Judy Vanrenen, founder of Botanica, a land and cruise company, has made a life and a business out of discovering secret gardens and taking small parties of botanical enthusiasts to them.
Many involve luxury cruises aboard ships from Botanica’s part owner, APT.
“This is a niche market, and there is no one else like us in the world. No one else does completely botanical cruises,” Ms Vanrenen said.
This week, the “niche” company launched its biggest ever brochure of tours, including 14 extra gardens compared with 61 visited last year. And there are food and music offerings as well.
Ms Vanrenen employs professional lecturers, Australia’s best-known gardening names, recognised musicians and horticulturalists who share their knowledge with the guests.
The company is 15 years old and is expanding.
“We did a soft launch into the UK, but it proved to be extremely difficult to sell to the English people, so instead we will be focusing on increasing services around Japan and North America,” Ms Vanrenen said.
“Next year we have more exciting destinations planned, as well as incorporating behind-the-scenes tourism of more historic homes and private gardens. We also want to increase our arts cruise tours.”
Botanica will introduce themes of art, history, music and food.
“With the majority of our travellers being from Australia and New Zealand, we have also decided to add on tours around Sydney, Gippsland Lakes and Far North Queensland,” Ms Vanrenen said.
“We are also planning on organising Zodiac jet boats to travel to the gardens.”
Botanica currently has a 70 per cent return rate and a 99 per cent satisfaction rate.
Whilst expanding her business, Ms Vanrenen has also written a book, which records the personal, family and gardening stages of her life.
“It took me four years to write Beyond the Garden Gate. I am a bit nervous because it includes a lot of my own personal journey,” Ms Vanrenen explained.
She shared her favourite garden destination with Cruise Passenger:
“The garden on the Hebridean Islands. There is a lady who lives on top of a hill, in a blue and white house, and has created her own beautiful garden. After taking us through it, we are welcomed into the house and are served tea and scones on blue and white china, and yes, she is also dressed in blue and white.”