Blossom in a rocky garden
Interiors & Design Travel & Leisure

In Bloom: The World’s Most Beautiful Public Gardens

Whether formal, Zen, or naturalistic, a great garden offers a peaceful retreat—and visitors can take their pick from these spectacular public green spaces

Once only enjoyed by the privileged few, many of the world’s most striking gardens are now open to the public. We celebrate five distinct styles, from sustainable plantations and exotic wonderlands to formal palace grounds, as well as the designers who brought them into being—such as Britain’s Lancelot “Capability” Brown and famed Brazilian architect Roberto Burle Marx.

Naturalistic Havens

Interpretations of naturalistic landscape design are as limitless as the relaxed planting style it celebrates. From the “new perennials” design movement, as championed by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf—who designed the gardens of New York’s High Line and Hauser & Wirth gallery in Somerset, England—to sustainable landscaping, meadows, and native planting, an approach that respects the local environment is an appropriate response to climate change.

The orchard in blossom at Chanticleer pleasure garden in Pennsylvania, which takes its inspiration from the natural world. Photograph: Courtesy of Chanticleer Gardens

In Pennsylvania, the team at self-proclaimed pleasure garden Chanticleer has combined a variety of naturalistic areas with contemporary landscaping trends. Its Minder Woods and nearby orchard are particularly appealing in spring, when the bulbs and blossoms are in bloom, and the Gravel Garden is a tapestry of feathery grass and fragrant thyme, studded with seasonal flowers.

Mountains and treetop walkway
Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway at Kirstenbosch botanical garden near Cape Town, South Africa, offers a birds-eye view of the grounds. Photograph: Adam Harrower

For a thrilling example of nature reimagined, head to Kirstenbosch on the outskirts of Cape Town—this magnificent botanical garden is overflowing with indigenous plants that represent the South African fynbos (heathland) and forest. The Australian Garden at the Cranbourne site of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria also has sustainability at heart: when created by leading antipodean landscape designers Taylor Cullity Lethlean, it was the first botanical garden in the world to carry only Australian plants.

Exotic Landscapes

The lavish layers of the exotic landscaping style come alive in tropical climates. The desired effect is lush and dramatic, with outsized foliage and architectural planting wherever you look. Leaf shape, size, and color certainly lead the way at Lotusland in California, a collection of fantasy-style gardens created in the early 1940s by opera singer Ganna Walska. Each space is clearly defined, from the iconic Instagram-perfect Aloe Garden and Blue Garden to the verdant Water Garden.

Lotusland botanical garden in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, California, was created by the Polish opera singer Ganna Walska.

Singular vision also influences the garden at Sítio Roberto Burle Marx in Rio de Janeiro, the home of Brazil’s legendary architect. Although best known for his highly distinctive parks and pavements at Copacabana beach, at home Roberto Burle Marx indulged his love of native tropical plants and planted them in bold blocks and dynamic compositions.

Another natural home for exuberant exotics are the traditional riad gardens of north Africa. Dar al Hossoun in Taroudant, Morocco, is an eco lodge and spa with a restful garden designed by forward-looking landscape architects, Ossart and Maurières. This simple space contains many species of desert flora, and proves that a lack of water is no barrier to a plant paradise.

Formal Designs

Throughout history, formal garden design has been reinterpreted many times over, while retaining the key elements of balance, geometry, and symmetry. The Renaissance gardens of Europe, created between the 14th and 17th centuries, were much admired, and influenced leading designers well into the Victorian age.

Terrace gardens and villa
The terraced gardens of Villa Gamberaia, near Florence in Italy, are cleverly designed to maximize the estate's space. Photograph: Jules Bower

Villa Gamberaia, near Florence, Italy, has an 18th-century terraced garden with all the classic elements of a formal estate in a compact space: these include a water garden, an allée of pencil-slim Italian cypress trees, a grotto, and lawns.

It’s a style echoed at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, which owner James Deering created in the 1920s, using an Italian villa as his model. Elegant low hedges, topiary, sculptures, and a maze garden provide a worthy backdrop to a Mediterranean-style house.

Fountains and topiary at stately home
Fountains and intricate topiary at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England reflect the grandeur of the stately manor, which was the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.

Another breathtaking example is Blenheim Palace in England, which has 2,000 acres (809 ha) of landscaped parkland and formal gardens, and the monumental evergreen Marlborough Hedge Maze. The intricacy of the parterre hedging in the Italian Garden is jaw-dropping, and the Upper Water Terrace has been favorably compared to the Parterre d’Eau at Versailles in France.

Spiritual Retreats

We invariably look east when seeking gardens with a spiritual connection. In Chinese and Japanese gardens, symbolism is paramount, and carefully placed elements such as statues, water, rocks, and garden buildings guide visitors in a meditative manner. Plants are used to tell stories, and illusions are created through careful manipulation of the landscape.

Saihoji or Koke-Dera in Kyoto is carpeted with more than 120 different kinds of moss, creating a lush and tranquil atmosphere. Photograph: Shutterstock

Saihoji is an ancient stroll garden in Kyoto, also known as Koke-Dera or Moss Temple. As you might expect, it contains many velvety mosses, alongside dry-rock waterfalls, pavilions, and the mysterious Golden Pond. Another Japanese garden is Kenrokeun, which also has a large pond, this time representing the sea, and beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.

Traditional Chinese pavilion and garden
The Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou, China, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and dates back to 1509. Photograph: Getty

In China, the Humble Administrator’s Garden is the largest of Suzhou’s traditional gardens and reimagines an entire natural landscape within just 13 acres (5.3 ha), including hills, bamboo forests, winding streams, bridges, and pavilions. With features like The Hall of Distant Fragrance and the Heavenly Spring Pavilion, the not-so-humble garden—dating from the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century­—is a World Heritage Site.

Fruitful Kitchen Gardens

Influenced by the apothecary herb gardens of the 16th century and the 19th century’s bountiful kitchen gardens, an estate that produces fruit, vegetables, and herbs is more fashionable than ever. Audley End in eastern England is a striking example. Alongside the Jacobean mansion house and the Capability Brown landscape sits a timeless kitchen garden, with many varieties of heirloom fruits and vegetables, including a 150-year-old Black Hamburg grapevine.

Apples and hanging flowers in vine house
The interior of the vine house in the Capability Brown-designed grounds at Audley End in Essex, England. Photograph: English Heritage/Patricia Payne

Similarly, at Filoli in California, the estate’s sunniest spot was reserved for the Panel Garden. Created in the 1920s, and clearly drawing on the English Victorian style, stone fruits were fan-trained against walls, and now grow alongside espaliered fruit trees and rows of Mission olives.

The contemporary version is Babylonstoren in South Africa, an organic healing garden by French architect Patrice Taravella, where every single plant is edible or medicinal. Some 300 varieties are presented in meticulously arranged patterns, alongside chickens, pollinating bees, nuts, citrus fruits, and a prickly pear maze.

On the Market

Quintessential Country Estate in Hampshire, England

Stately home in the countryside
From its vast tapestries, intricate carvings, and graceful formal dining rooms, to its libraries with ornate fireplaces and a sumptuous master suite overlooking Spring Wood, Hackwood Park exemplifies the luxury English country lifestyle.

With its spectacular 260-acre (105-ha) grounds taking in Grade I listed parkland, beautiful ornamental, botanical, and kitchen gardens, woodland, and a Grade II listed courtyard stable block, Hackwood Park offers the ultimate pastoral retreat in the heart of the English countryside. The stately grandeur continues inside the 22-bedroom, 20-bath residence, with an extension to the orangery housing a spa complex with swimming pool, sauna, laconium, and treatment room.

House and swimming pool with palm trees
This magnificent home in Palm Beach, Florida—on the market with Premier Estate Properties, Inc, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region—combines beautiful landscaped gardens with a relaxing swimming pool and spa to offer unsurpassed indoor–outdoor living.

Situated in a quiet enclave, this magnificent home benefits from a secluded spot in a pristine landscaped setting with mature trees and lush manicured gardens. A chef’s kitchen and dining room flow into an alluring garden ideal for gatherings, while morning and family rooms open to a spacious outdoor living area with a summer kitchen. A separate two-bedroom guesthouse completes the estate.

Romantic Mountain-View Palace in Marrakech, Morocco

With its romantic, lush rose garden and extensive outdoor spaces for exercise and relaxation, this spectacular Moroccan palace, on the market with Kensington Luxury Properties, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region, offers a sumptuous retreat in Marrakech.

This splendid palace nestles on a five-acre (2-ha) plot facing the Atlas Mountains. The enchanting estate boasts a beautiful rose garden, vegetable gardens, a swimming pool and pool house, tennis court, and pavilions, while the main residence comprises several lounges, a library, two kitchens, five bedroom suites including four with two baths each, and a dressing room.