The fabled patios of this Moorish fortress-palace in Granada, constructed between the 9th and 14th centuries, still retain an extraordinary sequestered atmosphere, especially if a visitor has the foresight to plan a visit to avoid the crowds.
La Bagatelle, France
This Parisian park was created round a small château in the 1770s as the result, it is said, of a bet between Marie-Antoinette and the Comte d’Artois, whom she challenged to create a garden in two months flat.
It was the 2nd Baron Aberconway who largely created this extraordinarily ambitious terraced garden between 1904 and 1914. The site of the garden could hardly be bettered, with views towards Snowdon, while the dramatic topography west of the house was also exploited to the full.
Courances, France, France
Is this the perfect example of the French formal garden? Created in the mid-17th century – reputedly by Jean, father of the great Andre Le Nôtre – the garden is filled with water in many moods, although it is serenity that sets the tone.
Crathes Castle, Scotland
The late Graham Stuart Thomas reckoned that in its heyday under the care of Lady Sybil Burnett, this garden was even better than Gertrude Jekyll’s own Munstead Wood, which Thomas had visited in her lifetime.
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Scotland
The architectural theorist Charles Jencks created this garden of turfed terraces and imaginative sculptural incident, having been inspired by the experiments in large-scale feng shui gardening (using a bulldozer) of his wife, the late Maggie Keswick, who also wrote a fine book on Chinese gardens.
Levens Hall, England
There has been much debate about the actual date of the celebrated yew topiary forms at Levens Hall in Cumbria, which so captured the imaginations of Edwardian garden writers.
The story is well-known. The American Lawrence Johnston and his mother came to the Gloucestershire Cotswolds in 1907 and bought up an old manor house at a time when this was just becoming a fashionable thing to do. Lawrence developed a mania for gardening in general but – crucially – not for horticulture alone.
Isola Bella, Italy
A garden that looks like a ship is worthy of celebration indeed, and this extraordinary place – situated in the middle of Lake Maggiore and accessible only by boat – does not fail to live up to expectations. It was Count Carlo Borromeo’s idiosyncratic vision in the 1630s which saw this villa and garden constructed over a period of 40 years.
Claude Monet’s dreamy garden in Normandy is extremely well maintained; visitors can gain a sense of the symbiosis of his horticultural and artistic interests (with the former always subordinate to the latter).
Giardino Giusti, Italy
In On the Making of Gardens (1909) Sir George Sitwell of Renishaw Hall described the “intensely solemn loveliness” of this urban garden in Verona, which takes a hold of most people who visit it (Goethe and John Evelyn included).
Het Loo, Netherlands
Very few grand 17th-century European Baroque gardens have made it into this selection. The reason? While they may be important – “great”, even – they may not strike the visitor as excessively beautiful.
After visiting this garden near Rome, many people list Ninfa as their favourite garden of all. It has an atmosphere all its own, perhaps because of the unique way it came into being. This has been a small town from Roman times, and an ancient layout of lanes and bridges still provides waymarking for visitors exploring the decorous dereliction all around.
Sheffield Park Garden, France
Keukenhof Gardens, Lisse, Netherlands
Nong Nooch – The Gardens, Chonburi, Thailand
If you’re looking for a garden with variety, look no further than the Nong Nooch Gardens in Thailand. From French and Asian gardens to the Butterfly and Pottery gardens, Nong Nooch has it all. With new additions and constant updates, Nong Nooch is ever changing, featuring strong architectural shapes and lines in one garden, and soft, delicate swirls and twirls in another. Open from 8am–6pm; included in the $15 ticket price is full access to the park as well as Nong Nooch’s famous Amazing Thai Cultural shows and Elephant show.
Casual visitors to this Loire Valley chateau will not guess that its “quintessentially French” potager – albeit realised on an almost surrealistically massive scale – was created in the early 20th century by a Spanish-born doctor and his American wife, utilising what might be described as a relaxed attitude to authenticity.