I NEVER USED TO BE LIKE THIS. In my younger days, gardening was a chore. Like mowing lawns. I only did it because I had to. And flowers? Well, they were for old people, eh?
But as I’ve moved a little closer to being an ‘old people’, the hobby-garden in our backyard has become my happy place. So has meandering through botanical gems overseas.
Check out some of my favourite ‘Gardens of the World’ …
I don’t know what you were doing that Friday, but my wife and I woke up in Vancouver – a scenic dream on Canada’s west coast, where mountains and rain-forests tower over mirror-glass waters. We grabbed an early-morning drive to Tsawwassen(bet you can’t pronounce it) and caught a 90-minute ferry ride to a botanical wonderland.
The 50-acre Butchart Gardens used to be a butt-ugly quarry. But, these days, one million visitors queue up each year to stroll the Sunken Garden, chill out in the Japanese Garden, lick icecream in the Italian Garden, and smell a zillion fragrant roses.
Gorgeous? Yeah, even gorgeouser!
If you prefer something smaller and less-manicured, Monet’s Garden is calling you from the pebble-paved village of Giverney, on the outskirts of Paris. Famous artist Claude Monet (1840 to 1926) lived with his family in an elegant house set amongst rambling trees, exploding flower-beds, and murmuring waterways … all enclosed by high stone walls.
Even if you’re just mildly arty-farty (like me), you may still recognise garden scenes – like the Waterlily Pond and the Japanese Bridge – so brilliantly captured by Monet’s paintings.
But wait: before you leave France, take a side-trip to a region known for its castles …
LOIRE VALLEY CHÂTEAUX
Way back in the 15th century, competing French kings, nobles and hotshots chose the green Loire Valley as their royal playground – flooding it with fairytale châteaux.
No, we didn’t stay in one (too old and draughty). Instead, we chose the tiny 250-year-old Auberge du Bon Laboureur (Inn of the Good Ploughman). But a 10-minute-walk away, hidden behind ancient trees, was our first-of-many châteaux – complete with moats, turrets, ramparts, battered suits of armour and ghosts galore!
Oh, the excitement …
But what really blew us away were the gardens! Formal flowerbeds surrounding medieval mansions.Geometric layouts and ornamental works of art. Miles of box-hedges trimmed to perfection. Vast grassy fairways punctuated by raised terraces and bridges.
Those French nobles loved partying in their grand estates. And I could see myself fitting in.
“Marquis d’Cooney?” Yeah, why not?
Russia’s Tzar Peter the Great (aka ‘the Bronze Horseman’) was a six-foot-eight-inch giant who waged wars, amassed staggering wealth, and packed his first wife off to a nunnery so he could marry again. He also chose a swamp in Russia’s northwest corner to locate his glittering capital: St Petersburg. And in the countryside nearby is his royal getaway: Peterhof …
Built in 1721, later ruined by the Nazis then gloriously restored, this stunning showpiece is crammed with posh palaces, gushing fountains and golden statues.
We soaked up the ambience, helloed Russian families picnicking on the lawns (“Dobriy den!”), watched actors role-playing in lavish costumes, and imagined what life might’ve been like for the 18th century’s wealthy bourgeoisie.
We marvelled at the Grand Cascade, ogled the sculpture of Samson vs. Lion, cooled off in the wafting spray, and took far too many photos …
Gosh, it was fun!
High in the Peruvian Andes near Machu Picchu (Lost City of the Incas) lies a nature-lovers’ paradise: 12 misty acres deep in the ‘cloud forest’ … bursting with exquisite orchids, lush bromeliads, palms, ferns, butterflies and birds.
This garden houses the Inkaterra Pueblo Eco-Hotel. And it was the little multicoloured birds that won my heart: fruit-eaters, fly-catchers and nectar-drinkers, flitting and feeding just above our heads. Plus tiny hovering hummingbirds: their delicate wings doing a blurring 100 beats per second!
On our last day, a rare treat touched down just in front of us: Peru’s national bird – a brilliant orange-red Cock of the Rock!
We couldn’t believe our luck …