By Amy C.
Happily for garden enthusiasts like me, many Tauck journeys provide entrée to some of the must-see gardens of the world – masterpieces that inspire, astound, and perhaps arouse a bit of envy in the garden-variety gardener (also such as me). Every botanical tour de force that we visit – in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia – is aesthetically glorious, of course, but also rooted in history, and abloom with fascinating stories of people, horticulture, design, ambition, love…
So how could I ever choose a short list of favorites? The answer is, I couldn’t! Instead I’ve divided our favorite gardens of the world into two groups – one to share today and one to post later this summer. Today’s list includes gardens on some of our European land tours and riverboat cruises, some North America journeys, and our small ship cruises in Japan and Australia. Dig in!
1. Giardino Torrigiani in Florence, Italy, the largest privately owned garden in a European city, was created by the Marquis Torrigiani in the 16th century and later expanded into an idyllic 17-acre retreat of gardens, sculpture, and woods – a hidden gem tucked away in the Oltr’Arno quarter.
2. Levens Hall Topiary Garden in Cumbria, England is the finest, oldest and most extensive topiary garden in the world – and a surreal living sculpture gallery. There are more than 100 pieces here, each clipped and manicured into a unique and surprising design. On England, Scotland, & Wales, keep a lookout for the Chess Pieces, Judges Wig, Queen Elizabeth and her Maids of Honour, and four Peacocks.
3. The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia offer an answer to this age-old question: what in the world does one do with an exhausted limestone quarry? In the early 20th century, Jennie Butchart, the chemist at her husband’s cement company, turned their used-up limestone quarry into a spectacular Sunken Garden. Next, she added the Italian Garden, Japanese Garden, and Rose Garden. Her gardens are now a National Historic Site of Canada – and in uninterrupted bloom from March through October. See them on Pacific Northwest and Grand Canadian Rockies.
4. The Gardens of Château de Villandry in Villandry, France have been painstakingly restored to their Renaissance glory so as to complement to perfection the château, a World Heritage Site constructed in 1532. On Normandy, Brittany, Paris & the Loire Valley, view some of these famous gardens – perhaps the Water Garden, the Sun Garden, ornamental flower gardens, or organic vegetable gardens. They are laid out in formal patterns outlined with low box hedges and divided into “rooms,” such as the salon d’amour. Each has a story to tell.
5. Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France will make you feel as if you’re walking straight into a painting… because you will be. Left just as the artist designed it, Monet’s garden was his subject in painting after painting. You’re sure to recognize his Japanese bridge and water lilies – and perhaps the play of light that he so brilliantly captured. Let the garden that inspired Monet inspire you on any of these four Tauck journeys: Normandy, Brittany, Paris & the Loire Valley; Cruising the Seine plus Versailles, Paris and London; and Rendezvous on the Seine;
6. Kröller-Müller Sculpture Garden in Otterlo, the Netherlands, renowned for its innovative and surprising juxtapositions of sculpture and nature, is part of the Kröller-Müller Museum (home of the world’s largest van Gogh collection). On Holland & Belgium in the Spring and The Rhine and Moselle, stroll through this paradise, one of the largest sculpture gardens in Europe, dotted with works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Serra, Claus Oldenburg…
7. Chiran Samurai Gardens in Kagoshima, Japan provide tranquil settings for the 250-year-old Chiran Samurai Residences, where feudal rulers once lived. The gardens, rich with symbolism, range from “stroll gardens” to some in the evocative Karesansui style, using nothing but rocks, gravel, and sand to represent all the elements of a garden landscape. See them on our Cruising the Land of the Rising Sun – and you’ll also have plenty of time to explore the many celebrated gardens of Kyoto.
8. Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, Australia, an oasis in the heart of the city, is filled with an illuminating array of feature gardens, starting with Cadi Jam Ora, which tells the story of the Cadigal people, the traditional Aboriginal owners of the Sydney area, and the First Farm display, about the first farm established by European settlers. Also not to be missed: the Succulent Garden, the Camellia Garden, the Rare and Threatened Plants Garden… They’re all possibilities when you travel with us on Grand Australia and New Zealand, and Australia Adventure: Adelaide, Tasmania & Sydney
9. Keukenhof Gardens, in Holland, is the country’s most celebrated floral showplace and one of the world’s most iconic places to see spring. Alive with the color of seven million flowering bulbs, Keukenhof will delight you with seven inspirational gardens – tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, lilies, crocuses, bluebells and more in all their glory and landscaped to perfection. See it all on our Holland cruise, Belgium & Holland in the Spring. But hurry! Keukenhof is open just two months a year.
10. The Garden of Ninfa, an hour south of Rome, is the ultimate Romantic English-style landscape garden. Seldom open to the public, picturesque and haunting, it has been cultivated for a century amid the ruins of an abandoned medieval town. Giving new life to the old stone buildings, 300 varieties of antique roses mass and climb, magnolias flower, calla lilies stand at attention, swaths of iris line the river, cypresses tower, and 152 species of birds fly, protected by the World Wildlife Fund.
11. Villa del Balbianello Gardens, on Lake Como, adorn the 18th-century Villa del Balbianello, situated on a hilly peninsula jutting into the lake. Terraced with sweeping views of the water, the gardens – dominated by an elegant loggia – are planted exclusively with trees and flowers in the colors of the Italian flag! Travel Italy and you’d be hard pressed to find another garden so in sync with its surroundings. On Italian Lakes, Venice, Florence, and Rome, climb to the top of the promontory, take in the gardens against the backdrop of lakeside scenery, and you’ll feel like the master of all you survey.
12. Tuileries Garden, in Paris, started life as a clay quarry for tiles, but Queen Catherine de Medici had a better idea and built a palace with a garden reminiscent of the Italian gardens she grew up with. A century later, André LeNôtre, the mastermind behind the gardens at Versailles, redesigned Les Tuileries in French formal style. Today this popular strolling garden, with views of the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe, is home to two first-class museums, including the Musée de l’Orangerie, designed by Monet to house his large water lily paintings and other great Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. See the Tuileries Garden on our tours and cruises to Paris.
13. Luxembourg Garden, on the Left Bank of Paris, was created by Queen Marie de Medici, in 1612, to go with her new palace, Palais Luxembourg, which is now the residence of the French Senate. The garden is centered on a large octagonal pond, where you’ll find children launching their toy boats; stroll along the tree-lined promenades and you’ll discover both French and English gardens, and statues of French queens and other famous women. Le Jardin du Luxembourg, with plenty of seating, is ideal for people watching. See it during your free time on one of our many river cruises and land tours that go through Paris.
14. Tivoli Gardens, in Copenhagen, may be the prettiest amusement park in the world – with fifteen charming gardens designed to connect the park’s attractions, including scary and not-so-scary rides and a Chinese-style theatre. Connoisseurs of low-maintenance gardening will be inspired by Tivoli, especially the Parterre Garden, with its oval beds and round concrete vessel fountains. On both our Scandinavia tour and our Russia cruise include tickets for the Tivoli Gardens, conveniently located right in the center of Copenhagen.
15. Paseo del Rosedal, in Buenos Aires, will enchant rose enthusiasts on tours to South America; 1,000 species of roses, and some 12,000 rose bushes are on display here beside a lake. You’ll also find the tranquil Garden of Poets, filled with busts of famous writers from all over the world, and the Andalusian Patio, a gift from the city of Seville and decorated by tiles and mosaics imported from Spain. Visit Paseo del Rosedal on Essence of South America.
16. Kenroku-en Garden, in Kanazawa, Japan, is often mentioned as one of the three most beautiful landscaped gardens in the country, largely because it so gracefully embodies all six principles of ideal Japanese garden design: spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water courses, and magnificent views. Few other gardens you’ll see during your Japan travel, although lovely, reflect all six principles. On Essence of Japan you’ll stroll through Kenroku-en on a guided visit.