I have yet done - touching two continents and hitting all the highlights: tapas tasting, flamenco nights, sherry tasting, visits to art galleries, urban markets, historic sites, great towns and cities as well, of course, as entrances to many wonderful gardens, some of which are iconic world-famous destinations.

It is as long as it is because when I worked through various scenarios I found that it was not possible to do everything in fewer days without taking away the fun of a complete adventure.

Two top European agencies competed for the option to handle this tour. In the end, they both delivered outstanding proposals, but one eventually came up with a better overall package. That is the one I have chosen to go with. I know you will be in good hands.

From the start, I asked for top-of-the-line accommodation throughout because I know you want a quality resort experience where you stay.

I have shaped the tour into three specific sections, starting in Madrid with visits to special towns just outside, such as Toledo, Avila and Segovia.

I have also arranged an exclusive visit with Spain’s most famous garden designer Fernando Caruncho who has kindly offered to show us private gardens.

From Madrid, we transfer to southern Spain with the focus on Cordoba, Seville and Granada with time, too, in places in-between.

This is where you will visit a couple of wonders of the gardening world - the Alhambra and Generalife gardens.

From there, we cross over into Morocco and into the Atlas Mountains to Fez before moving down to the coast to Casablanca and on to Marrakech with time in Tangiers and Rabat, too.



TO BOOK: If you're interested in reserving a spot on this tour, please call Lyle Truden. 

If you have any general questions don’t hesitate to email me at





Spain-Morocco Tour 2014

Dates: Sept 15-Oct 2

Total days: 18

Price: $6,975



Here’s the breakdown of hotels:

4 Nights Madrid - NH Palacio del Prado - (located in front of the Prado Museum, within walking distance to Retiro Park)

1 Night Córdoba - Hotel Las Casas de la Judería

2 Nights Sevilla - Hotel Las Casas de la Judería

3 Nights Granada - Hotel AC Palacio de Santa Paula  

1 Night Tangier - Hotel El Minzah

2 Nights Fez - Hotel Royal Mirage (ex-Sheraton)

1 Night Casablanca - Hotel Sheraton

3 Nights Marrakesh - Es Saadi Gardens


To make a reservation, please contact:

Lyle Truden | Manager 
Flight Centre Business Travel Library Square

Unit 203 - 345 Robson St | Vancouver, BC | V6B6B3
Phone: 604-684-7951 | Toll Free: 1 866 275 1150



Falling in love is like eating cake, I always think. You don’t have to think about it too much. You just take a forkful and swallow. And if you like the way it tastes, you take another forkful. That’s pretty much how I fell in love with Philadelphia. It was not what I was expecting. It was a love affair that came out of the blue.

I love Paris. I love London. I love Rome. All amazing cities. But now I am smitten with Philadelphia.

It is a city that has taken me by surprise and made me happier than I imagined with its innate spirit of creativity, inventiveness, progressive thinking and generosity. I love, love love its unswerving focus on freedom and tolerance. I think it deserves more attention.

What precisely is it that I love so much?

Well, let me count the ways..

First, I love the attitude of its founder, William Penn, a man way ahead of his time in terms of his ideas about democracy, city planning and personal freedoms, and I love the work and achievements of so many of the city’s progressive, innovative thinkers, such as Ben Franklin.

Penn’s wonderful spirit of acceptance and religious tolerance still permeates what we now call the “city of brotherly love.”

It is significant that a giant statue of himhas been placed at the top of city hall from where he watches over the city. It is a constant reminder to stand up for freedom and human rights and to always be willing to trade in a good idea for a better one.

It impresses me that the city stillrecognizes that it was built by immigrants from all over the world and today insists onpermanently displaying the flags of 109 nations along its main boulevard -Benjamin Franklin Parkway - as a constant reminder of the complexity of the world and the value of diversity.

I love that Philadelphia values and appreciates art and beauty, so much so that it has established three of the world’s best art institutions - the BarnesFoundation, Rodin Museum and Museum of Art, all of which are jam-packed with an embarrassment of priceless treasures.

It thrills me that Philadelphia loves art so much that it has passed a law requiring every new building project to devote at least one per cent of the site to public art.

Walk any where in the downtown and you will see superb examples of wall murals and exquisite sculpture, even on quiet backstreets.

You’ll find the famous LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana, Three-Way Piece by Henry Moore, and, of course, the Rocky Statue by A. Thomas Schomberg.

I first visited Philly to attend its superb flower show, the world’s oldest and biggest. That’s what took me there on my first visit in 2013.

But it was only when I returned there this month to see the show for a second time that I really understood what it is that I love so much about the city.

Part of this epiphany came while visiting the Barnes Foundation and Longwood Gardens, two world-class institutions created by multi-millionaires, Albert C. Barnes and Pierre du Pont.

Barnes used his fortune to amass one of the world’s finest art collections, more than 2,500 objects, including dozens of works by Impressionists. It has been estimated to be worth about $25 billion.

Du Pont used his fortune to buy a 1,077-acre property once owned by Quakers in the Brandywine Creek Valley and turning it into the fabulous Longwood Gardens, one of the world’s most beautiful garden estates with fabulous hothouse gardens and various outdoor gardens.

You can’t help but be touched by the generosity and vision of these men; their love for art and natural beauty but also their deep desire to protect and preserve it and share with others. It is a spirit of enthusiasm and leadership that I wish Vancouver saw more of from its elite citizens.

If you visit Philly, time spent at the Barnes, where every room is an eccentrically organized abundance of art treasures, and at Longwood, where the dedication to creating gorgeous landscapes is paramount, is never a waste.

Albert Barnes wanted to make people see in a way that made connections through colour and form and space, so he placed paintings next to furniture with similar patterning or colour to stretch the imagination.

Du Pont loved trees and couldn’t bear to see them cut down but he went further and created beautiful gardens, drawing inspiration from what he had seen in Europe.

Every moment at either of these spectacular facilities is guaranteed to lift your spirits and fill you with a sense of appreciation and celebration.

When I came to Philly for the first time to see the flower show, which is an amazing work in itself, I was not expecting to be dazzled also by the quirkier side of the city’s personality, such as walking into the shoe department at Macy’s and finding the world’s biggest pipe organ or the Magic Garden of Isaiah Zagar, a whimsical mosaic garden built on a backstreet, composed out of tens of thousands ofpieces of found art and ceramics.

Macy’s giant pipe organ pumps out Mozart,Bach and Handel in concerts twice a daywhile shoppers buy new shoes. It’s just assurreal as Zagar’s Magic Garden and no one bats an eye. It is such a wonderful eccentricity, the perfect fit for a tolerant and eclectic community.

Back outside, standing in the civic square, where public art is dotted everywhere, all you need to do is stand in one spot and turn 360 degrees to see a whole range of architectural styles flash before your eyes, from the ultra-modern flash-drive of the shimmering Comcast Tower to the ornate, elaborate Victorian facade of the city hall with its 22-foot thick masonry walls.

In the lobby of the 58-storey ComcastCentre, there is yet another gesture of Philadelphia’s generosity - a wall that appears to be made of elegant wood panels that magically transforms itself into the world’s biggest and cutting-edge 3D video screen presenting free entertainmentto passersby all day long.

It is a mesmerizing spectacle. There is a constant stream of people entering the lobby just to stand and stare at the giant waterfalls or whirling galaxies orhumourous performances up on the giant screen.

History was not my favourite subject at school. It can be very dry and boring, but the historic sites in Philly are full of energy and vitality. It was, after all, where the U.S. revolution got under way, where the Americans found the guts to stand up and tell the English where to go.

The spirit of independence and struggle for freedom still resonates in these places wherethe Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution was drawn up.

I even get a kick out of the symbol of this triumphant push for freedom, the Liberty Bell, which although silent and cracked beyond repair continues to ring out a message of hope and freedom.

Philadelphia appears to have rejected everything Georgian when it gained its independence, but it was smart enough not to damage the beautiful Georgian architecture of its great historic buildings, such as the Carpenter’s Hall, City Tavern and Independence Hall. These buildings still have immense charm and elegance.

You can still pop into the nation’s first post office, started by Ben Franklin, or into the house of Betsy Ross and get a sense of these exciting times with actors performing the key roles.

When I am in the old town neighbourhood, I like to check out the Belgian taverns and amazing Iron Chef restaurants, but in the new town area my favourite place to spend time is the Reading Terminal Market, one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the U.S., dating back to 1892.

Here you can find an excellent version of the famous Philly Cheesesteak plus all sorts of food and craft stalls run by local Amish people, dressed in traditional outfits.

The market is a lot like Granville Island, only livelier and more diverse with more restaurants and a wide range of foods from Asian and Middle Eastern dishes to authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.

Berlin may have its fabulous “museum island’but Philadelphia has something equallyoutstanding - its own row of art galleries and museums along Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

At the Museum of Art, where you can run up the steps and do a victory jig the way Rocky did in the famous 80s boxing movie, you will find exquisite room after room of art treasures, including top works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet and Cezanne.

During my recent visit, I fell in love with a set of four paintings by Leon Frederic called The Four Seasons, each one depicting cherubs surrounded by the flowers and foliage of each season.

In an adjacent room, I also found an excitingcollection of flower plantings by Henri Fantin-Latour.

Down the road, the Rodin Museum contains the largest collection of works by the French sculptor outside of Paris.

Especially engaging is the Gates of Hell, a monumental work at the main entrance. This dark and disturbing piece includes Rodin’s most famous creations, The Kiss and The Thinker, but also The Shades, three gloomy spirits pointing to the agony of the damned below.

I never knew that the lovers in The Kiss (Francesca and Paolo) ended up in hell for their crime of passion. It was a revelation to me torealize how badly that initial beautiful, celebrated first kiss turned out.

It did, however, set the mood when I left the Rodin and wandered over to the Eastern State Penitentiary, a derelict 19th century prison that once was home to such famous criminals as Al Capone and the tunnel-digging escapee Willie Sutton.

But even here, in the dreariness of a crumbling prison block, it was possible to see Philadelphia in a more noble light.

The prison was, in its day, the model of creative rehabilitation with prisoners kept in light and airy cells built on a revolutionary, easy-to-manage wagon-wheel design.

Ben Franklin had his hand in the design of thisinstitution which became the model for others around the world. There is no denying the terrible pain and suffering that went on there, but I came away preferring to think about the desire of people like Franklin to find a more humane and creative solution to punishment, if such a thing is possible.

Time in the prison cells makes you only more appreciative of a Philly Cheesesteak, the city’s most famous invention with its thinly sliced sautéed rib eye beef and melted cheese. Butthe city is also home to dozens of top notch restaurants

Amada and Buddakan are two of my favourites in the old town district along Chestnut Street. Amada is one of Iron Chef Jose Garce’s chain and Buddakan is a Pan Asian restaurant that serves up everything from seared Kobe beefCarpaccio to miso tuna tartar and roasted Ponzu chicken.

I also became a fan of the classic Italian fare served up at Maggiano’s or the stylish décor and sliced meats of the Brazilian steakhouse-style of Fogo de Chao. You might also like thequirkiness of the reservoir location of Waterworks, another popular restaurant spot on the banks of the Schuylkill River.

You won’t go wrong at any of these restaurants, but Buddakan and Amada are top recommendations.

Anyway, the next time you hear Elton John singing his old 1975 hit Philadelphia Freedom think on this: He’s a lot closer to the truth aboutthe heart and soul of the city that you mightthink.

I never used to think of Philadelphia as a city of light, but now I must say I totally agree with Elton when he sings, “Shine a light shine, shinea light, Philadelphia freedom shine on me, I love you, yes I do.”



See some of the world's top gardens


Take a few minutes to come with me and visit some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. Here are the first two in what will be a developing series.

Here you can start by visiting the delightful Le Parc Flora d'Apremont-sur-Allier in the Loire Valley followed by a quick tour of the magnificent water garden at Villa d'Este in Tivoli.

Recent additions feature Trebah, Glendurgan, the Keukenhof, Hidcote and Serre de la Madone (the gardens of Lawrence Johnston).



This tour is now sold out.

In April, I will be leading an exclusive 14-day tour to Japan to see great gardens but also to experience the highlights of Japanese culture, everything from a ride on the bullet train to time in Tokyo’s bustling Ginza district to a walk on the slopes of Mount Fuji and much more.

It will be an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I am hoping you will want to come along.

The tour will start out in Tokyo, then move to Kanazawa on edge of the Sea of Japan and on to Kyoto, the garden capital of Japan, where many of the country’s finest and oldest gardens are located, including Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple), Ryoan-ji Temple and Saiho-ji Temple garden

Gardens are the connecting theme for the tour. They will link us to the landscape and to the culture and to one another.

But this is not a tour focused exclusively on gardens; it is as much a culture tour, too, with as much emphasis on delving into the art, cuisine, history and uniqueness of Japan as on providing an immersion into the transcendent beauty of its gardens.

For me, the gardens are one of Japan's finest and highest artistic accomplishments. I think you will have a wonderful time.

Here's where to find all the details: Japan Tour 2014

Contact Steve Whysall at


My 12-day tour of Brazil was amazing. We started out in Rio de Janeiro at Copacabana Beach. From here we visited the home garden of Brazil’s most famous landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.

We started out at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, jumped over to the bustling city of Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais and ended up at Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s seven natural wonders, on the Argentina/Paraguay border.

On the way, we visited amazing gardens, most of them designed or inspired by, but always imprinted with, the bold, unmistakable signature of Brazil’s most famous and celebrated landscape architect, Roberto Burle Marx.

We took a ride through the Tijuca forest, went to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, visited Rio’s botanical garden and much more before jumping over to Belo Horizonte to visit Bernardo Paz’s amazing botanical Shangri-La oasis at Inhotim. From there we head down to Iguacu Falls.

It was a thrilling two weeks of fun and unforgettable sights. Here are some snapshots from the trip. You can also see a video of our trip at YouTube click here. BRAZIL TOUR 2013


Here’s some feedback we got from the spring garden tours. It's so important that people return home having had the time of their life.

But sometimes there needs to be some spontaneous, creative input in order to make things work out.

For instance, there was the moment when we were stuck in a traffic jam outside St. Tropez and rather than just sit there, I thought it would be fun if we had a party. When you're givien lemons . . .

I got off and bought a pack of plastic glasses and returned and opened up bottles of wines we had bought at Chateauneuf du Pape. 

We played people’s favourite rock songs. Some people even got up and danced. It was fun. Other people contributed bottles they had bought and snacks. By the time the wine and food was gone, we were out of the jam and on our way to Cannes, our next destination.

We have had a fair number of spontaneous moments like that one on our tours and they always make the adventure all the more special.

Anywhere, here’s what some of the people had to say:

From the Italian garden tour.

- I can't thank you both enough for arranging such a beautiful trip.  Having everything taken care of, is definitely the way to travel, and I couldn't have asked for a better way to see southern Italy and Sicily. – Sharon B.

- We look back at this trip as very special - the group was just outstanding and fun to be with. – Ron R.

- I was so energized by your selection of gardens, and loved the physical activity required to visit all the sites and manoeuvre through the many gardens, villages and towns. – Daphne S.

- Thank you again for the wonderful Italian Garden Tour. It was such a well thought out balance of activities. As Steve predicted, when we got home the experience expanded into hundreds of wonderful moments. We have sent many of our photos to friends and have told them about your tours. – Joan K. and Rob C.

- I look at my pictures almost everyday and show them to anyone who sounds the least bit interested so this is another happy reminder of this marvellous tour. – Patti B.

- We have had such fun making our own pictures into a memory slide show, and each time I look at it, the wonderful gardens return.  Our presence on this trip was really up in the air until a couple weeks before because of my health problems, so when we arrived, I was a bit tentative. However, the presence of kindred gardening spirits and  beautiful nature was entirely restorative. What an incredible landscape southern Italy is. We appreciated all the behind the scenes conceptualizing that you two put into your tour. You certainly made it into two splendid weeks for us. Thank you both. – Jean C.

From the French tour tour:

- We haven't downloaded our 600 + pictures yet.   It was a great trip and we hope we get to join you again in the near future.   

- What a rainy day, just came back from The Great Gatsby movie, his home  looks like the Rothchilds!  - Karen P.

- It was a wonderful tour and I will remember it forever and feel so blessed to have been able to go on it with you and Steve and the many delightful people on the trip too. Many thanks. Pauline M.

- Thanks Loraine, very enjoyable!  Look forward to travelling with you and Steve again. – Jo-Ann M.

 - Thanks for this delightful set of memories. To be enjoyed with a glass of rosé in hand... – Sue B.

- Thanks very much for the video.  It brought back memories of our great trip--especially the music that you chose to accompany it. – Shirley R.


We had great fun on both the garden tours this spring.

I put together two short video composed of snaps of people on the tours in different locations. It is customary for us to have a song for each tour.


For Italy, I picked Sensa Fine by Pauline London and for France I picked Zou Bisou, Bisou by Jessica Pare - two wonderful songs that I thought captured the spirit of each tour perfectly.

Anyway, take a look at these short little videos. Let me know what you think at



For more than 20 years I have been the garden columnist for The Vancouver Sun here in British Columbia, Canada.

My full-colour In the Garden page appears every Friday in the At Home section. Check out my newspaper website, blog, podcasts and more here at In the Garden

I've also written five books: The Vancouver Sun's Best Plant Picks, 100 Best Plants for Coastal Gardens,The Blooming Great Gardening Book, and 100 Best Plants for Ontario Gardens. The first four were No. 1 bestsellers in B.C.

Over the last five years, I have conducted nine international garden tours: three to Italy, three to France, one to England-Scotland, one to Holland-Belgium-England and one to South Africa.

My next tour will be to Philadelphia in 2014 (see above) after which we will be going to Japan. 

I have also written for various garden magazines, including Gardens Illustrated in the UK.

My wife, Loraine, and I have three children, now all in their 30s.

At our home in Burnaby, we have an English-style garden, comprising a mix of trees, shrubs, vines, roses and perennials.

Before coming to Canada in 1975, I worked for various newspapers in the U.K. including the London Evening News, Bristol Post, Leicester Mercury and Nottingham Evening Post.

Below you can see a few snapshots from our recent trip to France and Italy.