Gardens To Lose Yourself In
Date Updated: 21/11/2022
With close associations to the idea of paradise, few places can offer such peace and tranquillity as a garden. And whether it’s pots on a windowsill or an acre of land you’re tending, in recent months many of us have spent a lot more time watching our gardens grow. With that in mind and as midsummer approaches we decided to put together a list of top ten gardens across Europe to dream about, to take inspiration from and to hopefully visit one day. Add them to your bucket list.
Why go? For an insight into Moorish gardening techniques.
The gardens of the Generalife sit alongside the majestic palaces of the Moorish Alhambra in Southern Spain. Successions of Spanish rulers made the Alhambra their home and the Generalife gardens were designed to offer calm and relaxation to the Sultan Kings. Wild, loose planting, tumbling roses, cobbled pathways, orange trees and shady courtyards with stone fountains create a sense of cool serenity.
The first historical documents relating to the buildings date back to the 9th century, but it wasn’t until the 13th century that plans for the Generalife were begun. Set on a hill overlooking Granada, the gardens are divided into three parts. An avenue of cypress trees leads to the breathtakingly beautiful lower garden and el Patio de la Acequia (the water channel courtyard). The upper terraces are filled with fruit trees, figs and walnuts and el Patio de la Sultana, a courtyard with a pool surrounded by myrtle hedges and water jets. Access to the highest garden is via the Escalera del Agua (the water stairway) designed in the Muslim period with three flights and water channels for handrails.
The gardens of the Generalife are the best preserved example of Moorish architecture and garden design in Spain today, hence its status as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Beth Chatto Garden, Colchester, England
Why go? For tips on tricky terrain.
This inspirational garden was started by garden guru Beth Chatto in 1960 and she oversaw its development right up until she passed away in 2018. What began as an overgrown wilderness is now an impressive example of ‘Ecological Gardening’; “the right place for the right plant” was Beth Chatto’s motto.
The seventeen acre plot has been arranged into four gardens; scree, gravel, woodland and water, each dealing with challenging aspects and set around a series of ponds. Willows, birches and swamp cypresses give structure to the gardens and her genius for grouping plants is everywhere. Her garden was her life and is now her memorial.
Piet Oudolf, Hauser & Wirth,Somerset, England
Why go? For dreamy borders with year round interest.
Known as ‘The Oudolf Field’ this garden is a planting installation carried out in 2014 at the Hauser & Wirth art gallery in the little village of Bruton in Somerset. Revolutionary plantsman Piet Oudolf is famous for redefining gardens as works of art in themselves and is celebrated for his work around the world including the High Line in New York and the Lurie Garden in Chicago.
Set out in 17 curving beds, the Oudolf Field is a stunning, naturalistic perennial meadow of painterly drifts with loose, soft edges. His choice of plants means the garden retains interest all year round and his schemes are complex and constantly evolving. He’s far more concerned with the flowering time, texture and height of a plant than just its colour.
“Colour is in the back of my head not on my tongue – I don’t speak colour - I look at the form of a flower and how long it will last.” Piet Oudolf.
Les Jardines Suspendus de Marqueyssac, Dordogne
Why go? For topiary goals.
Known as the Hanging Gardens due to the way the plants and trees cling to the steep slopes on which they grow, this remarkable garden was created by Julien de Cerval who inherited the lemon coloured Chateau de Marqueyssac in 1861. He planted boxwoods relentlessly and today the park with its 50 acres of gardens and 6km of pathways is a total work of art. Every shade of green imaginable can be seen from the belvedere, a balcony which overlooks the River Dordogne and the valley below. Fields of topiary balls, move down the hill like flocks of green sheep. Over 150,000 box woods are clipped by dedicated gardeners who do everything by hand to create this enchanting display.
Benmore Botanics,Argyll, Scotland
Why go? For stunning Scottish scenery.
It’s the mountainside setting that gives Benmore its dramatic atmosphere and a visit here begins with what people say is the finest entrance to any botanical garden in the world. An avenue of 150 year old Giant Redwoods guard this 120 acre site standing at over 50 metres high and there’s plenty more drama once you’re in.
Benmore is particularly renowned for their spectacular rhododendron display in Spring, but there’s also a beautiful Victorian fernery and plant collections from all over the world plus spectacular views across the Holy Loch and surrounding mountains.
The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, Brussels
Why go? For greenhouse goals.
During the 19th century progress in construction techniques using metal and glass made a new type of building possible: the greenhouse. In 1873, following countless meetings and plans exchanged between King Leopold II and his architect, they designed and built this extravagant city under glass. Monumental heated pavilions, glass cupolas and wide arcades all connect to the spectacular Winter Gardens with its collection of palms under the iconic glass dome ceiling with a crown perched on top.
The Royal greenhouses still contain some of the plants from King Leopold II’s original collection and the general spirit in which the planting was first laid out still prevails. Exotic tropical plants make up a good portion of the gardens but people also come to see the dazzling displays of azaleas and geraniums in bloom. It’s a century old tradition to let the public in for 3 weeks during Spring and for this reason it gets quite busy. Head there early and wave hello to Queen Matilde.
Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Gardens, Cornwall
Why go? For the harmony of human work and nature.
Barbara Hepworth was one of the greatest British sculptors of the 20th century and one of the few female artists of her generation to achieve international prominence. To her fans she is the women who put the hole in modern sculpture. She created this garden, probably the smallest on our list, as a setting to display her work. She moved here with her husband, the artist Ben Nicholson, and their young children in 1939 at the start of the war and lived and worked here until her death in 1975. She found the coastline of Cornwall a constant inspiration and would spend hours watching the waves and studying shells.
The garden is a quiet oasis and the works themselves sit peacefully amongst the exotic plantings. There is a raised pond and views of the sea. Gravel paths lead to her workshop which is exactly as it would have been, her tools are laid out and a feeling that time has stood still pervades the buildings. Barbara Hepworth wrote that ‘finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic’ and its special atmosphere can still be felt today.
Why go? For the latest in gardening trends.
A public park free to everyone, this renowned experimental botanic garden covers nearly 6 acres of ancient parkland. The result of meticulous research and diligent planning, it’s constantly evolving and now considered the benchmark for naturalistic planting in Germany.
For almost 100 years keen gardeners have worked on the Hermanshoff layout. In the 1920’s Heinrich Wiepking-Jurgensman steered it towards the arts and crafts style and in 1983 his plans were re-worked by Hans Luz who gave the garden its large curving beds and delightful green grass paths. Now under the leadership of Cassion Schmidt the style has been further improved combining perennials and grasses in myriad ways. Hermanshoff exists at the crossroads of nature and imagination with ecological integrity at its core.
Tresco Abbey Gardens, Scilly Isles, England
Why go? For sub-tropical specimens
The diversity of plant life at Tresco Abbey is extraordinary and the gardens were famously described by novelist Walter Besant as “Kew with the roof off”. Climate and long hours of winter sunshine mean exotic gems like proteas and pelargoniums can thrive here.
Built in the 19th century around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey, Tresco was established by Augustus Smith who bought the lease from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1834 and put in high walls, hedges and trees to protect the garden from the Atlantic winds. Plants are laid out geographically with the hotter, drier terraces at the top for South African and Australian species and those lower down providing more humidity for plants from New Zealand and South America. Amazing to think it’s only 20 or so miles from mainland Cornwall.
As well as plants and trees Augustus also collected figureheads from local shipwrecks. The carved wooden figures can be seen at the Valhalla Museum within the gardens.
Mien Ruys Tuinen, Mien Ruys Gardens, Netherlands
Why go? For new ideas.
These gardens are the lifetime work of Mien Ruys, one of the most important garden designers of the 20th century.
In 1924, 19 year old Mien was put in charge of garden design at her parent’s famous plant nursery in Dedemsvaart and in her diary she proudly wrote ‘Today is the first day of my career.’ She built a straight path from the front door of the house, through the garden and into the fruit trees where she installed a small square pond. Around the pond she planted all her favourite perennials but the following year hardly any of the plants remained. She realised that she had to either change the soil or her choice of plants and this became a very important rule for her – choose the plants best suited to the situation.
Today the 6 acres of land is arranged in a sequence of 30 model gardens which give a chronological overview of gardening throughout the 20th century. They are held in high esteem by plant geeks and garden lovers alike for their experimental nature and her use of space, water and art in equal balance.
Happy Gardening from the team at Salt-Water Europe!