Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Where to Find the World’s Most Beautiful Gardens

In ancient Greece, cultivating a garden ispart of cultivating the soul. Here are four gardens which I can only wish reflected the state of my soul.

Butchart Gardens (Canada) 

Has one bunch of flowers lost its effect on your significant other? Why not take them to 55 acres of flowers? Located in Vancouver Island, Butchart Gardens take all 900 of their plant varieties very seriously. The flowers at Butchart aren’t just alive, they look damn happy to be there. So they should be - one hundred years ago, this breathtaking botanical benchmark was an old abandoned quarry. Harking back to Vancouver’s British days, the park also boasts a tea room where you can sit and smell the scent of roses lingering over your cup of choice. This relaxed garden is also an excellent family destination, but watch out for long lines at holiday times.

Versailles (France)

Built for Louis XIV, this hulking 800 hectare garden is steeped in enough plant and plaster history to capture the feeling of court decadence and intrigue. A marvel of hydraulic engineering (well, for the 17th century), the garden took not only thousands of men to assemble, but entire French Regiments, who utilized their expert military skills to… plant lawns…. It sports foundations, lakes, bouquets, and if that’s not enough to impress, it even has its own canal. Preserving an age in lawns and leaves, Versailles is a truly unique experience. Take a tour from, or take your time and see it all – but maybe not in one day.

Yuyuan Garden (China)

After the gargantuan grounds of Versailles, Yuyuan, at a tiny 2 hectares may seem a little small. But the garden’s cocktail of greenery and architecture, flavoured with a twist of history, makes Yuyuan a fairly intense experience. Built in the 16th century by Pan Yunduan to comfort his father Pan En in his old age, the garden tops the charts for best birthday gift. It is an elaborate living chronicle, and it is well worth the time to stop, think, and understand what you are looking at. Highlights include Yuhua hall, furnished with rosewood pieces from the Ming dynasty, as well as the misleadingly named “exquisite jade rock,” which is a porous, non-jade, 5 ton boulder. 

NongNooch (Thailand)

Shunning the English Rose and other more clichĂ© floral varieties, NongNooch offers the rare chance to see plants from Thailand’s own corner of the world, as well as Tropical America and Southeast Africa. Its particular forte is cycads – a woody coned plant in dire need of preserving. While the grounds are spectacular, NongNooch’s entertainment stretches beyond vegetation. The garden’s calendar features religious ceremonies, martial arts demonstrations, and in typical Thai fashion, the occasional elephant.

The travel world is often divided between the “indoor” cultural attractions of art museums and historical buildings, and the “outdoor” trips to view natural world. Gardens break the mould, capturing the rare moment where man and plant work together. And it’s oh so good looking.

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