Intricately shaped topiaries, ponds full of lily pads and koi, greenhouses brimming with dazzling arrays of exotic flowers, strange and fascinating sculptures – these 14 botanical gardens, private gardens and parks around the world show off the beauty of cultivated nature. Representing a fusion of the wild, untamed natural world and the architectural genius of humans, these parks are the closest to paradise that we can craft with our own hands.
Claude Monet Foundation at Giverny, Normandy, France
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Immerse yourself in the landscape that inspired some of French Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s most beautiful and celebrated works at the artist’s former estate. Walking through these gardens, it’s almost as if time has stood still, as you can view what seem to be the very same lily pads that the artist saw and painted. Giverny is located 50 miles outside Paris, on the banks of the River Seine.
Kirtenbosch National Botanical Garden, Western Cape, South Africa
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Founded in 1913, South Africa’s Kirtenbosch National Botanical Garden may just be the most beautiful botanical garden in the entire world. In this preserve you can view live samples of plants that grow in five out of South Africa’s six biomes and a stunning selection of ‘protea‘ flowering plants, all within view of Table Mountain.
Villa Lante, Bagnaia, Italy
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One of the most important gardens in Italy, Villa Lante was in the possession of the Lante family from the 17th century, when it was already 100 years old, until the 20th century, when it was opened to the public. Bordered by two nearly identical homes, the garden is characterized by beautiful stone fountains, lush grottoes and intricate patterns of hedges.
Jardin Botanique de Montreal, Quebec, Canada
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The Montreal Botanical Garden has such extensive collections and facilities, it’s considered one of the most important botanical gardens in the world. An indoor greenhouse holds a wide variety of labeled plants, and four themed outdoor gardens including the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, the First Nations Garden and the Alpine Garden showcase the indigenous flora of various cultures and locales. In fact, Montreal boasts the largest Chinese garden in the world, outside of China.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Mevagissey, UK
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A part of the Heligan estate in Cornall, England, these gardens fell into disuse in the 1970s and were forgotten for decades – hence the name. But when ownership of the estate transferred to a trust, a group of enthusiasts revitalized them, planting hundreds of varieties of plants, a vegetable garden, a walled garden and a ‘jungle’. A stroll through the gardens will reveal fanciful ‘creatures’ covered in grass and moss including ‘The Mud Maid’ and a ‘Giant’s Head’.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, Australia
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View both downtown Sydney and the infamous Sydney Opera House from the Royal Botanic Gardens, located on the site of Australia’s first ever farm, which was established in 1788. Centuries of improvements to the soil have enabled a gorgeous array of plants to flourish, including many that grow inside the Pyramid Glasshouse. Up until May 2011, a colony of over 22,000 flying foxes – a large species of fruitbat – called the gardens home, but the bats killed dozens of trees and were eventually driven out.
Byodo-in Temple, Oahu, Hawaii
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Surrounded by Oahu’s greenery-cloaked mountains, the Byodo-in Temple is a replica of a historic Kyoto, Japan, temple of the same name, but it has many merits of its own – especially its gardens, which include two acres of koi ponds. Stone paths cut through emerald-green lawns and Zen-style gardens.
Parco dei Mostri (Park of the Monsters), Bomarzo, Italy
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A large monster, referred to as the ‘Door of Hell’, opens its mouth to admit you into a dark, cramped space with a small table. A watchtower tilts at a rather disturbing angle. Mythological creatures and unidentified monsters leer at passersby. The Parco die Mostri (Park of the Monsters) in Bomarzo, Italy is so surreal it is said to have greatly inspired the artists Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. The chaotic style of the gardens, which were created in the 16th century by Pier Francesco Orsini in honor of his beloved deceased wife Giulia Farnese, may be an intentional contrast to the orderly symmetry of the nearby Villa Lante.
Monte Palace Garden, Madeira, Portugal
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The Monte Palace Tropical Garden is a surprising glimpse of Asia found in Madeira, Portugal. Once a hotel, the gardens have been open to the public since 1989 and include a collection of ceramic tiles from the 15th – 20th centuries and various gardens that highlight both indigenous and exotic species. A group of educational panels explain the reason for the oriental gardens, telling of “The adventures of the Portuguese in Japan.”
Kew Gardens, London, UK
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More than 30,000 live species of plants can be viewed at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in southwest London, England – and if you think that’s impressive, consider this: inside the glassed ‘herbarium’ are over seven million preserved specimens. The Kew Gardens are well-deserving of their worldwide fame, thriving despite locally unfavorable growing conditions. In addition to the outdoor gardens and greenhouses are a number of educational and research facilities and architectural features like a treetop walkway and a 49-foot-tall pagoda.
The Gardens of Las Pozas, Xilitla, Mexico
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More of a surrealist sculpture park than a garden, Las Pozas is the playground of British poet Edward James, a patron of the arts. James was a passionate supporter of the Surrealist art movement and his love for the stile is evident in Las Pozas (the pools), which includes more than 80 acres of natural waterfalls and pools as well as concrete sculptures. The spindly, strange sculptures were built between 1949 and 1984; the whole project cost James over $5 million, which he raised by selling his considerable collection of Surrealist art.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York
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Manhattan may have a botanical garden of its own, but it’s eclipsed by that of Brooklyn, a 52-acre garden located near the Prospect Heights and Park Slopes neighborhood. Putting on a jaw-dropping display of cherry blooms in the spring, the park also includes climate-themed plant pavilions, an aquatic plant house, a bonsai museum and an art gallery. Themed gardens include the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, constructed in 1915, and the Shakespeare Garden which exhibits over 80 plants mentioned in the bard’s plays and poems.
Francisco Alvarado Park, Zarcero, Costa Rica
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Abstract shapes, arches and the faces of strange creatures grow out of the courtyard at Parque Francisco Alvarado, found in the town center of Zarcero in Costa Rica. The park’s topiary garden has been shaped into these fascinating shapes by the same man since the 1960s.
Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Scotland
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A private garden created by Charles Jencks, the Garden of Cosmic Speculation at Portrack House, near Dumfries in Southwest Scotland is opened to the public for just one day each year. Science and mathematical concepts, like black holes and fractals, inspired the complex arrangements and sculptures contained within the garden.