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100 Gardens to Visit Before You Die

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100 Gardens to Visit Before You Die

January 16, 2019

Our list of the top 100 gardens to visit worldwide is very personal; many of these destinations are favorites our editors and contributors discovered in their travels. Others—from Athens to Australia—are new to us and we are determined to see them this year or next.

Some of the world’s most beautiful gardens we stumbled across in our travels and others are known to everyone who loves landscapes.

You probably have your own favorite gardens to add to this list. Please do—we’d want to hear about your discoveries (and add them to our must-visit list).

1. Lotusland: Montecito, California

At Lotusland in Montecito, California, sculptural weeping succulents (Euphorbia ingens) tower over Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii). For more, see Letter from California: Lotusland Survives Fire and Fury in Montecito. Photograph by Claire Takacs.
Above: At Lotusland in Montecito, California, sculptural weeping succulents (Euphorbia ingens) tower over Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii). For more, see Letter from California: Lotusland Survives Fire and Fury in Montecito. Photograph by Claire Takacs.

Near Santa Barbara, the 37-acre Lotusland estate features otherworldly combinations of tropical plants, cacti, succulents, and ferns. “The story of the birth of Lotusland is as extraordinary as its survival,” writes our contributor Kendra Wilson. “An amalgam of two properties, the gardens around the Spanish hacienda-style house were extended in the 1940s by Madame Ganna Walska, a Polish opera singer with a colorful love life and a half dozen husbands. When she finally settled down in California, the recent end of her first career and the departure of husband number six allowed Walska to focus exclusively on building a theatrical garden.”

Visit: Advance reservations required; see Lotusland for details.

2. Lalbagh Botanical Garden: Bangalore, India

Above: In Bangalore, India the Lalbagh Botanical Garden has twins: two trees bow to each other and fan across on the lakeshore. Photograph by Nagesh Kamath via Flickr.

Once a private garden, the Lalbagh Botanical Garden dates to the 18th century (and has been a government garden since 1856). “Lots of large and shady tropical trees and a fine old glasshouse where Indira Gandhi split the Congress party in 1969” give this garden character and a special place in history, says historian Ramachandra Guha, a historian and biographer who lives in Bangalore.

Visit: For hours and other information, see Lalbagh Botanical Garden.

3. Peckerwood Garden: Hempstead, Texas

Above: See more of Peckerwood Garden at A Texas Garden Where the Rare and the Endangered Flourish. Photograph by Marion Brenner.

Peckerwood Garden has seven acres of rare and vanishing plants–many of them desert specimens that architecture professor John G. Fairey brought home from the high mountains of northern Mexico during more than 80 plant-collecting expeditions over the past 30 years. An hour’s drive north of Houston, Peckerwood is open to the public on scheduled days.

Visit: See information about upcoming open days at Peckerwood Garden.

4. Le Plume: Normandy, France

Formerly a sheep pasture,  a giant parterre has an orchard—and views that stretch to the horizon. See more at Le Jardin Plume: A Modern Impressionist Masterpiece in Normandy. Photograph by Claire Takacs.
Above: Formerly a sheep pasture,  a giant parterre has an orchard—and views that stretch to the horizon. See more at Le Jardin Plume: A Modern Impressionist Masterpiece in Normandy. Photograph by Claire Takacs.

Writes our contributor Kendra Wilson, “For anyone hankering after European formality—only a touch, we’re not talking Versailles—Le Jardin Plume in Upper Normandy is just the ticket. Influenced by more recent movements involving perennials and grasses, the former orchard is nevertheless firmly rooted in French garden tradition, including plenty of neat clipping and evergreen hedges.”

Visit: In addition to the garden, owners Patrick and Sylvie Quibel maintain a plant nursery. For hours and directions, see Le Jardin Plume.

5. Lithica Quarries: Menorca, Spain

Photograph by Jim Powell.
Above: Photograph by Jim Powell.

“At Lithica, the sheltering walls of tidal quarries provide an ideal microclimate, mitigating prolonged summer heat and windy winters. Once, market gardens co-existed within the quarry; now native flora grows among fruit trees and vines,” writes our contributor Kendra Wilson. “These Mediterranean quarry gardens have an innately strong sense of place.” Read more at Menorcan Muse: Lessons from the Labyrinth in an Ancient Quarry.

Visit: “The s’Hostal quarries are situated at the Kilometer 1 in the Camí Vell, near the town center of Ciutadella de Menorca. The access to the quarries is trough the Ronda Sur, in the roundabout where a big rectangular sculpture is, known as ‘Puerta del Mar,'” notes the gardens’ website. See more at Lithica.

6. Lismore Castle: Waterford, Ireland

To see the castle&#8\2\17;s gardens change through the seasons, read Lismore Castle in Ireland: An Insider’s View Through the Seasons. Photograph by Lee Behegan.
Above: To see the castle’s gardens change through the seasons, read Lismore Castle in Ireland: An Insider’s View Through the Seasons. Photograph by Lee Behegan.

“Constructed as an abbey and was repeatedly plundered by Vikings before being taken over by the Normans, Lismore Castle in County Waterford was once in the possession of Sir Walter Raleigh, followed by the Great Earl of Cork Richard Boyle in 1602,” writes our contributor Kendra Wilson. “The garden designed for Boyle at that time remains today in the upper terraces of Lismore, while the lower pleasure gardens were designed by the legendary Sir Joseph Paxton, whose role as head gardener did not preclude activities in castle design.”

Visit: For opening hours (from March 16 to October 14 in 2019) and admission prices, see Lismore Castle.

7. Babylonstoren: Cape Town, South Africa

See more at \10 Ideas to Steal from Chefs’ Gardens Around the World. Photograph via Babylonstoren.
Above: See more at 10 Ideas to Steal from Chefs’ Gardens Around the World. Photograph via Babylonstoren.

“Visitors to Babylonstoren, the opulently restored Cape Dutch farm and hotel 45 minutes from Cape Town, are encouraged to pick fruits and vegetables directly from the renowned kitchen gardens,” writes our contributor Marie Viljoen. Read more at Garden Visit: Behind the Scenes at Babylonstoren.

Visit: To book a garden tour, workshop, or overnight stay, see Babylonstoren.

8. Sissinghurst Castle: Kent, England

Quince trees edge the brick path in the white garden at Sissinghurst. Read more at Sleeping at Sissinghurst: An Overnight Stay at England’s Most Famous Garden. Photograph by Clare Coulson.
Above: Quince trees edge the brick path in the white garden at Sissinghurst. Read more at Sleeping at Sissinghurst: An Overnight Stay at England’s Most Famous Garden. Photograph by Clare Coulson.

One of the most famous gardens in the world, Sissinghurst was semi-derilect when Sir Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West purchased it, castle tower included, in 1930. “Fortunately, that was just what the romantic Vita Sackville-West was looking for,” writes our contributor Kendra Wilson. Read more in Garden Travel: An Insider’s 9 Favorite English Gardens to Visit.

Visit: For hours, admission prices, and directions, see Sissinghurst Castle Garden.

9. Ginkaku-ji Garden: Kyoto, Japan

The sand garden at Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) in Japan, a giant cone of sand represents Mt. Fuji. Photograph by Kimon Berlin via Flickr.
Above: The sand garden at Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) in Japan, a giant cone of sand represents Mt. Fuji. Photograph by Kimon Berlin via Flickr.

The gardens at Kyoto’s famous Zen temple, Ginkaku-ji, have spawned centuries of imitators with their perfectly calm air of serenity.  Kogetsudai (gravel raked into the shape of mountains) is a familiar feature of Japanese gardens, and no example is more iconic than the carefully maintain gravel mountain here. See more at 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Japanese Zen Masters.

Visit: For hours and admissions prices, see Shokoku.

10. Jardin Majorelle: Marrakech, Morocco

For more, see Rhapsody in Blue: Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech in our Garden Travel guide. Photograph by Chris Armstrong via Flickr.
Above: For more, see Rhapsody in Blue: Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech in our Garden Travel guide. Photograph by Chris Armstrong via Flickr.

“In the first half of last century, as the Parisian arty set discovered the exotic wonders of Marrakech, French artist Louis Majorelle transformed a 12-acre palm grove into the Jardin Majorelle. With one masterful stroke of cobalt blue (a color inspired by Moroccan tiles), he transformed his Art Deco villa and studio into a powerful visual statement,” writes our contributing editor Christine Chang-Hanway. “Surrounded by botanical gardens of exotic plants and rare species that Majorelle collected on his travels around the world, the compound is a masterpiece so magnificent Yves Saint Laurent requested that his ashes be scattered on the grounds.”

See more in 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Morocco.

Visit: For hours, admission, prices, and directions, see Jardin Majorelle.

11. Jardin Botánico: Quito, Ecuador

Photograph by Angie Drake courtesy of Not Your Average American.
Above: Photograph by Angie Drake courtesy of Not Your Average American.

For those of us who live in climates where we see orchids blooming in supermarkets instead of the wild, it will be refreshing to travel to South America where several thousands of different kinds of orchids are native plants. In addition to orchids, Jardin Botánico Quito in northern Ecuador’s Parque Carolina has a wide collection of tropical bromeliads, ferns, and fuchsias.

Visit: For hours, rates, and parking information, see Jardin Botánico Quito.

12. Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Brooklyn, New York

Above: If you visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in late April, a pink haze of cherry blossoms will greet you. Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

A visit to the 52-acre public garden (with its original 32 acres designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm in 1910) is “an immersive experience, a botanical escape from the city that presses on its edges. In late April and May the green blood of spring is racing through the garden, bringing life to a diverse collection of plants,” writes our contributor Marie Viljoen. See more at Insider’s Tour: Secrets of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Visit: For hours and admission prices, see Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

13. Pulau Ubin Island: Singapore

Photograph by Jirka Matousek via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Jirka Matousek via Flickr.

OK, this is not technically “a garden.” More accurately, this island is a respite. Aptly described as a “land that time forgot, stuck in the 1960s” in the New York Times, the island is reached by a 10-minute ride by boat from Singapore’s concrete and glitz. Plan to take a day trip, rent a bike on the island, and explore:  “From Ubin’s jetty, reached by bare-bones wooden vessels called bumboats, and tiny main village, a few paved roads fan out to coastal campsites, dirt paths, lotus ponds or beautiful wetlands. The most striking constant is the lack of noise,” notes the Times.

Visit: For more information including boat fare and guidelines for bicycle use on the island, see Singapore’s National Parks Board.

14. Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew: London

In the Temperate House at Kew Gardens, a tropical tone prevails. Photograph by Heather Cowper via Flickr.
Above: In the Temperate House at Kew Gardens, a tropical tone prevails. Photograph by Heather Cowper via Flickr.

Where to start to describe the wonders? “As the world’s most famous botanical garden, Kew is an awe-inspiring place to visit with vast glasshouses and incredible collections. It oversees the biggest and most diverse collection of plants on the planet,” writes our contributor Clare Coulson. See more in 10 Ideas to Steal from the World’s Biggest Botanical Garden.

Visit: For hours, admissions prices, and directions, see Kew.

15. Lambley Nursery: Victoria, Australia

At Lambley Nursery, in Victoria, Australia the dry gardens—planted here with Agapanthus, purple catmint, and euphorbia—rarely get watered. See more in Can This Garden Be Saved: “It Barely Rains; I Live in a Desert.&#8\2\2\1; Photograph by Claire Takacs.
Above: At Lambley Nursery, in Victoria, Australia the dry gardens—planted here with Agapanthus, purple catmint, and euphorbia—rarely get watered. See more in Can This Garden Be Saved: “It Barely Rains; I Live in a Desert.” Photograph by Claire Takacs.

After gardener David Glenn grew up in the flower-friendly mild climate of England, he decamped nearly three decades to a windswept plain two hours away from Melbourne, Australia. What choice did he have, here on the world’s driest inhabited continent, but to experiment with low-water plants? These days his spectacular dry gardens at Lambley Gardens and Nursery need to be watered deeply no more than four times a year and are open to the public every day (except Christmas). Garden lovers from around the world make pilgrimages to see the riotous perennial beds. Flowers border the 130-foot driveway, welcoming visitors as they arrive at the front gate of the 19th-century farmhouse. Read more in A Garden You Water Four Times a Year.

Visit: Lambley Nursery ships plants overseas; if you visit in person, entry is free, For hours and driving directions, see Lambley Nursery.

16. Maxmilianpark: Hamm, Germany

Garden designer Piet Oudolf laid out the perennial beds at Maximilianpark in Hamm, Germany. For more, see Maxmilianpark.
Above: Garden designer Piet Oudolf laid out the perennial beds at Maximilianpark in Hamm, Germany. For more, see Maxmilianpark.

Maximilianpark was formerly a coal mine, now transformed into gardens, play spaces, and a sanctuary for pollinators. It’s a great place to study designer Oudolf ‘s planting techniques: he designed the park’s wildflower meadow. See more in Landscape Ideas: 8 Favorite Gardens by Dutch Designer Piet Oudolf.

Visit: For hours and information, see Maxmipark.

17. Wang Shi Yuan: Suzhou, China

During the Ming Dynasty, shooting ducks from the porch of the pavilion was a popular activity. Photograph by WabbitWanderer via Flickr.
Above: During the Ming Dynasty, shooting ducks from the porch of the pavilion was a popular activity. Photograph by WabbitWanderer via Flickr.

Wang Shi Yuan, or the Master of the Nets garden, in Suzhou (about 60 miles from Shanghai) is one of the city’s 60 Ming and Qing dynasty gardens and is 800 years old. A classic example of a traditional pleasure garden, the 1.5-acre grounds are divided into three sections, with an eastern, western, and main garden. The garden’s fortunes rose and fell with its owners’ over the centuries, with a major restoration undertaken in the 19th century.

“Just as the garden in China has been the site of quite extraordinary expenditures of resources by scholar, rich merchant, and emperor alike down through the ages, the garden has also occasioned, on the part of China’s scholar-gentry elite, an equally remarkably rich tradition of literary and artistic representations of the gardens, both real and imaginary,” writes Duncan Campbell in the New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies.

Visit: For hours and information, see Szwsy.

18. New York Botanical Garden: Bronx, New York

For more, see Opening Ceremony: A Preview of New York’s Orchid Show. Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
Above: For more, see Opening Ceremony: A Preview of New York’s Orchid Show. Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

A beautiful garden to visit in any season with 250 acres and a collection of more than 12,000 plants, New York Botanical Garden is particularly irresistible in winter, with an annual Orchid Show in its soaring glasshouse, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. This year’s theme? “A dazzling tribute to Singapore—one of the world’s greatest orchid cultures—where these storied flowers are an integral part of the life of this vibrant ‘City in a Garden,”” notes NYBG.

Visit: The Orchid Show: Singapore will be on display from February 23 to April 28. For general hours and admission prices, see New York Botanical Garden.

19. Bahá’í Gardens: Haifa, Israel

Photograph by Ron Almog via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Ron Almog via Flickr.

“When people think about Israel, they don’t typically imagine gardens—usually there’s more of an association with a hot middle eastern climate and multiform geopolitical issues,” writes Daisy Helman in Garden Collage Magazine. “These assumptions are common, but when I think about Israel, I think about the desert, the mountains, the ocean, and the beach.”  In Haifa, a staircase of 19 terraces leads to the top of Mount Carmel, with “panoramic views of the city, the Galilee Hills and the Mediterranean Sea.” notes Bahá’í Gardens.

Visit: For walk-in tour hours, current weather conditions, and other information, see Bahá’í Gardens.

20. The National Garden: Athens, Greece

A sudden rainstorm in late afternoon turns the arbor walk at the national gardens moody in Athens. Photograph by RBerteig via Flickr.
Above: A sudden rainstorm in late afternoon turns the arbor walk at the national gardens moody in Athens. Photograph by RBerteig via Flickr.

Built as the palace gardens in the mid 19th century by Queen Amalia (“and her German gardener Schmidt,” the national gardens site reports), this park in Athens was Henry Miller’s favorite: “It remains in my memory like no other park I have known. It is the quintessence of a park, the thing one feels sometimes in looking at a canvas or dreaming of a place one would like to be in and never finds.” The 37-acre oasis in the center of the city is home to ducks, turtles, and hedgehogs as well as date palms and 500 other varieties of plants.

Visit: For information and a map of the grounds, see City of Athens.

21. Longwood Gardens, Chester County, Pennsylvania

Above: Longwood Gardens is located an hour’s drive from Philadelphia in the Photograph via Longwood Gardens.

Open year-round, the 1,077-acre estate of industrialist Pierre du Pont “followed no grand plan; rather, he built the gardens piecemeal, beginning with the “old-fashioned” Flower Garden Walk,” notes Longwood Gardens. Today the grounds feature formal gardens, a meadow garden, a Tuscan-style open-air theater, and glasshouses (an annual winter orchid kicks off in January.

Visit: For tickets, reservations, and visiting tips, see Longwood Gardens.

22. Bryan’s Ground: Herefordshire, England

George, a favorite Labrador dog, stands sentry over  the long canal at Bryan&#8\2\17;s Ground. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
Above: George, a favorite Labrador dog, stands sentry over  the long canal at Bryan’s Ground. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

“The house and gardens at Bryan’s Ground in Herefordshire were put together by artistic people at the beginning of the 20th century. Howard’s End author E.M. Forster might have dreamed up the setting with its wisteria-draped loggia, sunken garden, and skating pool, and yet the space is ever-evolving,” writes our contributor Kendra Wilson. See more of the garden in Bryan’s Ground: Bloomsbury Revisited, on the Edge of Wales.

Visit: For open days, hours, and admission prices, see Bryan’s Ground.

23. The High Line: New York, New York

Read more about the High Line at High Line NYC: The Inside Story by Landscape Designer Piet Oudolf. Photograph by Robert Nyman via Flickr.
Above: Read more about the High Line at High Line NYC: The Inside Story by Landscape Designer Piet Oudolf. Photograph by Robert Nyman via Flickr.

There’s something undeniably magical about viewing Manhattan from the 1,5-mile long elevated High Line park that transformed rusted, run-rundown railroad tracks into a magical walkway, with perennial beds and wildflowers designed by Dutch master Piet Oudolf. Native plants attract birds and bees in warmer months, and the views are spectacular year-round. (When you visit, bring a guide. High Line: A Field Guide, created by artist Mike Dion,  is a beautifully illustrated pocket-size companion.)

Visit: The park, which stretches from the Meatpacking District to Midtown in Manhattan, is open from dawn to dusk; for information and access points, see The High Line.

24. Isola Bella Gardens: Lago Maggiore, Italy

Photograph by Elliott Brown via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Elliott Brown via Flickr.

Our translation of “isola bella” is oh-so-beautiful island. In Italy’s northern Lake District, the island’s castle and sprawling terraced gardens (which date to the 17th century) are reached by boat.  “It took four hundred years and the work of a hundred men to transform Isola Bella from a barren rock to a place of delights,” notes Isole Borromee. Statues, fountains, parterres: this is a basic introduction to the Italianate baroque style of garden. If you visit, say hello to the white peacocks for us.

Visit: For hours, admission, and information about boat transportation, see Visiting the Place.

25. Little Sparta: Dunsyre, Scotland

See more in Required Reading: Little Sparta, in Words and Pictures. Photograph by Andrew Lawson.
Above: See more in Required Reading: Little Sparta, in Words and Pictures. Photograph by Andrew Lawson.

The poet and his wife, Sue, arrived at the five-acre property after buying it in 1966 and immediately became laying out waterways to create ponds and lochs. “Spread out in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, the garden at Little Sparta was created by artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay over decades, with his wife Sue. Simply put, It is one of the greatest works of art created in Scotland,” writes our UK contributor Kendra Wilson. See more in The Poet and His Garden: Ian Hamilton Finlay in Scotland.

Visit: The garden is open in warm months, “respecting Finlay’s intention that the garden should be experienced when the trees and plants, all integral to the artwork, are in full leaf.,” notes Little Sparta, which has information on hours and open days.

Read about 75 more gardens to see before you die in our Garden Travel Guides, including:

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