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Sickles Market Launches Bespoke Garden & Food Tours: First Foray to Longwood Gardens

When you think about it, it’s more than serendipity that the launch of the Garden State’s
family-owned and managed Sickles Market’s new garden and food travel tour initiative was to travel to a first-class American garden family destination: Longwood Gardens.
In fact award-winning Sickles was recently named The Garden State’s Family Business of the Year:  
The inaugural journey to what once was the du Pont family’s extraordinary display gardens and is now a world-class botanic garden and horticulture center, was a much-anticipated garden tour. 
Too good to miss, I took the early bird Seastreak ferry from Gotham, our weekday nest, back to the Garden state for this! 
The early morning was glowing, the city winked good day.  
It was a splendid welcome at Sickles Market in Little Silver.  A smiling Bob Sickles welcomed guests in front of the luxury bus inviting all to enjoy the gourmet breakfast in the green house.  (but really, have you ever seen Bob not happy-looking? Must be all that green plant and good food love that is part of the Sickles charm) 
Like leaving on a very special class trip, the signing in hellos and good mornings were all a part of the anticipation.

But with a breakfast buffet of Sickles baked muffins, fruit and goody food bags for the bus trip, the buzz surpasses anything that ol’ school mascot could’ve ever dreamed about.  

Mother enjoying the Sickles breakfast buffet

Soon enough, the bus left the early morning’s sun kissed, misty Sickles’ farmland and we headed south to Longwood Gardens.

Along the way, Bob Sickles formally welcomed the tour guests, explaining how the new garden and tour initiative is the family businesses’ new business enterprise.  He explained they are trying something new – in an effort to amplify Sickles’ as the place to turn to for food and gardens.  His vision includes trips to Sicily next year, Vermont, the Biltmore in North Carolina, New York City and Paris and Williambsburg and ….

The thrill factor rose by more than a few degrees.  Heads were nodding and faces were grinning about his description of visiting food markets, restaurants, cooking, wine and cheese tastings — and fun!
Kirsty welcomes guests on the bus

Bob introduced Kirsty Dougherty, the recently appointed Sickle’s Director of Tours and Training.  

Kirsty is glass of champagne: effervescent and full of happy memories soon-to-be.
A veritable Christmas stocking: meaning — the first and best part of the celebration — and always a tidy surpise.
It turns out this Australian native came to the Garden State by way of Buenos Aires after falling in love with a Jersey boy.  Sweet.
And that accent!  I teased her that she could read the phone book and I’d be happy just listening.
But this seasoned travel expert, garden designer and plants pro is an expert professional. 
With a business plan firmly in hand and approval by Bob, the first of a few tours were approved:  Longwood Gardens for the Mum Festival, followed up by the visit there for the Holiday Christmas display.
The new “Sickles Market on the Road Tours” business is a natural extension of Sickles as the leading authority of all things food and garden.
As the luxury bus and it’s happy driver whisked the guests south, Kirsty explained the day’s logistics and options.  There was to be docent-led group tours and lunch and lots of free time. A short Longwood video played to visually introduce the guests to the charms of the Garden. 
Kirsty introduced her associate Natale Siclare, garden guru, who it seems is more than a Longwood expert – he is a Longwood lover, having been seduced by the family garden’s charms long ago.
I share his indulgence.
I have written about this garden author Lidz  and spoke about her book authoritative and have visited the Longwood Gardens in summer.
Yet this visit was special.
The day was blessed by a glorious Indian summer warmth and sunshine. 
The garden gods were smiling.
With a relaxed, courteous, customer focused and professional style, the tour progressed throughout the day.
Sickles guests were treated to a guide-led tour of a few of Longwood Garden’s famous display gardens. 
Longwood Garden Guide: John Bertram

Magic.  John Bertram was our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide.  He was so much fun too.  We had to tease him about his family “tree” and the possibility of being related to the famous Bertram horticulture   family.  But he dispelled any such connection.  

He guided us with anecdotes and history, especially through the Thomas Church-designed open-air Theater Garden
The fountains were working, and very dramatic accompanied by the taiko drumming.   

Mother and Longwood Garden Guide: John Bertram

Lunch was a treat especially in the Garden’s restaurant with its edible food ingredients grown on premise at Longwood.  Delicious.

Mother and I had the great good fortune to dine with Kirsty and learn more about her travel and tour background and vision for Sickles tour business.
After lunch, Sickles tour guests had more than a few options to pursue: Moderated guided tours through the indoor Mum horticultural display led by Natale and Bob, Sickles staff, or Kirsty’s photography walking tips tour. 
Two passionate plant & food aficionados: Me (L) & Kirsty Dougherty, Sickles
There were the inescapable oohs and ahhs seeing the world- record holding display of mums (It’s said only the French or Japanese could torture their plants like this!)

This is a record breaker

I noted to a few fellow attendees despite the “common notation associates with mums, they remain the official flower of the Japanese royal family! 
My tip: Don’t throw out the mum display after Thanksgiving.  Hold on to them or put into the compost cabana.

Soon enough, we were exploring the garden on our own preferred tour.    ‘

Afterwards, Mother and I walked out and sat in the sun overlooking the Fountain Garden (felt so Gstaadish!) before moving to the Topiary Garden.

Mother headed to the gift shop and I headed to the Italianate garden, which was the acknowledged furthest garden room from the conservatory. 

No matter, it wasn’t far at all walking in the splendid afternoon, basking in the gardens.  Plus I got to stick my head into the place that once was the du Pont’s family home while I was seeking directions to the Italian garden.
No McMansion, the du Pont residence is still gorgeous, elegant and yet so simple.

A covered arch walkway led the du Ponts and their guests through to a garden-like indoor sitting area.  Not much has changed since the du Ponts lived there… 

Back out onto the Garden grounds, I was enchanted by the naturalistic, waving beauty of this far side of Longwood, in contrast to the sculpted, designed gardens on the other side.

Grasses, huge, architectural trees and undulating garden rooms gave way to soaring vistas made all the more splendid by the season’s crimson, gold and red fashion. 

I loved the seating here, positioned as they were, looking out beyond to that magical vista beyond.  I saw a couple canoodling – almost lost in the distant foliage.  Garden and nature are romantic.  

Onward to the Italian garden…

While the fountains had just been turned off for the season – there was no denying the mystical, secret charm of this garden.  There are lawns, pools, walks and elevated viewing bridges with looks out to the Italian garden and to the pond/lake behind it.

A not so far walk brought me back past the perennial garden beds to the theater garden with it’s soaring fountains accompanied by the throbbing, syncopated taiko drumming.

Back on the bus all were chatting up and swapping their garden experiences.
I thought, this is why people with a passion choose to join a tour – we want to share our discoveries and curiosities and love with those who do too.
We were in garden bliss.

Bob thanked everyone, recapped the day, saying this wonderful experience was just the tip of what was to come.  Food and garden tours would be carefully chose and “Sicklized” and then said the two magic words: wine and cheese!  

And then, just like that, we were transported to an on board Mediterranean café of sorts.

Kirsty & Ryan, Sickles on-board sommeliers!

With Bob as sommelier and wine guru and Kirsty and xx pouring white and red to better amplify the rich, tasty cheese and nuts, we learned about the food and wine provenance.  This was a perfect accessory accompaniment to the garden tour!  A communal café on board our bus.   

Then just when one can’t think it could get any more sublime, Kirsty announces there is a raffle. 
As I turn to Mother to lament we’d never won a thing since that atlas years ago a card party.  Before I could complete my tale of woe, I hear my name! 
I won, I won! 
I was astounded and blurted out I was just saying I’d never won anything since that stupid atlas! That brought the bus guests’ laughing uproariously.
“But wait, What did I win?!” I asked.
I was just too excited to win anything! 
Turns out, I won a complete gourmet Sickles Thanksgiving dinner for six people – all the trimmings! 
What a dream!  And because our Garden state home is in home renovation hell – I have no kitchen – so this is a huge miracle. 
I still can’t believe it.
This was one fairy tale of a garden trip. Sickles really knows how to do an elegant, interesting garden and food tour. They made learning fun and memorable. We met fantastic and fun people on the tour.  We are looking forward to spending time together on future tours with our new mutual friends.
And I am pinching myself about the gourmet Thanksgiving dinner! Can you believe the garden sprites – er Sickles – delivered food love like this?
Next up:  Sickles Gourmet dinner review
And The Longwood Gardens Holiday tour, December 7th.  This is going to be an all-out glam tour!
Thank you to Bob, Tori, Kirsty, Karen, Ryan, and the entire Sickles team.

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