Dishin’ Some Dirt on Great Gardens

When I travel, there are always three things I look for as entertainment – museums, old churches and gardens. Today, I’m focusing on gardens. I love me some gardens. There’s a true art and beauty to a well maintained garden. I love and appreciate the people who toil in them every day seeking perfection and accepting that they probably won’t get it. When I visit a garden, I like to take my time and enjoy it slowly. Sometimes I’ll meander and take pictures for hours. It makes me a happy girl. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some really great ones. Here are a few I love. I hope you get the chance to see them, too.

The Japanese Gardens in Seattle:

Walking Path at The Japanese Gardens in Seattle, Washington

This small garden is a gem. It was pouring down rain the day I visited and I still enjoyed every minute of it. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a serious crush on Japanese maples. I tried to grow one here in South Texas, but it just gasped and died and broke my heart. I strolled in this garden for 2 hours and only saw one other person. Maybe it was the rain, but I didn’t care. I was alone in a living piece of art, and it was spectacular. If you’re going to Seattle, put it on your list.

Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia:

The Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island

Oh, Canada! Words can’t begin to describe this remarkable garden. Privately owned by the Butchart family, it was started in 1904 by Jennie Butchart to beautify an old abandoned rock quarry. It easily wins my vote for best and most creative make-over of a giant hole. The sheer volume of dirt and plants it took to make this 55 acre masterpiece come to life are mind-boggling. It’s a top attraction in Victoria, and continues to stun and enthrall visitors year-round. There are many gardens within the grounds – a bog garden, a sunken garden, a rose garden, an Italian garden, etc. When you go to Vancouver Island, save some room in your schedule for Butchart Gardens. You won’t regret it.

The Gardens of the Palace at Versailles, outside of Paris:

The Gardens of Versailles and the Grand Canal

Most people visit Versailles to tour the palace and without a doubt, it is palatial. The Hall of Mirrors, the art collection and the lavender glass chandeliers alone are worth seeing. But it’s also miserably crowded with tourists who try the patience of even the kindest soul. For me, the real treasures are the gardens which date back to the 1660’s. They cover 800 hectares of land (that’s 8,000 acres). If this is on your bucket list, pack your walking shoes and your camera, buy a tram ticket to get out to the far ends of the property, and prepare to spend a full day taking it all in. Here are my favorite gardens at Versailles.

The Orangerie:

The Orangerie at Versailles - Part of It, Anyway!

It is exactly what it sounds like – a formal garden for Louis XIV’s 3,000 orange trees. Built between 1684 and 1686, it was one of the earliest structures at Versailles and was carved out of the southern slope of the palace to provide oranges in the winter. The formal design and its sheer size make this garden a stunner. I love how orderly it is. If you’re a neat freak, this is your garden. There’s not one thing out of place. This photograph shows less than half of this remarkable space. I found it hard to comprehend the history of this place. This garden is 350 years old. Wrap your head around that for a minute. Incredible!

The Botanical Gardens at the Trianon:

The Botanical Gardens at Petite Trianon, Versailles

In 1750, Louis XV commissioned the botanical gardens at Versailles. The Petite Trianon was built as a residence for the king so he could be closer to his new botanical garden and his long-time mistress, Madame de Pompadour, who died before it was completed. Eventually, it became the exclusive playground of Marie Antoinette, who (it is said) much preferred the peaceful gardens to the palace at Versailles. The botanical gardens of the Trianon and the adjacent hamlet became her refuge. It is said that no one was allowed to enter the gardens or grounds of the Petite Trianon or the hamlet without her permission. And it’s the hamlet that became my favorite garden at Versailles.

The Hamlet of Marie Antoinette:

I love this rustic arbor with its peek-a-boo garden view

I know why she escaped here. It is the anti-Versailles. While the palace was formal, grand and political, the hamlet replicated a small peasant village. Made up of small thatch-roofed houses and barns, it’s like a trip back in time to a rural French, well…hamlet. There are no palaces, no ballrooms, no pretense or snobbery. It is so peaceful here. There are barns with animals and gardens filled with vegetables and a vineyard that still grows grapes for the wines bottled in Marie Antoinette’s honor. I can’t describe it all, but I fell in love with it. If I had to choose between the palace full of fancy-pants politicians or the gardens with goats and cows and milkmaids, I’d choose the hamlet, too. If you do make it to Versailles some day, buy a tram ticket out to the hamlet and spend some quality time there. It will provide a remarkable contrast to the crowds inside the palace.

Cottage Garden in the Hamlet, Versailles

For me, gardens are magical places. It doesn’t matter if it’s a formal garden, a butterfly garden, a park or a small patch of dirt in your own back yard. I love them all. You never know what’s going to happen when you plant something. You could get something spectacular, or all hell could break loose. All it really takes is time, determination and hope, which reminds me of my pineapple plant that looks fabulous but won’t produce a baby pineapple. I don’t understand it. I’ve loved and nurtured it for 5 years, and I refuse to give up. I just want my baby pineapple! Okay, so gardening can sometimes require patience, but it can also be very rewarding. My motto for gardening makes a great motto for living: “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell, and fertilize” (credited to Emily Whaley). Some days it’s more about working like hell…some days it’s more about fertilizing, if you know what I mean. What do you think, dear readers? Post a comment. I’d love to hear more about your favorite gardens. Let’s dish some dirt!

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Dishin’ Some Dirt on Great Gardens

  1. Amazing garden! I would so love to see a place that beautiful in person. We live in a flat , ugly area in Southen Texas. Thank you for the pictures.

    Melissa

    • Hang in there, Melissa. We didn’t really start traveling a lot until our daughter was grown and married and we could afford it. That trip to Paris was part of our 25th Anniversary celebration. Until then, you’re always welcome to visit the NanaBread blog for photos and ideas to add to your wish list. There’s always hope. Thanks for checking in!

  2. Kay

    Wow, these are some beautiful photos! I love to visit gardens, too! Just went to Biltmore estate and its beautiful garden.

    • I loved Biltmore, too! What a great place. I can’t imagine having that kind of wealth. You’re right – the gardens there are beautiful. My favorite thing, however, was the “roof top tour” where you actually get to go up on the walkways around the roof. The view from up there was spectacular! Thanks for visiting the blog and leaving a comment. I really do appreciate it!

  3. Brenda

    You and I could be sisters. I too, love museums, churches and gardens! After looking at your photos of Germany, I so miss the beautiful country. I lived in Aschaffenburg, GE for 3 years, loving every minute of it. I remember a castle in every town. Thanks for sharing and bringing back memories!

    • We loved it, too. A week didn’t seem long enough. I’d love to go back to Germany some day and see more. It’s such a beautiful place. Glad I could help bring back good memories for you, and thanks for stopping in to visit. I appreciate it.

  4. Kari Carter

    Beautiful! I am so excited to say that Aug 15 we leave for 5 weeks tour of England, France, Italy, Israel and Jordan (Petra). I told my friend the travel agent – ‘just book us near every garden!!!’ And yes, this is the summer of our 30th anniversary – so patience pays off in more ways than one!

    • Wow, Kari. That sounds like a fantastic trip! Congratulations on the trip and the anniversary. The Complete Package and I will be celebrating 29 years in September. I have great admiration for any couple that celebrates that many years together. It just doesn’t seem to happen that much any more. You’ll have to let me know which gardens were your favorites. I’d love to hear more after your trip!

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