National Public Gardens Day: Top 10 to Visit Around the World

Is a penchant for traveling a red flag? If your name is Colin Robinson, then it probably is. For the uninitiated, Colin Robinson is the lovable but droll energy vampire from What We Do in the Shadows who would probably be enthralled by the sprawling concrete jungle of his native habitat – a very oxymoron in itself. 

Want something off the beaten path, but not too desolate?

Unlike some of the more cosmopolitan attractions of the world’s greatest cities, botanical gardens and conservatories are unlikely to be swamped by tourists. The bountiful greenery, arranged in artful displays, offer a respite from the hectic pace of the industrialized world while soothing your soul.

Whether you’re on a business trip or a leisure vacation, take the time to stop and smell the roses. Below is a curated list of gardens around the world, from the infamous poison garden to the lush gardens of Mesoamerica.

The Alnwick Poison Garden, England 

English laurel can be seen in the Poison Garden

Colloquially known as “the poison garden,” the Alnwick Garden in the UK gives another word to the meaning breathtaking – its deadliest plants can literally take your breath away. Some, like the English laurel, go by fairly innocuous names while others, like the poisonous nightshade, insinuate insidious origins. In small doses, these plants can yield cures, but that’s not why visitors are drawn to this murder of plants. It’s far more thrilling to learn about killing jars filled with laurel leaves, used by Victorians to kill insects for their collections, than say, the history of aspirin. 

Virtual visit:

Vallarta Botanical Garden, Mexico 

Even garden connoisseurs admit that the Vallarta Gardens in Mexico is among the more unique gardens. Stemming from the simple desire to preserve nature, it has evolved to house the largest orchid collection in Mexico, as well as other exotic vegetation. Jurassic-era ferns soar skyward while gargantuan trees, accessorized with colorful vines, dwarf visitors. As you trek down the various trails, expect to encounter jewel-toned hummingbirds, the grotesque yet intriguing giant fig tree, and rare cacti.

Visit virtually:

Huntington Desert Garden, California 

Exotic flowers do not last long, and even the strongest oak can be felled. Cacti, however, are tenacious, able to survive with a dearth of water, regenerating into a mutated form even after their arms are ripped off. Those who pride themselves on being as tough as nails can find a worthy opponent in the Huntington Desert Garden, where prickly cacti and other desert plants congregate. A reminder that beauty can exist in the harshest of places, it’s also next to the Huntington Library, which houses a collection of rare texts. 

Visit virtually:

Park and Palace of Monserrate, Portugal  

Merging the palatial splendor of Old Portugal with the incredible biodiversity of nature, Monserrate Park will appeal both to botanists and history lovers alike. And unlike other European hotspots, summers in Portugal are known to be mild, calling the adventurer with picturesque blue skies. As you wander among the moss-covered pillars and take in the heady Oriental architecture, a holdover from Moorish rule, it’s easy to see why Portuguese is considered a Romance language. 

Visit virtually:

Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago 

When one thinks of Chicago, soaring skyscrapers and upscale living come to mind. But venture further, and you’ll discover the crystalline gardens of Garfield Park Conservatory, a greenhouse of exotic plants that otherwise wouldn’t survive in the wild. Featuring a wondrous greenhouse of plants from different ecosystems, every step of the way is an adventure. 

Visit virtually:

Jardim Botanico de San Paolo, Brazil 

It’s easy to believe that nature was once revered as a goddess as you stroll among the walkways of the Jardim Botanico. A glimpse into a vista of Mesoamerican flora and fauna unspoiled by man, it gives visitors opportunities to watch wildlife, from howler monkeys to boa constrictors. If you do encounter a sloth, refrain from touching them, as it can be detrimental to their mental and physical health. 

Visit virtually:

International Rose Test Garden, Oregon 

Much like diamonds, roses hold immense staying power, whether you like them or not. A rosarium is a poetic term for a rose garden, and it’s fitting that the City of Roses would have a site dedicated to these ubiquitous flowers. As its name implies, it once served as the testing site for new rose varieties, sent by hybridists who had deemed them too fragile to survive the bombings of World War I. 

Visit virtually:

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston    

Boston has always been a city steeped in history, and the Gardner Museum is no different, emblematic of the legacy of Isabella Gardener, an enigmatic socialite and art collector. Designed in the style of a Venetian palace, the museum features a courtyard of flowers dripping with Old World glamour and artifacts of antiquity, from paintings of the Dutch masters to tapestries of the Orient. For students and travelers, the museum remains a breezy way to pass the day as you surround yourself with the finer side of Italy. 

Visit virtually:

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore 

A city that teems with architectural marvels, good food, and technological brilliance, Singapore is often lauded as a city that has it all – indeed, it’s been ranked as the happiest city in Asia for two consecutive years. Gardens by the Bay, a creation that melds the futuristic visions of scientists with the ecological importance of green spaces, is a must visit destination for those en route to Singapore. At dusk, Tesla-like Supertrees come to life, offering a panoramic view of the gardens.

Visit virtually:

Garden of Ninfa, Italy 

Last but not least, the Garden of Ninfa in Italy consistently ranks as the world’s most romantic garden. The name, an ode to the river that runs through its ruins, refers to a temple dedicated to water nymphs. Amidst a backdrop of medieval ruins, overgrown with moss and wisteria, it looks like something straight from a fairytale. Despite its proximity to Rome, it’s actually built in the style of a Romantic English Garden, and features a canopy of dreamy, ornamental trees.

Visit virtually:

(Note from editor: May 10 is National Public Gardens Day. Although recognized as an American event, we can certainly still take time to investigate beautiful gardens around the world - even if it's virtually!)

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