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: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: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: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: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: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 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. 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!