Spending time in a well-tended garden can soothe the soul. As the poet Rumi said, “Beauty surrounds us, but we need to be walking in a garden to know it.” Join us on a tour of 10 of the most glorious gardens around the globe.
Santa Barbara, California, USA
The East Coast’s horticultural heritage may be better known—with the New York and Brooklyn botanical gardens, and ever-popular Chanticleer and Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia—but the West Coast has gems of its own, none better than Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California.
Created by the late Madame Ganna Walska, an eccentric opera singer, its tropical nature and idiosyncratic design make it utterly unique. The inclusion of an aloe garden – with its clam-shaped water cascades, a Moorish fountain, and a ‘topiary circus’—makes Lotusland an intensely theatrical experience at any time of year. “The singular vision of its creator is evident at every turn and the attention to horticultural excellence by Lotusland staff is outstanding,” notes curator Virginia Hayes. “The dramatic forms of cacti, cycads, and more always inspire awe and wonder.”
Lotusland was originally intended to be a retreat for Tibetan monks, to be named Tibetland. Photography: Victoria Pearson. Banner image: Courtesy of The Butchart Gardens
However, when the monks didn’t appear, Madame Ganna Walska renamed the garden in honor of the sacred lotus that grew in one of the property’s ponds. Photograph: Victoria Pearson
Photograph: Victoria Pearson
Photograph: Victoria Pearson
2. Villa Gamberaia
The Renaissance garden’s values of order, symmetry, and elegance live on at this Tuscan villa that inspired many landscape architects at the turn of the 20th century. The garden’s straight lines, crisp evergreen topiary, and water parterres combine to create an idealized version of the Italian formal garden. Built on a high ridge, Villa Gamberaia also appears to hover above the Arno valley and the fashionable city below. Of the villa, Edith Wharton wrote in Italian Villas and Their Gardens (1903): “Probably the most perfect example of the art of producing a great effect on a small scale.”
Entering the moss garden surrounding this 14th-century Zen temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is an otherworldly experience. The dense, velvety carpet is home to more than 100 different species of moss, providing a surreal backdrop to the colourful Japanese acers shimmering above, and the pools of water that brood below. Visit Saihō-ji in fall when the maple leaves are ablaze, and experience both kito and shakyo—the chanting and copying of Buddhist scriptures—before you enter the garden. Do note, though, that visiting the temple and garden requires previous registration; ask your travel agent to arrange it.
4. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Cape Town, South Africa
Established a century ago, the horticultural excellence of South Africa’s famous botanical garden is only surpassed by its breathtaking location, against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Indigenous flora dominate the landscape, thus safeguarding South Africa’s rich and varied plant and animal life. Outdoor art, music, and sculpture are the icing on the cake.
5. Na’aina Kai Botanical Gardens
Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Never underestimate the determined gardener. A few seeds sown by Joyce and Ed Doty in the late 1970s have blossomed into a heavenly garden spanning some 260 acres whose name translates as “Lands by the Sea”. Na’Aina Kai first opened its doors in 2000, revealing to visitors a spectacular man-made lagoon, glades of hardwood trees, a magnificent maze, an orchid garden, and very much more. An outdoor sculpture gallery is the final flourish, with more than 100 life-size bronze sculptures by a variety of artists.
6. The Butchart Gardens
Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
More than 100 years ago, the vision and ambition of one woman, Jennie Butchart, transformed a barren limestone quarry into 55 glorious acres of flower-filled gardens. As the landscape changed, Jennie and her husband created a Japanese garden, an Italian garden, and a rose garden, planting maples and spring-flowery cherry trees, some of which still thrive today. The gardens overflow with color and fragrance all year: early spring and summer being a procession of flowers in bloom, while October’s cooler night’s welcome a kaleidoscope of fiery fall foliage.
7. The Humble Administrator’s Garden
Suzhou, Jiangsu, China
Devotees of Chinese art and culture will find much to admire in this ancient garden, created during the Ming Dynasty in the early 16th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. In each of the garden’s three parts, poetic and historical references abound, unified by water, clouds of cherry blossom in spring, and a series of charming buildings. Even the names of the garden’s structures are enhancing: a bridge is “The Small Flying Rainbow” and there are both “Heavenly Spring” and “Green-Embracing” pavilions.
8. Jardim Botânico
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The color and carnival of Brazilian culture continues in its gardens. In Rio de Janeiro, the Jardim Botânico has been conserving plants for more than 200 years and today’s visitors can admire collections of orchids and bromeliads, a lake of majestic Victoria amazonica water lilies, and an avenue of gravity-defying palm trees that hail from the early 1800s. Landscape design enthusiasts may also wish to make the trip to Sítio Roberto Burle Marx some 25 miles outside the city center. The renowned designer’s country retreat, it’s a very different proposition to his iconic mosaic at Copacabana Beach, revealing instead a passion for Brazil’s native plants.
9. Alice Springs Desert Park
Alice Springs, Australia
This imaginatively conceived desert park is also a botanical garden in the true sense of the word, showcasing hundreds of indigenous plants and animal species. Three different habitats have been created—sand country, desert rivers, and woodland—giving visitors an authentic flavor of Australia’s awe-inspiring landscape. Shrubs and native flowers spring haphazardly from the fiery red earth, and eucalyptus and acacia trees dot the horizon. The landscape is at its most colorful following intense rains.
10. Logan Botanic Garden
Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, UK
It may not be the oldest botanical garden in the UK (a title held by Oxford Botanic Garden, established in 1621) or indeed a UNESCO World Heritage Site (such as London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), but the little-known Logan Botanic Garden on Scotland’s west coast is home to a surprisingly exotic collection of sub-tropical plants. Cocooned in its unique microclimate, warmed by the Gulf Stream, a diverse array of flowers and trees create what curator Richard Baines describes as “a garden for all to enjoy.”