How to enjoy one’s time in a city and get away from it all at the same time? The answer lies in botanical gardens, which provide an oasis of peace, a celebration of the beauty of nature, and the carnival of color. Visiting gardens is an ideal treat for the family too and most of them are properly equipped with tea gardens and coffee shops to snack in whilst enjoying nature’s bloom.
- Brooklyn, New York: Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
Take the metro ride from Manhattan to delight in the very well-kept gardens as they present different sections to roam around. These gardens date back to 1910 and are based in the Prospect Park neighborhood with a stretch of 52 acres. The land includes specialty gardens and a conservatory, as well as climate-themed plant pavilions, an aquatic plant house, and a Bonsai museum. For plant-lovers, this is paradise indeed. An example of a specialty garden is the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, which includes features that are typical of that style, such as lanterns, pavilions, gateways, and even a Shinto shrine. There are plenty of Japanese koi fish too so the experience is complete, which means that if you cannot be in Japan then a piece of the latter is possible to savor in New York city.
- Tokyo, Japan: Sumida Park and River
Speaking of Japan, authentic Japanese gardens are popular in the bustling city to balance out the fast-paced momentum one gets swallowed into on most days. There is a garden that is particularly worth visiting because it is part of a river cruise. In fact the gardens share the same name: Sumida river cruise and Sumida Park respectively. This attraction involves taking the cruise and stopping at the park, where one can spend a couple of hours in this green haven and completely forget the noise and crowds. The gazebos and covered benches also double as a cool refuge in the warmer months, so it is not surprising to see people napping within these structures. You can indeed achieve moments of serenity away from the frenzied motions. Do not forget that it is Sakura time in Japan in springtime, and in Tokyo these cherry blossoms can be enjoyed from late March to early April.
- Beijing, China: The Summer Palace and Gardens
The special feature about this attraction is that it consists of a myriad of landscapes so one can visit many times and never get bored or tired of looking on the beauty of nature. Apart from the Chinese landscape garden design, the grounds consist of temples, bridges and pavilions so there is always somewhere peaceful to retreat to. For instance, one can hike up Longevity Hill, which contrasts halls and pavilions on the front, with the peace and quiet of nature’s beauty at the back. Then there is Kunming Lake where different boat rides are available. The Summer Palace itself houses gardens and small palaces and is rich in must-see architectural designs. The Summer Palace also became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. So as a popular attraction it is also a welcome recreational destination.
- Shanghai, China: Yu Gardens and Bazaar
As though entering an age-old era that has been exchanged with more contemporary designs in other parts of Shanghai, The Yu Gardens and Bazaar are testament to a dynasty of emperors. From the architecture to the streams and foliage, the extensive grounds provide visitors with many options to view nature at its best. Starting with the Inner Garden, one can walk through pavilions, towers, and sit by ponds. Then there are a number of ‘halls’ which house flowers and rosewood pieces. One of them, the Sansui Hall holds within a Grand Rockery, which is a 12-meter structure consisting of peaks and gorges. The areas within the gardens are sectioned off by ‘dragon walls’ with ridges and characterized by a dragon’s head. Other features include the Gingko Tree, the Relaxation Stone Boat, and the Jade Rock. Walking in and around these gardens means also walking in history.
- Singapore Botanic Gardens
Contrary to the ancient heritage of the Yu Gardens, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are more modern though they date back to the 1800s. They boast 180+ acres of land so more than one visit would be needed to do them justice. The good thing is that admission is free (except the National Orchid Garden, which is worth paying for as there are around 2000 species of orchids). Another appealing feature is that the gardens are open from 5am to midnight. Attractions within the gardens include: a tropical rainforest, an evolution garden tracing the history of plant life, a ginger garden, a botany centre and Tanglin Gate, and a children’s garden. It is very easy to get lost in the exploration of over 1000 species of flowers and plants, as well as the perfect excuse to walk amongst nature’s glorious creations which are tended to by dedicated gardeners and botanists who can be seen doing maintenance at different times of the day.
- Chiang Mai, Thailand: Orchid and Butterfly Farm
If you really like orchids, then Thailand has its own answer in the form of the Orchid and Butterfly attraction, which specializes in these two wonders of nature. The farm is located in the Mae Sa Valley and its important aim is to breed and preserve rare species of indigenous orchids and butterflies. The former are an integral part of Thai culture as they are utilized both for decorative purposes and in sacred ceremonies. As it has become more difficult for both orchids and butterflies to survive the onslaught of forest depletion, this farm and others of its kind help preserve biodiversity. At the Sai Nam Phung nursery and farm, visitors can spend a couple of hours observing and appreciating the orchids and butterflies at closer quarters.
- Bangkok, Thailand: Lumphini Park
A multi-purpose park, Lumphini is full of open spaces and paths, and is situated in the Thai capital. It is home to various flora and fauna and provides pleasant hours of shade and cool air to the locals and tourists alike. There is a lake where visitors have the possibility of renting a boat and paddling around while observing and gliding aside Komodo dragons. The paths are 2.5km long so it is ideal for a casual stroll or a heartier jog. Lush forest parks and decorative plants, as well as a delightful palm garden, can be seen within the grounds of Lumphini. You can visit a number of times and always find something to do whether is it walking, resting, meditating, or rowing.
- Amsterdam, Holland: Hortus Botanicus
Moving away from Asia, Holland offers the ideal in terms of botany. Long-known for its tulips, Amsterdam’s connection with nature is also evident in the botanical gardens that are well worth a visit. With 4,000 plant species in the garden and greenhouses, this is a pleasant spot to enjoy nature. As one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, it houses a vast selection of plant species including the African Cape region and other rare plants. The best parts are the greenhouses with around 7 to get lost in, including the butterfly greenhouse, the Palmhouse, and a modern 3-climate greenhouse (with desert, sub-tropical and tropical climates, it is definitely a special sensation shifting from a cooler temperature outside into the hot and humid section!). The Orangery café within the grounds offers locally sourced and organic products so alighting for a snack and maybe with a good book in hand is a truly relaxing way of spending an afternoon.
- Conwy, Wales: Bodnant Gardens
Laid out on 80 hectares of land, Bodnant Gardens are a delight to visit because they provide an ideal family trip in springtime. The garden is part of Bodnant House and both have been taken under the wing of the National Trust. The latter manages the gardens, as well as the pavilion, where the family can stop for the quintessential British tea. The gardens are interesting as they include a variety of structures such as topiaries and ornamental ponds. The breeding programe is responsible for and exhibits collections of azalea, rhododendron, hydrangea, camellia, and magnolia. There is also a Pin Mill, which was meant to be a gazebo originally. This mill can be found on the canal terrace in the gardens. As the weather is often wet in Wales, the foliage of the plants and flowers are set to be luscious throughout the year but optimal at springtime.
- Padua, Italy: Orto Botanico
This botanical garden is affiliated with the University of Padua and is curated by the botany department. There aren’t as many hothouses as in the gardens above, so most of the plants are located outdoors. The original purpose of the botanical garden was to grow plants for medicinal purposes so the medicinal and poisonous plants are a highlight, as are those in danger of extinction, which are in turn studied and preserved. Plant species range from aquatic to Mediterranean, and from alpine plants to orchids. These are then housed in their specific habitats, such as the Fresh Water Habitat, the Mediterranean Maquis (or basin), the Alpine Garden, and the Orchid greenhouse. The most special fact about Orto Botanico is that it is the world’s first botanical garden (dated 1545) and it has marvelously retained its original layout, which is circular and surrounded by water rings. The architectural entrances and greenhouses were a later addition. What has not changed though is the original aim: that of being a scientific research centre. With this botanical garden, one goes back to the beginning and this in itself warrants a visit while enabling an understanding of the purpose behind such cultural gems, which are definitely more than tourist destinations.
p.s. These suggestions are based on my travel experiences which also explains the choice of gardens! Which are your favourites?