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Inside the world’s most beautiful gardens

Featuring over 250 gardens, The Gardener’s Garden may be the only book on landscape design you’ll ever need

By Piet Smedy  | April 19, 2022 | Gardens

Even if gardens and gardening – and, least of all, books on the topic – aren’t your thing, it’s difficult not to get drawn into this one. Boasting a roster of over 250 of the world’s most sensational expressions of landscape architecture, from Kirstenbosch and Babylonstoren to the gardens of imperial Russia and Japan and beyond.

The Gardener’s Garden

The writing is mercifully accessible to the uninitiated, and foregoes laborious plant taxonomies for punchy, fact-driven write ups for each garden, highlighting their almost always fascinating origin stories and subsequent years. If you’re an avid reader of garden literature it’ll make for a stunning reference guide and, if you’re trying this gardening thing for the first time, it’s a brilliant place to start.

Here are some of our favourite gardens from the book:

Jardin Los Vilos, Chile

An astounding example of how house and garden can be designed to read as a singular space. Here, on a Pacific Ocean cliffside in Chile, local architect and landscape designer Juan Grimm built his house – modern, angular, seemingly carved from the rockface – and, in counterbalance, designed an abundant, naturalistic landscape around it. Hemmed in with Monterey cypress trees, this stepped garden bursts with indigenous species, while creeping fig along the house’s walls blurs the divide between architecture and nature.

Photograph: Juan Grimm Renzo Delpino

The Rock Garden, South Africa

Perhaps one of the country’s more unique gardens, The Rock Garden in Magaliesburg – belonging to Geoffrey Armstrong and Wendy Vincent, a painter and sculptor, respectively – is a dry, large-scale exercise in sculptural – and mostly indigenous – gardening. You’ll find acacia trees, giant aloes, haemanthus and eucomis here, in amongst the couple’s otherworldly stone works and cairns, creating a garden that is both unique yet unmistakably African.

Photograph: Wendy Vincent

Prospect Cottage, UK

The tiny yet magical coastal rock garden that belonged to the late filmmaker Derek Jarman was created as therapy after he was diagnosed as HIV positive (ultimately dying in 1994). Situated on the bleak, coastal landscape of Dungeness, Kent the garden is mostly native species that can handle the salty air, harsh sun and generally inhospitable conditions – purple sea kale, cotton lavender, elder (which, according to tradition, offers protection from witches). In spring, the garden bursts into colour thanks to the poppies, marigolds, irises and cornflowers.

Photograph: Neill Sutherland

Giverny, France

Although it needs little introduction, Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny is actually two – quite distinct – gardens. Yes, there’s the one with the lily pond but, on the other side, you’ll find the earlier Clos Normand (which is located next to the house he would live in from 1883 until his death in 1926). As you’d expect from the Impressionist, flowers abound, from climbing roses in early summer to a profusion of nasturtiums in autumn. The second, Japanese-inspired garden, which features the famous water lilies, feels like one of his paintings come to life as you move through it. For those who want to bring the look home home, the varieties he used include Nymphaea mexicana and N. ‘Laydekeri Rosea’.

Photograph courtesy of Agence Observatoir

Huntington Botanical Gardens, USA

Founded over a century ago by railway magnate Henry Huntington on a sprawling nearly-600-acre ranch (the garden today is considerably smaller, although the Desert Garden still covers an impressive 10 acres), the gardens contain one of the most extensive botanical collections in the world. While the Japanese and Rose Gardens are certainly noteworthy, the real attraction is the Desert Garden, which comprises over 5 000 species of cacti and succulent plants (including two-thirds of the world’s known species of aloe, among them an 18 metre aloe barberae).

Photograph: Ken Walter

Kenroku-en (Garden of the Six Sublimities), Japan

Not all Japanese gardens involve raking sand in circles in the hopes of finding enlightenment. In fact, landscape gardens like Kenroku-en, which was created between 1673 and 1681 by the fifth Lord Maeda Tsunanori on the island’s west coast, are some of the finest examples of the name. The six sublimities its name refers to reference those outlined by the poet Li Gefei as the parts that make up the perfect garden: antiquity, artifice, panoramic views, seclusion, spaciousness, and an abundance of water.

Photograph: Claire Takacs

The Gardener’s Garden (Phaidon) is available on Loot