It’s that time of year again, when the flowers start to bloom, and it’s time to get gardening. Or at least, for some people, it’s time to get gardening. For many, there’s simply not the time or the inclination for the hours of care and upkeep a truly stunning garden requires. But just because some of us struggle to keep a houseplant alive, never mind healthy, doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate a stunning garden when we see it. So, here are ten of the world’s most beautiful gardens!
Butchart Gardens, Canada
The Butchart Gardens are just outside Victoria, British Columbia, and are well worth the half-hour drive. Built on top of the remains of a limestone quarry in the early 1900s, the gardens were designed and managed by Jennie Butchart (the wife of the quarry’s developer), who turned the exhausted quarry into a stunning garden, complete with lake. Over the years, it was developed to be completely self-sustaining, and added further attractions, including Japanese and Italian gardens, a rose garden, the Ross fountain and most recently, the Children’s Pavilion. They’ve also developed seasonal attractions, like outdoor symphonies, and fireworks displays every Saturday night in the summer. Now, the garden’s home to nearly 900 varieties of plants, ensuring blooming flowers from March through to October. The gardens are open year-round, from $17-30 dollars Canadian per adult, depending on the time of year.
Peterhof Gardens, Russia
Peterhof Gardens, built around the palace of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg, is the result of almost two hundred years of Russian royalty hiring the best to ensure they were stunning and in keeping with the latest European garden trends. Royals who worked on the gardens (or at least, oversaw and paid for the work on them), included Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Nicholas I. Sometimes called ‘The Russian Versailles’, it is a wonder (not in the least considering that St. Petersburg’s climate isn’t exactly conducive to pleasure gardens!), including a man-made pond system complete with fountains, orchards, formal flower gardens, and the Gardens of Venus and Bacchus. Admission to the upper garden is free, but if you want to wander freely, and admire all the UNESCO world heritage site has to offer, than it costs 450 Rubles (just under $13).
Kenrokuen Garden, Japan
Kenrokuen Garden is over 11 hectares of meticulously maintained beauty nestled in central Kanazawa. Considered one of the most beautiful public gardens in Japan, it’s names means ‘having six factors’, in this case: spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water courses and view, all of which are deemed necessary for a beautiful garden. The ponds are large and man-made, the largest, Kasumigaike, of which was designed to bring good luck to the local lord. The garden is hundreds of years old, with attractions like a natural fountain and every winter displays yukitsuri, a system where a rope-array is attached to the garden’s pine trees to keep them from breaking under the weight of winter snows.
Chateau de Versailles, France
Commissioned in 1661 by Louis XIV, the gardens of Versailles were considered just as important as the infamously decadent Chateau to the overall scheme of Versailles. And Andre La Notre’s gardens have withstood the test of time (and of being a symbol of imperial decadence in revolutionary France, which is a trial by fire). The gardens are massive, and include long, statue lined walks, an orchard housing citrus and pomegranate trees, a hedge maze, stunning fountains, groves packed with hidden sculptural treasures and the grand canal, an ornamental lake that took eleven years to build and upon which model ships were tested and nautical battles enacted. The gardens were damaged in a storm in 1999, but repair work has been almost entirely completed, with much of the garden restored to its original splendor. The gardens offer a musical fountain show from April to October, and music is piped through the gardens on Tuesdays from April to May and July to October. Entrance to the gardens comes to about $35 dollars
Las Pozas, Mexico
Traditionally laid out gardens usually follow some sort of rule of design, like symmetry or blooming date, or even scientific formula (we’ll talk about that garden shortly). Then there’s Las Pozas. Developed by Edward James, a poet and artist enamored of the surrealist movement, the Las Pozas gardens were built with it and the jungle vegetation in mind. At one point, it housed a stunning orchid garden, but a 1962 frost killed many of them off, leading James to shift focus to sculpture, resulting in 36 surrealist sculptures spread across the garden. By the time of his death in 1984, millions had been spent on Las Pozas, which had employed hundreds of craftsmen, artisans and stone masons for the upkeep and design of the 20-plus acre garden. In 2007, ownership of the gardens passed to Fondo Xilitla, a foundation dedicated to the preservation and upkeep of the garden. The garden is open all year, and guided tours are available in Spanish, English and French.
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Scotland
This thirty acre garden’s only open to the public one day a year, where admission fees go to support Maggie’s Centers (a cancer care charity), and it’s well worth the trip. The garden’s set on the grounds of Portrack House, an 18th century manor. The garden, completed in 1989, was designed by Charles Jencks, an architect turned landscape sculptor. It’s a whimsical exploration of the universe, with features like the Cascading Universe, a series of steps leading down the hill into a pond, recounting, metaphorically, the story of the universe.
The garden’s landforms and man-made lakes are designed with fractal geometry in mind, and the view from one of the terraces is meant to call the space-time distortions caused by black holes to mind. This year, it’s open from noon to five on Sunday, May 4th, so book your tickets now!
While this is the smallest of Suzhou’s classic gardens, the Wangshiyuan Garden, or the Master of the Nets Garden, is also widely accepted as the best. It was constructed over eight-hundred years ago, and was privately owned until 1950, when it was donated to the government. It was then opened to the public in 1958, and has remained open since. It’s a small garden, only a little over one acre in size, but divided into three exquisite sections: the residential, central and the inner garden. The central section has a small pond, and the garden is open at night, often offering local music and opera performances. The garden so well demonstrates the classic Chinese garden that it was used as the template for the Ming Hall Garden at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and a miniature version was created for exhibition in Paris in the 1980s.
Jardin Majorelle, Morocco
This garden was designed and tended by artist Jacques Majorelle, who populated it with carefully color-coordinated plants from all over the world, with the walls painted a stunning ‘Majorelle Blue’ a bright cobalt blue that makes the healthy green of the plant leaves even more apparent. The garden was opened to the public in the 40s, but by the 1980s, it was slated to be sold and a hotel built on the grounds.
Luckily, the garden found a pair of saviors in Pierre Berge and designer Yves Saint Laurent. The pair bought the garden in 1980, and set about the garden’s restoration (the garden now bears a memorial plaque for Yves St Laurent, following his death in 2008). Now, the garden has 300 varieties of flowers and employs a team of 20 gardeners to keep its two and a half-acres in the best shape, and Majorelle’s studio has been turned into a museum focusing on the Berber culture.
Villa d’Este, Italy
The Villa D’Este and its garden has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it epitomizes the Italian Baroque style. The garden has several terraces, and is rich with stunning fountains and a breathtaking view overlooking it from the villa. The work on the villa and the gardens was begun by Cardinal Ippolito Il d’Este, after his failed bid for the papacy, in the 1550s, and was almost complete by the time of his death in 1572.
Later cardinals continued d’Este’s work, seeing the villa and its garden restored and beautified, which would later include statues by famed sculptor Bernini. The past twenty years have seen almost uninterrupted restorations, with the most recent being the restoration of the Organ Fountain to its original glory.
Keukenhof Gardens, Holland
Part of the Teylingen Castle estates, Keukenhof Gardens was once a woodland where game was hunted for the castle’s kitchens (the name ‘Keukenhof’ means kitchen courtyard in Dutch). But in 1857, the lands were redesigned by Jan David Zocher and his son, Louis Paul, to turn it into an English landscape style garden, the bones of which the modern garden still conforms to. The best time to visit these gardens is in the spring, as the gardens have been home to flower exhibitions, with the first one taking place in 1949. Now, the garden provides a stunning stage on which to showcase the Dutch floricultural industry.
The garden’s Oranje Nassau Pavilion features a different flower every week, the Willem-Alexander Pavilion’s devoted to tulips (over 600 varieties of them), and the Beatrix Pavilion is currently showcasing orchids. The gardens also offer flower-arranging demonstrations. The entrance fee is 15 euros (or about $21) per adult, and the gardens are open from the 20th of March to the 18th of May this year.