The best friend on earth of man is the tree: when we use the tree respectfully and economically we have one of the greatest resources of the earth.
(This is the first of a two-part series on the world’s most beautiful historic gardens.)
Creating a beautiful and inviting garden is a timeless pursuit. Civilizations from around the world have been crafting gorgeous landscapes for thousands of years.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of historic gardens have fallen into neglect and disrepair. But there are still many that have not. Let’s take a look at five of the most beautiful gardens that have stood the test of time.
Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou, China
Beginning in the 10th century, the Chinese city of Suzhuo became famous for its gardens. But the largest and most popular is the Humble Administrator’s Garden.
Built around a man-made lake, this area has been occupied since the 2nd century. In the early 16th century, the garden was expanded by a Ming Dynasty imperial inspector.
The garden contains numerous pavilions and bridges, set among a maze of connected pools and islands. Its unique design is meant to inspire a moment of recognition and reflection.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Alhambra and Generalife Gardens, Granada, Spain
In 1238, when Spain was still under Muslim rule, the Nasrid dynasty established a royal residence at Alhambra. Over the years, the vast complex grew to comprise 35 acres of palaces, terraces and gardens high in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
After the Christians recaptured the area in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Spanish royals Ferdinand and Isabella. In fact, this is where Christopher Columbus received the royal endorsement for his expedition.
The palaces were partially altered to reflect the Renaissance style during this period.
Nevertheless, the property still serves as an excellent example of Moorish landscape design, with its numerous courtyards, symmetrical plantings, architectural elements, and ubiquitous fountains and pools that simulate paradise.
Of the outlying buildings connected to the Alhambra, the most interesting is the Generalife (“Garden of Arif”). This served as the rulers’ hunting lodge. The adjoining historic gardens feature elaborate plantings and an exquisite courtyard, with colonnades and pavilions surrounding a channel-shaped fountain.
Mount Vernon, Fairfax, Virginia
America may not be home to the oldest gardens on the planet, but many of our most beautiful estates are historic nonetheless.
For instance, George Washington’s beloved homestead, Mount Vernon, was built in 1735. Our first president personally oversaw all aspects of the landscape, and even extensively redesigned much of the grounds.
His garden designs reflected the naturalistic, informal 18th-century English style. Washington reshaped walkways, cut vistas through the forest, and planted hundreds of native trees and shrubs. The grounds featured extensive and well-ordered fruit and vegetable gardens, which provided much of the food for the household.
Mr. Washington’s mind was rarely far from the lush gardens and majestic views at Mount Vernon.
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
Another American beauty is located right outside historic Philadelphia. Founded in 1798 as an arboretum on a working form, Longwood Gardens has been enchanting visitors ever since. The expansive 1,077-acre grounds, features more than 11,000 plants and trees in its gardens, woodlands and meadows. With 20 outdoor and 20 indoor gardens, Longwood is a heavenly haven for horticulturists.
The original brick farmhouse, built in 1730, still stands on the property. In 1798, the farm’s owners began planting an arboretum that eventually covered 15 acres.
By the mid 1800’s the arboretum boasted one of the country’s finest collections of trees. These history gardens remained a popular gathering place for community picnics and socials into the late 19th century.
In 1906, American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Pierre S. du Pont, purchased the property in order to preserve the trees from being harvested. Under du Pont’s care, Longwood became one of the country’s premier botanical gardens and educational facilities.
Villa d’Este, Tivoli, Italy
After a failed bid for the papacy in 1550, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este was offered the governorship of Tivoli. He set about building a villa and gardens for himself that would equal any in Rome. The result was Villa d’Este, an Italian garden masterpiece which now a UNESCO world heritage site.
The estate’s steep, terraced landscape is filled with grottoes and sculptures, but its dominant feature is water. With its burbling canals, ponds and a multitude of fountains, the Villa d’Este is a frequently copied model of a baroque-style European garden.
Cardinal d’Este’s historic gardens were designed to be grand but playful: One fountain periodically surges to splash unsuspecting visitors. And the spectacular gardens also include a water-powered organ. (Composer Franz Liszt was a frequent guest here.)
The garden also incorporates ruins of ancient villas. And its series of terraces above terraces calls to mind the hanging gardens of Babylon.
The Villa d’Este was first opened to the public in the 1920’s, after becoming the property of the Italian government during the WWI.
Enjoy the following video tour of this remarkable property: