You don’t need a green thumb to appreciate a beautiful garden. From Monet’s private Giverny to lavish palace gardens, the world’s is filled with well-manicured landscapes that delight the senses and invite a sense of lingering. Discover some amazing green spaces, here and abroad, that are almost worth the trip all by themselves.
Vancouver, Canada – Floral Show Garden
In the far southwestern corner of Canada on pristine Vancouver Island, fantastic works of floral paradise border the quaint town of Victoria. It all began in the early 1900s when Jennie Butchart created a sunken garden to cover a bleak pit left by a limestone quarry. She followed up with a Japanese Garden on the ocean-side of their estate in 1908 and later transformed the tennis court to an Italian Garden, reflecting the couple’s world travels. By the 1920s, over 50,000 people annually visited the estate to view the extensive gardens. By then the Butchart home had become a showplace, complete with salt-water pool, a pipe organ, bowling alley and more.
Still owned by descendants of the family, the Butchart Gardens now grace 55 acres, and include the original Sunken Garden and the cement kiln’s chimney. A rose garden, bog garden, ponds, fountains, streams and lush plantings cover the area with color and green. To cover such enormous acreage, 50 gardeners annually plant over one million bedding plants in over 700 varieties to attain continuous flowering from March to October. Various states of bloom occur during five seasons of the year—spring, summer, fall, winter and Christmas. During summer and the Christmas season, the gardens feature romantic “Night Illuminations” to create a further magical wonderland. In the winter months, visitors may enter the Butchart’s home to view the family’s furnishings, correspondence and photographs that depict the garden’s development. Seasonally throughout the rest of the year, visitors can dine in the original family residence for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner. Spectacular garden views come standard.
Wiltshire, England – Classic English Landscape Garden
There is no better place to find greenery than in England, with hundreds of exquisite jewels to choose from in this prolific garden country. A visit to the Cotswolds is sure to inspire outdoor delight. The scenic area west of London borders Oxford, Bath and Straford-upon-Avon and features enchanting villages and manors built of local limestone, complemented by gentle hillsides and glorious gardens blessed by a temperate climate. Besides putting such splendid gardens as Hidcote Manor and Rousham House on your Cotswold itinerary, plan a stop at Stourhead, located in Stourton about 30 minutes south of Bath. This expansive property best illuminates the school of English Landscape Gardening that flourished in the 18th century and brought forth the country’s great gardens and parks.
Inspired by the 17th-century landscape painters, leading figures of the English landscape movement broke the tradition of formalism and moved toward naturalism in garden design. Their vast, informal gardens and parks incorporated open and closed spaces, natural rolling pastures, lakes and woodland with classical “incidents”—elements from Greece, Rome or Asia like miniature temples and pagodas. These so-called incidents were constructed as focal points for vistas or inviting resting places along graceful walkways. Laid-out by banking heir Henry Hoare II in the 1740s, Stourhead includes 2,650 acres of ancient woods, vistas, farmland, grottoes and a lake. It is probably the period’s best surviving pleasure garden—a fact not lost on filmmakers. Its Temple of Apollo and Palladian Bridge were used as settings for Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (2005). While the on-site mansion is filled with family history, a unique library, Chippendale furniture and artwork, the garden is filled with landscape treasures. Late spring brings flowering bulbs, followed by spectacular rhododendrons and azaleas in early summer, while autumn showcases beautiful foliage. Take at least two hours to stroll the gardens.
East Sussex, England – Romantic English Cottage Garden
In the small village of Northiam, tucked into England’s southeastern corner, romantics will find quintessential English country delight at Great Dixter, the property purchased by author Nathaniel Lloyd in 1910. His estate came with a 15th-century Tudor house and surrounding land that held only a smattering of trees. The new owner and his son, noted British horticulturalist Christopher Lloyd, then transformed the estate into a glorious 20th-century Arts and Grafts treasure. Designed for the most part by renowned architect Edwin Lutyens—who insisted on using local materials to retain the nostalgic and picturesque feel of the countryside—the gardens incorporate cow sheds, cattle drinking tanks, chicken coops and decorative tile. With the Tudor house serving as backdrop, the superb garden is a wonder to behold and in a constant state of flux. Planted and maintained by the Lloyds without set linear patterns or color schemes, the garden showcases a natural, fluid grace that exudes the spirit of a gardener’s whimsy and creative experimentation, to which the late Christopher Lloyd devoted his life. Wander through meadow and kitchen gardens, mixed borders, exotics, perennials, annuals and biennials framed by vines, topiaries, hedges and shrubs, all growing together to form a splendid tapestry of English romance. Restored in 1911 just after its purchase, the Tudor house contains one of the largest surviving medieval timber-framed halls in England and is well worth a visit for a walk into Old English history.
St. Petersburg, Russia – Royal Garden Splendor
One of the crown jewels of gardening surely belongs to the magnificent royal gardens of Europe that surround such luminous palaces as Versailles and Sanssouci. With a desire to build an imperial palace outside the suburbs of his own city, Russia’s Peter the Great modeled his summer residence and gardens after Versailles. Further extended by Peter’s granddaughter, Peterhof became an icon of aristocratic splendor adorned with a network of fountains and statues engineered with masterful aplomb and expanded well up until the 19th century. The garden’s layout encompasses two centuries of garden styles, with landscaped gardens added by Empress Catherine the Great (reigning 1762 -1796) and Nicholas I (reigning 1825-1855).
On its perch overlooking the Baltic Sea, Peterhof’s gold-topped Grand Palace is the focal point of the property. Once known for its splendid summer parties, the Grand Palace is surrounded by the Upper and Lower Gardens, which include a smaller mansion called Marly Palace, fashioned after a royal hunting lodge; a more intimate baroque mansion known as Monplaisir, Peter’s preferred retreat; and the Hermitage. The famous Grand Cascade fountain, complete with grotto, cascades into the fountain-lined Sea Channel that used to bring visitors to the palace by boat. Much of it destroyed during World War II, Peterhof was quickly slated for restoration after the war and celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2003. To see the park in bloom and the grand fountains flowing, book a trip between April and October. A guided tour to get the most out of Peterhof’s fascinating history is advised.
Giverny, France – Monet’s Gardens
The famous water lilies depicted in Claude Monet’s artwork come to life in the lovely village of Giverny, just 75 km. (47 mi.) northwest of Paris. As an avid gardener and plant collector, Monet purchased his idyllic countryside home in 1883 and went to work fashioning the gardens into a life-size easel, awash in floral color clusters, symmetries and perspectives. With an aversion to highly ordered gardens, Monet’s flowerbeds reflect a wandering spirit, with simple and rare floral varieties blended together in romantic color tones flowing from one area to the other.
Monet’s Gardens feature his cozy, well-preserved home and two gardens: Clos Normand—the flower garden—and a Japanese water garden across the road inspired by the Japanese prints Monet passionately collected. It came to feature bridges, willows and the summer-blooming water lilies depicted in Monet’s masterpieces. Insisting on pristine water lilies, it is said Monet hired a gardener to clean the soot off the lilies left by passing trains every morning before he set out in is boat to paint. Mesmerized by the splendid reflections, Monet let the garden serve as his inspiration for the next 20 years. An easy hour-long trip from Paris, Giverny (a.k.a. Monet’s village), makes a wonderful day trip by train. From the Vernon station, visitors can walk the 5 kilometers (3 mi.), rent a bicycle, catch a cab or take a bus to the house. The gardens are open from spring to fall, the blooms changing with the seasons. The Water Garden comes into full bloom during summer, and changes to warm, deep tones in autumn.
Florence, Italy – Bloom of the Italian Renaissance
The Settignano hillside on the outskirts of Florence boasts a garden regarded as one of the most perfect in Italy. Constructed by a Florentine nobleman in the 17th century, Villa Gamberaia incorporates the impressive structure of an early Italian Renaissance garden with the later Mannerist and Baroque styles that featured more ornate decoration like the grotto. Designed mostly by architects and sculptors, the Italian Renaissance gardens prized order and beauty above all, with well-planned space that incorporates symmetry, ascending terraces and water play. Classic elements included geometric planting patterns, tidy box hedges, decorative sculptures, complex water elements and views of the landscape beyond, all to stimulate contemplation, amusement and pleasure. Made famous in the 15th century, the ideal villa was preferably situated on an elevated location and positioned above the garden in order to best seduce its guests. You can gaze on the villa while approaching, and look down over the garden and surrounding countryside once inside.
Villa Gamberaia boasts formal and grotto gardens, arched hedges, a lemon terrace, nymphaeum (a grotto with springs and streams dedicated to water nymphs), a classic cypress alley, flower-bordered pools, topiaries, woods and a bowling green populated with statues. Its marvelous hillside setting affords fantastic views of Florence and the surrounding Arno valley. Take a day trip from the city and spend an afternoon as a Tuscan nobleman, seduced by the garden’s beauty and basking in its magical serenity.
Bollenstreek, Holland – Springing through the Tulips
The father and son duo hired in 1850 to design a castle garden for the Van Beieren family probably had no idea that it would attract over 50 million visitors in the years since. Billed as the most beautiful spring garden in the world, Keukenhof is the earth’s largest bulb flower park, containing 4.5 million tulips and over 7 million flower bulbs in 1600 varieties, all planted by hand. Only open two months of the year (Mar. 22 – May 20 in 2012), Keukenhof is a marvel to behold. Situated in Holland’s Dune and Bulb Region (Duin- en Bollenstreek) between Amsterdam and the Hague, it features 15 kilometers of pathways that meander through vast blooms of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring bulbs. Besides viewing the splendid flowerbeds, visitors can stroll through a historic castle garden and seven inspirational gardens (inhabited by descendants of the Van Beieren family) to learn about planting schemes, garden design, outdoor furniture and how different bulbs can be planted in domestic gardens. Open-air and indoor flower shows, art and the country’s famous “Face of Spring” flower parade that passes Keukenhof’s Parade Boulevard (April 21, 2012) are all part of this Dutch wonderland.
To view the scenic Dutch countryside that surrounds Keukenhof, rent a bicycle for the day or sail silently through the bulb fields on one of the electric whisper boats—converted boats that gardeners, growers and farmers employed in the past. If you can only get there in autumn, Keukenhof opens briefly for 3 days in October to host the Dutch National Bulb Market, which includes planting demonstrations, talks and guided tours of the park during planting season.
Suzhou, China – Classical Chinese Mastery
The imperial gardens in Beijing should not be missed for their history and grandeur, but the smaller, classical gardens of Suzhou are worth the 30-minute trip from Shanghai via high-speed train. Renowned in Chinese lore for its canals, silk and beautiful women, the “Venice of China” also contains a splendid array of private gardens that showcase ancient Chinese philosophy, beliefs and aesthetics. While imperial gardens were constructed for emperors, the classical gardens were built for the wealthy. The earliest recorded private garden-house in the city dates back to the 4th century, but the gardens reached their zenith between the 16th and 18th centuries during the affluent Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Great landscape masters designed Suzhou’s gardens and consolidated and diversified the concepts of the Sung Dynasty (960-1280) landscape gardens. The collective goal was to bring man into harmony with nature and meet the intellectual and emotional needs of its people. This was achieved through the placement of paths for wandering; pavilions and gazebos for sitting, socializing and cultural activity; trees, stones, ponds and landscape forms with which to commune; and literary suggestions on which to ponder. Masterful and exquisite technique with a focus on numerology and artistic perfection prevailed in the use of space, recreating natural scenery, balancing the relationship of buildings and nature, and literary allusion.
Of the approximate 170 gardens of Suzhou, the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng) is the largest and considered one of China’s four most famous. The “Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician,” as it is also known, was purchased in 1509 by a retired government official, who some allege was dismissed from the Imperial court and humbled after corruption charges. The garden features water as the main background and is populated with small forests, hills, rock formations, wandering paths, small bridges, pavilions, halls and parlors. As you stroll through the tranquil gardens to the sites of literary appeal, observe the harmony created between formal, geometric man-made buildings and the informal, natural forms like plants and rocks. Managing the relationship between open and closed spaces, exposed and sheltered areas and formal and informal forms is the genius of the Chinese masters. Find a place to repose and contemplate its wisdom while communing with nature and antiquity. The Garden’s museum recounts the history of the Chinese Garden, while the audio tours discuss sites within the garden. Go early during the weekdays, and avoid holidays which bring out the crowds.
Kyoto, Japan – The Imperial Gardens
When the ancient Imperial capital of Japan was moved to Kyoto from Nara in the 8th century, all of its art, culture and wealth came with it. Sheltered by densely forested hills, the spacious valley and its two rivers became a haven for the gentry and nobility to pursue leisure pleasures and to create lavish palaces and gardens not afforded by the monastic order in the former capital. Gardens became a design preoccupation for monarchs and courtiers who used them for banquets, sporting events and even military drills. Heavily influenced by Chinese culture over hundreds of years, these Imperial landscape gardens included the full regalia of Chinese elements: streams, lakes, islands, bridges, forested groves and tree-lined pathways. Later taken over by wealthy Shoguns, landscape design continued to incorporate elements from China, including Zen Buddhism and tea ceremony. Although Chinese Sung dynasty landscape paintings heavily influenced gardens in Japan, Japanese landscape masters began to incorporate more natural elements into their gardens, reflecting Japan’s forested hills and gentler landscape and its more rounded shapes and forms. The spirit of the Japanese garden is intimate, serene and restful, also incorporating the simple and natural principles of Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous religion.
Hundreds of gardens existed in Kyoto by the mid 15th century, many of them still preserved. Visits to Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple), Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavillion) and Ryoan-Ji (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon) are essential to appreciate the spectrum of elements meant to foster contemplation and enjoyment. Kinkaku-ji (14th century) provide an air of seclusion, while master Japanese designers skillfully created perspective, planning the lake’s form to give the illusion of greater space. Here, the shogun could take a boat on the lake to contemplate the water, mountains and islands, or enjoy moon watching on a stroll or take tea ceremony in the garden. Ginkaku-ji (15th century) is modeled after Saihoji, Kyoto’s famous moss garden, and includes an upper garden that serves as a link between the forested hillside above and the lake and pavilion in the lower garden. This link with natural landscape is one if its most famous attributes. Perhaps one of the most interesting contributions of Zen Buddhism in garden design is the famous rock-sand garden of Ryoan-Ji Temple (15th century). Abstract stones placed in coarse, raked sand pebbles were devised purely as a subject for contemplation and became a masterpiece of Japanese culture. Long steps allow visitors to sit and overlook the garden to ponder its meaning. To best see the gardens, go either in spring or fall. Many gardens in Japan feature vivid azaleas or the famous plum and cherry blossoms in spring, while autumn ushers in outstanding maple foliage.
Phoenix, AZ – Desert Majesty
Most people don’t think of the desert when considering garden destinations. The drought-resistant cacti, shrubs, succulents and flowers that populate the desert are a hearty breed. To appreciate their majesty, visit the Desert Botanical Garden where an astounding 17,000 living desert plants in 4000 species thrive. Opened in 1939, the grounds of this living collection of desert plants include a desert plant research center, a research library, garden shop and the most prominent cactus collection in the country, if not the world. Self-guided or guided tours along various loop trails feature people, animals and plants of the Sonoran Desert. The garden also highlights special areas of interest, including wildflowers, butterflies, cactus, succulent galleries, a yucca forest and an herb garden.
Educational programs, including a Desert Landscaper School, and various intriguing events and exhibitions—like desert art, Southern cooking, music, speakers and seasonal festivities—make the Desert Botanical Garden an even more enticing place to visit. Drop in during their “Hail the Ale” October Fest or during Las Noches de las Luminarias—22 nights in December featuring 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags and special musical groups. Exhibits that appeal to children (e.g., Big Bugs) are also part of this desert gem. Check the website calendar for details and seasonal happenings. Spring brings cactus flowers and high-desert bloom, while fall and winter welcome cooler, more pleasant weather for walking. On hot days, get there early when the garden opens and bring water, sunglasses and a hat.
Dumfries, Scotland – Garden of the Shifting Paradigm
An 18-year work of labor by artist and architect Charles Jencks and his wife Maggie, the alluring Garden of Cosmic Speculation stirs fascination for its exclusivity alone–it opens to the public only one spring afternoon each year. However, the utterly unique and enthralling landscape design makes this a journey worth the effort. With a degree in English literature from Harvard, a Masters in architecture and a Ph.D. in architectural history, Charles is well versed in structure, while his wife focused on innovative design. Shunning the modular and repetitive behemoths of modernism, Jencks’ view presents a shifting paradigm that offers pleasurable variety. Use of wave forms, curves, fractals and a desire to understand how things relate to the cosmos make for highly compelling design.
Located near Dumfries, just across the border from England, this private garden has over 30 acres made up of overlapping landscapes include spiraling, rolling landforms and terraces; large mounds of earth encircled by paths; abstract sculptures; fences and architectural works fashioned of metal, wood and stone; and prolific water features. Influenced by Chinese garden philosophy, mathematics and science, the landscapes are meant to encourage contemplation and speculation through metaphors designed to engage the senses and a connection to nature and the universe. Gardens, bridges, lakes and structures bearing fascinating names like DNA Garden (a geometric kitchen garden pieced into six sections: five for each of the human senses and the sixth representing intuition); The Garden of Taking Leave of Your Senses (woods filled with noisy crows); and Heaven-Hell (a garden depicting good and evil, birth and life) each provoke deliberation. Contemplate the Universe Cascade (25 jumps of steps representing the universe unfolding) and ponder sculptures like Comet Bridge. If you’ve exhausted your speculative capabilities, simply gaze on the rhododendrons and take in the beauty of spring’s vibrant colors. A local pipe band is on hand for the occasion.
The garden usually opens on the first Sunday of May, from 12p.m. to 5p.m. To see it, you must plan your journey around the day and arrive early, as local roads become clogged. If you need extra incentive to go, the £6 admission price (about $9 U.S.) benefits Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centers. Jenck’s wife Maggie died of cancer in 1995. For more information on Scotland’s Gardens, visit: www.scotlandsgardens.org
Washington, D.C. – Garden Rooms to Roam
You don’t have to travel overseas to find fabulous gardens. One of the world’s most detailed garden jewels resides at Dumbarton Oaks in the lush residential area of Georgetown in America’s capital. Attracted by its beautiful trees, diplomat Robert Bliss and his wife Mildred purchased the 53-acre property in 1920 and immediately began renovating the 1801 Federal-style house. They also hired well-traveled landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand to help design the outdoor space. She and Mildred together transformed the surrounding land into terraced gardens filled with grand vistas and complex detail in pathways, stairs, ornamentation and plantings. Combining elements of English and Italian garden design, while incorporating traditional elements of an estate (like kitchen gardens, swimming pool and tennis court), Farrand designed the gardens as a series of “rooms” in exacting detail. Painstaking efforts in the choosing of material, scale or positioning of each furniture piece served to complement and enhance the mood, privacy or view of each garden room.
In 1940, Robert and Mildred Bliss gifted 16 acres to Harvard University for research and 27 to the U.S. government to create a public park for all to enjoy. Following Farrand’s death in 1959, landscape architects Ruth Havey and Alden Hopkins further perfected Dumbarton Oaks’ design. The result is a unique public American garden showcasing refined and intricate planting and design. Wander in the Orangery, Pebble Garden, Fountain Terrace, Box Walk and Ellipse, and ponder informal gardens like Lovers’ Lane Pool, Lilac Circle or Crabapple Hill. Despite its location and public stature, this stellar garden gem still feels surprisingly removed and private. It lets you hide away in any number of secluded spots to take in the fragrance of roses, flowers and plants amid pools, sculptures and views—a peaceful and refreshing respite from the building-laden capital.
Kent, England – The Castle Roses
Literally salvaged from ruin, Sissinghurst Castle Gardens came to flower when writer/diplomat Harold Nicolson and his novelist/gardener wife Vita Sackville-West purchased the wilting estate in 1930. Set in the Kentish Weald, an area of bucolic villages and farms in southeast England, the Elizabethan house (1560-70), towers and moat on the premises had suffered from 300 years of neglect. Harold, the classicist, took on the task of designing the garden’s layout using the existing walls and structures left from the past and adding hedges to create “rooms” (a series of 10 intimate enclosures). Vita, the romantic, in turn planted the gardens to elicit surprise.
The story of the roses began when Vita purportedly found an old Gallica rose as she began transforming the neglected garden in 1947. This maroon-crimson variety is now called the Sissinghurst Castle Rose and lives on site with hundreds of others. Named the finest in the country, Sissinghurst’s roses are legendary for their summer spectacle of bloom. The famous Sissinghurst rose pruning technique stimulates prolific flowering and brings legions of rose enthusiasts to see the flowers emerge in cascades of grandeur. Roam through the roses and breathe in the fragrance of climbers, ramblers, border shrubs and container roses. Then continue on to Sissinghurst’s nine other gardens, linked by long walkways, gates, openings and garden doors. The renowned White Garden—the estate’s original Rose Garden—popularized the color-scheme planting design philosophy of Gertrude Jekyll (legendary English horticulturalist) and reveals its full splendor in early July. A footpath from the village of Sissinghurst to the gardens travels through a magical English woodland with bounding rabbits and carpets of bluebells from about April to May. During spring you can watch gardeners pruning and training the roses to entice their summer profusion.
Cape Town, South Africa – African Garden of Eden
Hailed as the most beautiful gardens in Africa, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens opened in 1913 and became the world’s first botanical garden devoted completely to a country’s indigenous flora. Situated on the grassy slopes of Table Mountain, the iconic backdrop of picturesque Cape Town, the gardens boast 1300 acres of Cape flora. Less than a tenth of the vast gardens are cultivated, the rest left in a natural state. As part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, comprising over one million acres of protected area of flora and vegetation, Kirstenbosch also carries the distinction of being the first botanical gardens included within a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Paved and well-marked walking trails let visitors wander through various types of gardens (ancient, medicinal, etc.), while guided garden walks or golf-cart tours provide more information on the wildlife, birdlife and vegetation. Hikers seeking more strenuous exercise can navigate the Skeleton Gorge or Nursery Ravine paths that travel up Table Mountain. Besides hosting craft markets and art shows, Kirstenbosch’s open-air summer concerts on the Table Mountain’s slopes attract locals with picnics and Cape wines to enjoy the sound of music within the splendid gardens (Sundays, November – April). End of winter, spring and early summer (August – November) are the best times to see plants in bloom, while South African autumns (April – May) bring stellar weather.
San Francisco, CA – Victorian Glass Garden
The concept of cultivating plants in controlled settings dates back to Roman emperors, beginning with Tiberius, who built a terrarium to grow cucumbers during his reign (14- 37 A.D.). Modern-day greenhouses first appeared in Italy during the 13th century to preserve tropical plants that explorers brought back from their travels. When Mediterranean traders brought citrus to Europe in the 16th century, orangeries and conservatories with glass roofs and walls were built for wealthy landowners to cultivate citrus, the new rage for the dinner palate. Large and elaborate structures like the orangerie at the Palace of Versailles in France kept fair-weather exotic orange trees from freezing. The golden era of greenhouses, however, emerged in the Victorian era (19th century) when even grander and more splendid structures emerged. Magnificent glass and iron buildings became popular for exhibitions and fairs in cities like Munich, London and New York.
Built between 1878 and 1879, the fabulous Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco is one of the iconic treasures of the Victorian greenhouse era. Destroyed twice by fire, the conservatory fell into disrepair during the Great Depression. It was closed in 1933, reopened in 1946 and closed again following storm damage in 1996, the historic landmark was completely restored and rehabilitated over a six-year period and finally reopened in 2003. The stunning wood and glass structure (the oldest in the United States) stands regally within the lush greenery of Golden Gate Park and serves as one of the most photographed sites in the city. With a mission to cultivate and preserve tropical plants and flowers, the conservatory is inhabited by all manner of exotic species of aquatic, potted and high and lowland plants of the rainforest. Wander inside through the permanent galleries and catch fascinating special exhibits like Wicked Plants: Botanical Rogues & Assassins (a macabre look at botanical atrocities committed by plants, including paralysis, strangulation, derangement). Then walk about outside and enjoy the park. On a sunny day, the blue skies set off the structure’s brilliant white color and the vivid flowerbeds. Evening lights illuminate the glass structure to create a magical Victorian jewel box.
Shoreham, Australia – Labyrinths & Mazes
Although they date back to ancient times, labyrinths and mazes became a popular garden element in the 16th to 18th centuries. Symbolic for loss and redemption, temptation and chaos, and bravery in conquering the unknown, they also enhanced lovers’ meetings, socializing and exercise. Although you can find many garden mazes in Europe, one of the world’s best is located Down Under. Touting the biggest hedge maze in the southern hemisphere and the oldest in Australia, the Ashcombe Lavender and Maze Garden is located in the far south of the country, about an hour southeast of Melbourne. Over 1,000 cypress trees make up this enticing sculptured maze, trimmed three times a year to keep its shape. At almost 10 feet high and over 6 feet thick, the cypress create dense walls of undulating greenery that line pathways to navigate on foot. Besides the hedge maze, 10 themed garden areas feature roses, greenery, ponds, woodlands and sensory delight.
Splendid fields of lavender also populate the 25-acre property in the form of a Lavender Labyrinth and display gardens. Wander through over 4,000 lavender plants to a viewing platform that floats above the fragrant and flowering rows of purple. Explore the drying shed, lavender oil-making still and more on a guided lavender tour. The circular Rose Maze, the oldest in the world, contains 1200 bushes and over 200 rose varieties that bloom from November to June. Lose yourself within the divine fragrance and colors, and you may not want to be found…except perhaps for a Rose Petal scone at the café, or a glass of regional wine. The lovely Mornington Peninsula is popular with locals as a getaway for beaches, watersports and vineyards.