Somewhat unexpectedly, botanical gardens have grown into quietly popular tourist attractions over recent decades. It's not difficult to see why - they provide peaceful sanctuaries away from sweaty centers of sightseeing, symbolizing an escape from the stresses and pressures of modern life. And they are also simply beautiful, a soul-soothing riot of color and fragrance laced together by tranquil walking trails. Here we've gathered ten of the best in the world - some brilliantly showcase the country's indigenous flora, such as Kirstenboch in South Africa, while others use international plant life with great creativity, such as the Shakespeare Garden in Brooklyn.
Kirstenboch was a pioneering project when it was founded in 1913, the first national botanical garden in the world dedicated to the conservation of indigenous flora. It's also famed for its spectacular location, spread across 89 acres on the eastern slope of Table Mountain, with several trails running from the park to the mountain's summit. There's a conservatory with exhibitions on various regions in South Africa, including savanna, fynbos and karoo. But Kirstenboch's greatest draw is its colorful outdoor gardens focused on plants native to the Cape region. This includes spectacular collections of proteas, and the region's trademark Crane Flower, whose yellow version has gained the nickname Mandela's Gold.
Brooklyn's Botanic Gardens lie at the opposite end of the spectrum to Kirstenboch, a wildly creative collection of gardens-within-the-Garden that showcase plant species from all around the world. It has 42 species of Asian cherry tree, many of which adorn a Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden containing Japanese landscaping, ornaments and Koi as well as east Asian plants. There's also a fabulous Shakespeare Garden, designed in line with an English pastoral aesthetic and filled with more than 80 plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays and poems. To explore the rest of the world's flora, head inside the globe-and-climate trotting Steinhardt Conservatory. And finally, be sure not to miss the notoriously malodorous Amorphophallus titanium, colloquially known as the Corpse Flower.
Established in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression, the Jardin Botanique de Montreal covers 185 acres of French Canadian soil. It's got some great outdoor areas, including the largest Chinese Garden in the world outside China and an Alpine Garden with paths running across a rocky outcrop flanked by fragile high-altitude plants. And the tough Quebec winter has driven it to develop particularly excellent indoor exhibits, too, including an Insectarium displaying a staggering 160,000 specimens. But perhaps the premier exhibit is a First Nations Garden, where Native guides leads fascinating tours on traditional cultivation of corn, squash, beans, sunflowers and tobacco.
Photo via their official FB page.
This Indian botanic garden, re-named in honor of a Bengali scientist in 2009, covers a massive 270-acres in Kolkota, India. It is one of the oldest Gardens on this list, established by an army officer of the British East India Company in 1787, and has a fascinating history reflecting broader colonial developments. Initially, it existed solely for the purposes of British trade, growing spices and catalyzing the entire Himalayan and Assam tea trade. Over the years, however, passionate botanists and independently minded Indians gained increasing control over the garden's management. These days it is a varied and beautiful space, with a vast Indian herbarium, a Great Banyan that is a contender for the largest tree in the world, and superb collections of orchids, bamboos, palms and lilies.
Claude Monet was rolling through France on a train when he glanced out the window at the small town of Giverny and decided to move there. In 1890, he set out to create the dense, damp and intensely colorful gardens that he wanted to paint, inspired in part by Japanese pastoral prints. Several of the most iconic Impressionist paintings depict scenes in his gardens at Giverny, and Monet created over 250 oil works in a series known as the Water Lilies. Today, the two-and-a-half acre gardens are open to the public, and Monet and his family are interred in the village cemetery down the road. The Water Gardens are still there, maintained in the style of Monet's vision, and there's also a riotously colorful flower garden.
Rio's vast and varied botanical gardens encompass 340 acres, of which only about 40% are cultivated, the remainder consisting of Atlantic Forest swathing the lower slopes of Corcovado Mountain. Founded in 1808 by a Portuguese king, it is another botanical garden revealing a fascinating colonial history: originally used to acclimatize spices imported from the West Indies like nutmeg and cinnamon, it first opened to the public in 1822. Gradually, botanist passion and public pleasure supplanted colonial greed as the garden's motivating energies, and there are now a wide range of intriguing attractions. These include an enthralling section on the Amazon, a lake covered with vast Vitória Régia water lilies, a line of palms planted when the gardens first opened, an orquidário that is home to 600 species of orchid, and a museum with temporary environmental exhibitions.
Andromeda Botanical Gardens is a small, fragrant and intensely colorful botanical gardens, named for the mythical Greek figure of Andromeda. It began as the work of one woman, the local horticulturalist Iris Bannochie, who poured her passion into it before passing it on to the Barbados National Trust at her death. A stream bisects the garden, landscaped with a series of pools and waterfalls. Either side lies one of the best collections of tropical plants in the Caribbean, a riotous assemblage of orchids, palms, ferns, heliconia, hibiscus, bougainvillea, begonias and cacti.
If you don't associate deserts with a vibrant array of plant life, then you should pay a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Its 145 acres showcase 50,000 plants drawn solely from desert biomes, including a striking variety of cacti. A Desert Discovery Trail runs through the gardens, introducing visitors to plant species from different deserts around the world. Another path takes guests on a journey into the world of indigenous desert dwellers, demonstrating how they used desert plants for food, construction, tools, and basket-making. And there's also a wildflower trail, particularly spectacular in spring when the flowers break through and butterflies swarm to feed on their nectar.
Photo by Tatters/Flickr.
Located in a huge 1000-acre park in the Australian city of Perth, this botanical garden covers 18 hectares with 2000 species of western Australian flora. These include the state flower, the red and green kangaroo paw, along with trees including eucalyptus, sugar gums, bangalays and bunya pines. 80 bird species can also be seen in the park surrounding the gardens, which has spectacular views over the Swan River and out to the distant Darling Range.
Kew Gardens makes a strong claim to be the global center for botanical research. Its 121 stone-walled hectares contain 30,000 different kinds of living plants. A vast herbarium showcases seven million preserved plant species. And a Borges-esque library holds over 750,000 volumes along with 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. Several of its special collections are housed in architecturally unique buildings, including a rakishly arched Alpine House, an elegant 18th century Orangery, and an intricate Pagoda. First opened in 1759, Kew Gardens is a testament to the culture of scientific speculation and specimen collecting that flourished in Britain through the 18th and 19th centuries, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.