If you are looking for a little inspiration this year as you plan your garden and your planting, what better place to start, than by having a delve into some of the most amazing gardens in history. There are dozens if not hundreds to choose from, each delightfully rich in beauty, originality and wonder and we’ve listed our favourite 10 historical gardens here for you to enjoy.
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Wakehurst (London and Sussex)
No list of amazing gardens is complete without a mention of Kew. Founded in 1759 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003, they describe their mission at Kew as 'to be the global resource in plant and fungal knowledge, and the world’s leading botanic garden'.
From a visitors point of view, you can enjoy diverse landscapes, the luxury of the glasshouses, their seed bank and an astonishing collection of beautiful and unusual plants.
The Gardens at Versailles (France)
Originating back to 1630, the Versailles gardens are in a typically French style and cover some 800 hectares. They remain regal, formal and an example of precision gardening at its best. Manicured lawns, sculptures and a network of the sophisticated fountain and water displays remain central to these stunning royal gardens.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan (Cornwall)
Steeped in romance and mystery, in 1995 a chance discovery led to the excavation and rebirth of one of England’s most fascinating gardens. Part of the Tremayne family estate for 400 years, from the mid-1700s, the family had developed the most wonderful gardens which included a ravine, Japanese garden, Italian garden and rare and exotic plants from around the world.
But with the outbreak of war in 1914, many of the gardeners left and never came back and the gardens were quite literally forgotten. They became completely overgrown until one of the descendants of the family stumbled across a tiny room in a corner of the estate. Now fully restored to their former glory, the gardens remain utterly captivating and powerful memory of the past.
Eden Project (Cornwall)
Not far from Heligan is another amazing garden, but for very different reasons. A Landmark Millennium Project, the Eden Project was constructed on a vast disused crater (formerly a clay mine) and a series of giant bubble-like domes (Biomes) were built. Using over 200 miles of scaffolding, creating 83,000 tonnes of their own compost and overcoming innumerable obstacles (such as flooding) the gardens are now home to the largest rain forest in captivity and hundreds of other fascinating plants and contemporary gardens.
The Eden Project is an educational charity which funds and supports sustainability, transformational social and environmental projects both on-site and around the world.
Daisen-in Zen Garden (Japan)
Very different and a lot further from home, is the Daisen-in Zen Buddhist contemplative garden, within the Daitoku-Ji temple complex in Japan. Developed as early as 1509, part of the garden is an allegory whilst the other is designed for meditation. Rocks symbolize mountains and raked gravel with conical mounds and Quartz stone are equally symbolic. A great example of a very different style and purpose.
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (Scotland)
Tucked away in a 30-acre site near Dumfries, this private sculpture garden-inspired, as the name would suggest, by cosmology, science and mathematics have been developed around themes such as Black Holes and Fractals. It’s surely unique, very elegant and almost minimalist when it comes to plants but is a beautiful combination of sculpture, symmetry and nature. It is also very occasionally open to the public.
Keukenhof Flower Gardens (Holland)
If you find yourself in Holland, this flower garden is a must-visit. On a site dating back many centuries, it began to evolve in its current format from 1857 onwards but it wasn’t until nearly 100 years later in 1949 that a group of 20 flower bulb exporters came up with a plan to use the estate for a permanent exhibition of spring-flowering bulbs.
It’s been described as a river of flowers and in 2016 you can enjoy its 67th display with the Golden Age as its theme and some 7 million flowers.
Royal Greenhouses of Laeken (Belgium)
A glass palace, this vast sea of glass pavilions and greenhouses were constructed in the late 1880s and at the time was unbelievably innovative and inspired a generation of architecture in Belgium. Created in the grounds of the Royal Palace of Laeken, by King Leopold II, the greenhouses cover some 270,000 square feet and are ornate, classic and regal.
Home still to some plants from King Leopold’s original collection, the greenhouses are home to hundreds of rare and unusual plants, include a winter garden and are beautifully illuminated at night.
Maplelawn Historic Gardens (Canada)
A little further afield once more but equally as fascinating is the 19th century walled garden at Maplelawn, Ontario. Very few such gardens have survived and Maplelawn is designated as a national historic site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada because “its gardens are the best preserved of the few known surviving examples of early 19th century walled gardens in Canada..." and provide a clear record of the way European architectural and landscape ideas were transplanted to Canada. Its diverse collection of plants and trees offer a unique snapshot of a time gone by.
Huntingdon Botanical Gardens (California USA)
Founded in 1903, if it’s the diversity you are after then this is another must-visit. Its delights include both a Chinese and Japanese garden with pavilions, tea houses, a Bonsai courtyard and Zen garden, as well as the largest collection in the world of cacti and succulents in the Desert garden, a rose garden, a sub-tropical garden and something very hands-on for the children. It’s botany at its finest and an amazing collection of the world’s best.
That's a wrap!
So we’ve circled the globe with our 10 favourite amazing gardens but really we’ve only scratched the surface. All of our favourites found their place on our list because they have a sense of the epic and important about them, but in the UK alone there are dozens more for you to enjoy and to inspire your own creative space. Do you have a favourite you’d like to share with us? Or has a great garden influenced your gardening style? Share your photos and favourites with us on our social media pages or leave a comment below, and enjoy our gardening trip round the world.