The Globe-Trotting Gardener
I am passionate about gardens. I have sought out and admired massive public displays, royal palace extravaganzas, tiny cottage gardens, and even lush container gardens in nearly every city I have visited. Gardens speak volumes about the people who made them, so they tell us much about the culture in which they bloom. As an avid gardener, even local nurseries are a turn-on for me! Here are some of the gardens I’ve created along the way.
On the other hand, my darling Tim, who is sensitive, sweet and poetic about most things, does not appreciate nature’s scenic wonders very much. He’s the guy who slept right through the dramatic sunrise in Monument Valley. He snored peacefully as the majestic sandstone outcroppings caught the sun’s fire at 5:00 AM. Meanwhile, I was jumping around like a five-year-old, snapping photos and rejoicing in one of the world’s most glorious sight!
So, it was with trepidation that soon after we were married, I suggested that we visit the magnificent Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California, on the way home from a weekend in San Francisco. He LOVED it!
His reaction to that lovely place proved that even people who don’t know a petunia from a peony can find tranquility and inspiration in a beautiful garden. He was as surprised as I was when he relished the shaded walks, the fragrant rose gardens and the placid ponds on that lavish estate.
Ever since that fateful afternoon, he’s carted us to dozens of gardens in many countries and become quite the botanical photographer in the bargain. These places have enhanced our travel experiences and allowed us to stay in touch with nature when we’re living in mega-cities for months.
I’d like to share some of our favorites with you, and perhaps if you travel to these places you’ll visit them. Any one of them is sure to inspire even the most reluctant visitor to become a garden enthusiast. I’ve included videos so you can see what I’m talking about.
Giverny, France: Just an hour north of Paris, this is one of the most romantic gardens in the world. The great painter, Claude Monet, built the garden as his living model and inspiration. He was a man who ardently loved family, good food, gardens, and art. He painted that garden hundreds of times. I was jubilant to see such a wonder.
I had a few minutes alone in what had been his bedroom, and I stood at his window just was sure he did every morning, to see what went on in the garden downstairs during the night. The next day we went to the Marmottan Museum in Paris, which houses the world’s largest collection of his works. That was the first time I understood what Impressionism is all about. Seeing his actual garden and then his impressions of it was an extraordinary art history lesson.
This magnificent 200-acre private garden, which is open to the public, is one of our favorite haunts in Paris. Its famous pond where children send rented vessels across the water while their parents cheer them on, is near the Palais du Luxembourg, built by Marie de Medici in 1612, and now the meeting place for the French Senate. The garden is alive with sculpture, fountains and flower beds. One Sunday morning we were treated to a band concert in the gazebo while we enjoyed our breakfast at the outdoor cafe near the Palais.
Now see why we got there every chance we get. In fact, we like to meet visitors there so we can have a stroll through all that beauty.
Also in Paris, The Tuileries Gardens were built by Catherine de Medici as part of the Tuileries Palace in 1564. The palace was destroyed, but the gardens have remained, linking the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. We love to walk in its gracious pathways and take a rest after visiting the Jeu de Paume museum, with its contemporary exhibitions curated from all over the world and Musée L’Orangerie, next to the Place de la Concorde. It contains works by some of the most beloved Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, as well Claude Monet’s sublime water lily murals.
While we’re speaking of French gardens, I should mention the exotic Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. It is a haven of tranquility in a city that fairly writhes with frenetic activity. Built in the 1920’s by French artist Jacques Majorelle, the garden’s spareness and simplicity is punctuated with a special shade of bold cobalt blue. Designer Yves Saint-Laurent co-owned the property with Pierre Bergé until Laurent’s death in 2008. We loved the little café surrounded by walls draped with lush vines and savored a few hours of quiet in that raucous, fascinating city.
Another of our favorite gardens was created by Henry VIII. Hampton Court Palace is his beautifully preserved residence in Richmond upon Thames near London. We lived in an apartment nearby on two occasions, so we had a local’s appreciation and familiarity with the Palace. Although there is an admission fee to tour the buildings, the extensive gardens are open to everyone, and we spent many happy afternoons enjoying the lovely English borders and beautifully sculpted trees. The famous maze is a popular attraction, and the grounds are used for several annual public gatherings. It certainly beats the Veteran’s Hall or the VFW for a civic celebration!
Since we’re in the neighborhood, I’d like to introduce you to my all-time favorite garden. I was so excited the first time I visited Sissinghurst that I wept a little. The proper British lady at the ticket booth was completely non-plussed by my behavior! Vita Sackville-West, the gardening writer and poet, and her husband, author Harold Nicolson, created fabulous gardens in the 1930’s and restored the ruined manor house which were both built in the sixteenth century.
Before you visit, be sure to do some homework about these bright people, their fabulous friends, and unusual, artistic lives!
I’m sure you’ve heard just about enough of the gardens I love, so I’ll leave you with three suggestions of places I think you’d love to see!
Bodnant Gardens in Conwy, Wales.
Butchart Gardens, British Columbia.
The Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
If you’ve enjoyed this tour, please let me know, and if you have your favorites to share, we’d love to hear about your favorite gardens. Happy spring.