13 must-see botanical gardens: Beyond U.S.
Continue our virtual worldwide tour of the best gardens around, led by a hand-picked team of experts.
Thu, Sep 06 2012 at 7:00 PM
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, Gauteng, South Africa
Worth a visit because: Of the diversity of the magnificent and colorful flora of South Africa and the birds the flora attracts.
Description: The Witpoortjie Falls are the centerpiece and backdrop to the Botanical Garden, which is located in one of the most biologically diverse areas of the world. The gardens include a succulent rockery garden, cycad garden, water garden, fern trail, arboretum, Geological Garden, People's Plant Garden, Birds and Butterfly Garden, Dell section, Waterwise garden, Children Garden, wild flower area, visitors' information center, restaurant and function venue.
Best time to visit: It may depend on what season you like best. The garden is in flower in every season. The garden is at its best, though, during late spring and summer when most of the flowering shrubs come into bloom. In spring (September-November in the Southern Hemisphere) the red tubular flowers of the common coral trees (Erythrina lysistemon) attract numerous nectar-feeding birds, migrant swallows and cuckoos return, and the shade-loving bush lily (Clivia miniata) produces large heads of striking orange flowers. In summer (December-February) the unusual brick-red flowers of Pride-of-De-Kaap (Bauhinia galpinii), the mauve blue flowers of the wild phlox (Jamesbrittenia grandiflora and Dissotis sp.), and river lilies such as the scarlet red flowers of Hesperantha coccinea are a delight for weeks.
While there, be sure to see: The waterfall with black eagles nesting on the cliffs beside it.
Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore
Worth a visit because: The plant collection features the National Orchid Garden.
Description: The National Orchid Garden is located on several acres on a hillside and contains more than 1,000 orchid species and 2,000 hybrids. There are several attractions that compose the collection. They include an orchidarium where orchids found in nature are displayed in a tropical setting, a mist house that includes fragrant orchids, and a cool house that features orchids from tropical highlands and simulates the conditions of cool highland forests. Other gardens include a tract of primary tropical rain forest that is older than the gardens, a ginger garden, a botany center and a children’s garden. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is the only botanic garden in the world that is open from 5 a.m. to midnight every day of the year.
Best time to visit: The garden is a year-round treasure trove of plants and blooms.
While there, be sure to see: The tropical palm collection, which contains more than 115 genera and 220 species.
While there, take time to see: Gardens by the Bay, a new horticultural and leisure attraction. It is one of the significant projects which represent Singapore’s transformation from a “Garden City” to a 21st-century “City in a Garden,” where greenery and flora are appreciated as a part of everyday urban life. The project features three waterfront gardens and is opening in stages. Bay South Garden, the largest, opened in June 2012. If you go, be sure to see the two massive, domed climatrons — one for intermediate plants, the other for those that grow in a cloud forest.
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Worth a visit because: It is an internationally acclaimed floral show garden with a "Wow!" factor.
Description: The gardens got their start 108 years ago when Jennie Butchart decided to turn an abandoned limestone quarry that her husband, Robert, had mined for his cement business into a Sunken Garden. Little by little, other gardens blossomed and were designed to reflect the Bucharts’ travels. These gardens now include the Japanese Garden, the Italian Garden and the Mediterranean Garden. With the area's temperate climate, plants are in flower for much of the year. The gracious and elegant traditional setting of the displays adds to the charm of the gardens and the visitor experience. Summer brings fireworks shows, entertainment and night lighting. The gardens are also recognized for their Magic of Christmas displays.
Best time to visit: July-August.
While there, take a side trip to: VanDusen Botanical Garden. The mild Vancouver climate is conducive to an outstanding plant collection that includes 255,000 plants representing 7,300 plant families. The plants are grouped in garden areas to illustrate botanical relationships such as the Rhododendron Walk, or geographical origins, as in the Sino Himalayan Garden.
Arboretum Wespelaar, Belgium
Worth a visit because: Of the incredible collection of well-documented woody plants from all over the world displayed in a beautifully maintained English park style setting.
Description: The Arboretum Wespelaar is known for its specialized collection of about 2,000 different species and cultivated varieties of trees and shrubs from known wild origin. The collection is extremely varied and includes woody species, giants and prostrate dwarfs, those that are common and others that are rare, some that are beautiful and some that are less glorious. Perhaps, most importantly, many that are threatened in the wild and can live in the temperate Belgian climate have found a home at the arboretum. Acer, Magnolia, Rhododendron and Stewartia are particularly well represented. Other genera in the arboretum include Betula, Carpinus, Euonymus, Ilex, Tilia, Quercus, Styrax and Viburnum.
Best time to visit: The gardens are of visual and botanic interest in all seasons.
Website: Arboretum Wespelaar
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, United Kingdom
Worth a visit because: The gardens contain the world’s largest collection of living plants.
Description: Founded in 1759, and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, Kew Gardens in London and its country estate, Wakehurst Place, hold more than 1 in 8 of every known plant species. There are more than 30,000 plants in the living collections and the herbarium is one of the largest in the world. Plant collections include carnivorous plants, cacti, arboreta, British natives, ferns, palms, grasses and economic plants.
Best time to visit: Kew is a great place to visit at any time of year because the changing displays offer horticultural highlights during every season.
While there be sure to see: The huge palm house, which dates to 1844 and is considered the most important surviving Victorian iron and glass structure in the world. The Victorian glass Temperate House, which opened in 1863, is even larger than the Palm House. It features a huge collection of semi-hardy and temperate plants.
While there, take a side trip to Scotland to see: The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh (RBGE) and the Glasgow Botanic Gardens in Glasgow. RBGE is the second oldest botanic garden in Britain after Oxford. It was founded in 1670 as physic garden to explore the relationship between plants and medicine. It boasts the world’s largest living collection of Chinese plants (such as rhododendrons) outside of China and also features a world-famous rock garden. The Victorian Palm House — the tallest of its kind in Britain — is the entrance to a glasshouse range taking visitors through 10 climatic zones. In Glasgow, be sure to see the Kibble Palace, a huge Victorian glasshouse. These glasshouses and the ones above at Kew are among the few left in Britain from the Victorian era of plant exploration.
Click for photo credits
Photo credits in order of appearance:
Walter Sisulu: Karmor/Flickr; SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute)
Singapore Botanic Gardens: worldsurfr/Flickr; provided by garden
Butchart Gardens: Provided by garden
Arboretum Wespelaar: ilarrido/Wikimedia Commons