Did you know that RHS members can visit a range of overseas gardens free of charge? Next time you plan to travel in France, Belgium, Italy, the United States or South Africa, check your RHS Members’ Handbook for details.

One participating garden is Isola Bella, a magnificent baroque flight of fancy in Italy’s Lake Maggiore. The centrepiece is a towering series of great terraces, bristling with pillars, classical statues representing rivers, seasons and the winds, and a putto riding triumphantly on a unicorn’s back.

There are banks of vibrant hydrangeas, roses tumbling over balustrades, ancient camphor trees and formal pools to explore. Combine these with views over the sparkling lake to the Alps and the pure white peacocks that strut the lawns, and a visit leaves you feeling as though you have stumbled into another world entirely.

Many gardens in the Loire Valley offer free entry to RHS members at selected times, including the grand chateaux gardens of Valmer, Villandry and Le Rivau.

If visiting Florida, do not miss the outstanding Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, a world-significant garden with particularly good collections of palms, cycads, flowering trees and shrubs, and fruit trees.

Arboretum Kalmthout in Belgium was begun some 150 years ago and now contains a renowned plant collection including more than 7,000 rare trees and shrubs, as well as a vast array of perennials. Ornamental cherries, rhododendrons and hydrangeas are just some of the highlights but there is always something in flower, no matter what the season.

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I enjoy a refreshing walk… my membership gives me free family days out as often as I like.

Mrs Giddings, RHS member

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