Top parks and gardens

Published on: Thursday, June 18, 2009
Top parks and gardens - feature


Enjoy the great outdoors this summer with our pick of the world's finest parks and gardens. From lawns in Los Angeles to Impressionist inspiration in France, take a turn around these glorious grounds.

Giverny, Normandy, France

The former estate of Impressionist artist Claude Monet, the garden at Giverny is a veritable gallery, dedicated to displaying the works of art and preserving the scenes that influenced them. The first part of the garden, the Clos Normand (Norman Grove), is filled with colourful trees and flowers. After arriving at Giverny in 1883, Monet made his garden a canvas in itself, planting the simplest daisies and poppies next to much rarer flowers, and searching out expensive and unusual plant varieties to grow alongside them. The second part is the Water Garden, which features the famous wisteria-covered Japanese bridge, offering the same view that inspired the artist’s Les Nymphéas painting.

Where is it? 80km (50 miles) west of Paris.
Admission: €6.

Hill Top Farm, Cumbria, England

Can you spot Peter Rabbit scampering away from Mr McGregor in the serene garden of Beatrix Potter’s Lake District home? Britain’s much-loved children’s writer imagined many of her delightful characters here, including Tom Kitten and the mischievous rat, Samuel Whiskers. Growing in the grounds of this 17th-century farmhouse is a pretty mix of flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables – just as Beatrix planted them. See her original watercolours on display at the Beatrix Potter Gallery in nearby Hawkshead.

Where is it?
Near Sawrey, Hawkshead, Ambleside, Cumbria.
Admission: £6.20.

Huntingdon Botanical Gardens, Los Angeles, USA

In a built-up part of Southern California, 40 hectares (120 acres) have been lovingly preserved, creating one of the area’s top attractions. Fully appreciating these extensive gardens will require more than one visit: there’s a famous art collection, a library, and expansive grounds with desert, rose and camellia gardens to explore. Founded in the early 20th century by railroad tycoon Henry Edwards Huntington, this verdant oasis features just about every type of garden; marvel at an entire bonsai collection, and wander the Shakespeare garden which harbours the many plants mentioned in the Bard’s works.

Where is it? San Marino, California.
Admission: US$15-20.

Kingston Lacy, Dorset, England

The fine formal lawns of this distinguished 17th-century house expand into wide-reaching parkland. Visitors can expect a restored Japanese tea garden, a children’s adventure playground and a fernery that dates from 1900. Away from the neat lines of the rather grand back yard, rambling walks await, passing herds of cattle and the botanically rich Iron Age hill fort of Bradbury Rings, where you’ll find 14 types of orchid.

Where is it?
Wimborne Minster, Dorset.
Admission: £10.

Minter Gardens, British Columbia, Canada

Canadian gardener Brian Minter created this world-class show garden as a labour of love in 1980. Since then it has grown into one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, set against the backdrop of the 2,133m (7,000ft) Mount Cheam. Centuries ago, a mountain slide over the eastern Fraser Valley created the site’s unique land formations; captivated by this distinct landscape, Brian and his wife Faye have continued to ensure these gardens evolve. Spring brings over 100,000 tulips and summer months erupt with a mass of colour, especially in the blooming Rose Garden.

Where is it?
Rosedale, British Columbia.
Admission: C$16.

Birr Castle Demesne, Ireland

The elaborate grounds of this inhabited castle present plenty to the visitor, from ice houses and ferneries to a lake and suspension bridge. Box hedges feature in the Bavarian-inspired formal gardens; swans, herons and kingfishers can be found making the most of the 18th-century recreational lake, while terraces and herbaceous borders mark the castle’s fort. There’s also a river garden, wildflower meadow and a waterfall which used to supply the castle and town with electricity from the 1880s until the 1950s.

Where is it?
Birr, Co Offaly, Republic of Ireland.
Admission: €9.

Yunnan Stone Forest, Kunming, China

If you’ve had your fill of formal foliage, head to this slightly different garden in China. Far from being verdant and green, this is a forest made of stone. All naturally formed, the geological landscape is intricate, formidable and maze-like, with an underground version found in Zhiyun Cave. These bewitching stone structures, examples of karsts topography, are the result of retreating water and erosion over millions of years in a region which was once submerged by the sea.

Where is it?
Around 120km (75 miles) from Kunming in Lunan Yi Autonomous County.
Admission: ¥140.