From an airport garden in Singapore to a perfumer’s paradise, a sea of bamboo to a local neighborhood gem in Sydney, these gardens hail from all corners of the world and have one thing in common: deep meaning to those who established them and those who visit them.

While travel allows us to experience the undeniable connection we have to each other, gardens offer us a connection to the world, they call us home, allow us to marvel, and give us the serenity we need and any adventure we may crave. 

Stumbling upon one of these gardens while traveling can be an exciting discovery, but visiting them intentionally allows you to understand the deep heart of the location in which it exists. They are the city’s lungs, a region’s oxygen supply, a desert oasis, and the home of Indigenous people. Gardens offer us a whole new way to learn about the land to which we’ve traveled.

Selected from our new book, The Joy of Exploring Gardens, Here are some of the meaningful spaces you can encounter as you journey the world.

An exotic cactus in Jardian Majorelle, Marrakech with a variety of tall, spiky cacti positioned in front of a strikingly blue building with yellow window frames. The sky above is overcast, providing a soft light that accentuates the architectural beauty of the structure and the sculptural forms of the cacti
Jardian Majorelle, Marrakech is famed for this incredibly deep blue © Aurore Kervoern / Getty Images

1. Jardin Majorelle, Morocco

French artist Jacques Majorelle decided to create this unique walled garden in his newly adopted home of Marrakesh. The vibrantly colored garden was an oasis in the arid desert landscape. Majorelle drew inspiration from traditional Islamic gardens with their saturated color palette, shaded areas and cool water elements, like a long reflecting pond and bubbling fountain. The verdant gardens feature a bamboo forest, fan and date palms, and Monstera deliciosa that stand out against the cobalt blue Majorelle used as the estate’s signature color.

This sense of aliveness juxtaposed with the serene elements of the garden was immediately apparent to fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner, who acquired the property in the 1980s after Majorelle’s death, ensuring Majorelle’s living canvas will be enjoyed for generations to come.

When to go: Come in April or May, when the bougainvillea and orange blossom flower, or in September, when the scent of jasmine fills the air. Avoid the heat of high summer (June to August) if possible.

Vibrant plumeria flowers exhibit a stunning gradient of colors from yellow at the center to a soft peach and orange at the tips. The image captures the delicate texture of the petals and the gentle curve of the blossoms, basking in the warm, natural sunlight in the Koko Crater Botanical Garden, Hawaii 
An orange-yellow plumeria in bloom at Koko Crater Botanical Garden, Hawaii © Michele VS / Getty Images

2. Koko Crater Botanical Garden, Hawaii 

On the 2.3-mile (3.7km) loop trail inside Koko Crater, you’ll find tropical colors, intense fragrances and bizarre shapes that invade and intrigue the senses, from yellow and pink plumeria to bat-pollinated African sausage trees and sprawling octopus cacti. The plant collections here take up 60 acres (24 hectares) of the volcanic crater, with the crater rim towering high all around. The relatively easy, family-friendly track climbs gently into, then around, the crater, beginning with a trail through the spectacular plumeria grove.

Plumeria (also known as frangipani) may not be native to Hawaii, but it is Hawaii that made this sweet-scented, delicate-looking flower its own by presenting plumeria leis (garlands of flowers) to visitors in the early days of the tourism industry. When Hawaii’s own William Moragne discovered how to cross-pollinate plumeria in 1953, he produced a proliferation of glorious new colors and scents that soon associated plumeria with the growing excitement of travel to tropical Hawaii. Koko Crater’s stunning collection is arranged by color: from whites, yellows, and pinks to deep reds. 

When to go: While the gardens are lovely year-round; plumerias bloom April to September, and bougainvillea from September to April.

Enjoy the fountains of Villa d'Este, Tivoli © Aleksandar Vrzalski / Getty Images

3. Villa d’Este, Italy 

Artists through the centuries have been inspired by the beauty of this Italian Renaissance garden – Fragonard, Corot and Turner painted or drew it, Sassoon wrote a poem in its honor, and the tinkling sounds of its fountains and waterfalls inspired Liszt to compose three famous works for piano. These and other creations pay testament to the fact that this World Heritage–listed 16th-century garden evokes a beauty that makes the spirit soar.

After Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este failed in his bid to become Pope in 1549, he relocated from Rome to the small town of Tivoli to take up an appointment as governor. Finding himself in this somewhat ignominious position, Ippolito decided to occupy himself with an ambitious project, one so magnificent that all who beheld it would marvel at the sheer audacity of his vision. Visiting today, it’s impossible not to feel a jolt of amazement when the steep terraces and multitudinous water features are first beheld. 

When to go: The most colorful month to visit is May, when the roses and wisteria bloom. Water mist from the garden’s myriad fountains makes this a delightfully cool retreat in June to August, but it can be very cold here December to February.

Grape vines hang from a trellis in a lush vineyard garden.
Grapes on a trellis line a path at the Babylonstoren farm near Paarl © Grobler du Preez/Shutterstock

4. Babylonstoren, South Africa

Gentle slopes, ponds populate with edible lotus, waterlilies, and indigenous plants, the sounds of water trickling from nearby streams help ease you into the variety of gardens here at Babylonstoren including a Citrus Garden decorated with Delft-inspired tiles and lines from an Afrikaans poem, kitchen gardens, and walkways that lead to vegetable patches, fruit orchards and nutteries.

Inspired by historic gardens, Babylonstoren is one of the oldest working farms in the Cape Winelands. There’s so much to see here that it’s worth an overnight stay, where you can wake up to see 200 or white Pekin ducks released from their pens, waddling their way through the garden, down to the orchards and vineyards. 

When to go: January and February for peaches, nectarines, prickly pears, figs and grapes; March and April for pomegranates and olives; mid-September for clivias; late October and November for roses.

Moss covered tree are backlit by evening light in a beautiful garden.
Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina © Kruck20/Getty Images

5. Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina, USA

Southern Gothic style is on full display with the natural elements of Brookgreen Gardens as you walk down an avenue of giant gnarly oak trees draped in feathery Spanish moss. At the end of the avenue is a statue of a young man wrestling with a wild horse, the perfect introduction to the largest collection of American figurative statuary in the US.

The garden was founded by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1931 and protects South Carolina’s Lowcountry region of salt marshes, live oaks, longleaf pines, and heritage sites of the Gullah-Geechee people. There are also botanical gardens, art galleries, a historic trail and zoo. Walk the Lowcountry Trail, an immersive boardwalk journey where you’ll learn more about the Gullah Geechee people (known as Gullah in South Carolina, Geechee in Georgia), the descendants of enslaved people from West and Central Africa who worked on plantations in the region. This trail pays tribute to their history.

When to go: The gardens host Nights of a Thousand Candles Thursday to Sunday evenings in December. Reserve ahead. Azaleas begin to bloom in March and April. Other spring blooms – daffodils, roses, dogwoods – put on a brilliant show through May with magnolias soon to follow.

A vivid field of wildflowers with bright orange poppies standing out against the greenery. The scene is set in a rural area with undulating hills in the distance and a dynamic sky above, suggesting the diverse flora of a temperate climate and the beauty of a natural, uncultivated landscape.
Jardins du Musée International de la Parfumerie, Mouans-Sartoux, France © Shutterstock / EQRoy

6. Jardins du Musée International de la Parfumerie, Mouans-Sartoux, France

If you want to smell the essence of every French perfume in one garden, look no further than Les Jardins du Musée International de la Parfumerie. Meadows upon meadows of pink, white and red flowers, aromatic bushes and trees will greet you along with the honeyed scent of the famous centifolia roses. 800 species of plants can occupy nearly all of your senses as you look at, rub, touch, and sniff jasmine, rose, tuberose, violet and mimosa.

Along the Parcours Olfactif (Olfactory Trail), arranged by olfactory family, inhale deeply to savor the luxe cocktail of scents with citrus, woody, floral, fruity, musky, amber and spicy notes. Then clear your olfactory with herbaceous notes in the aromatics section. Haute-couture fashion houses such as Christian Dior and Chanel still extract essences for their luxury perfumes from the farms here while farmers pick up to 16,000 flowers a day to dry in the traditional way.

When to go: The garden’s field of centifolia roses is at its finest late April to early June. Jasmine, violets, tuberose, orange blossom and serried rows of purple lavender flower at this time too.

A close-up view of intricate blue hydrangea blooms. The flowers consist of tiny, fertile petals in the center with large, sterile petals surrounding them. The petals have a soft blue hue, with subtle variations in color intensity, nestled among lush green leaves in their natural garden habitat
Hydrangea Serratifolia flower at Naa’Waya’Sum Coastal Indigenous Gardens, Canada © Shutterstock / Julian Worker

7. Naa’Waya’Sum Coastal Indigenous Gardens, Canada

The Naa’Waya’Sum Coastal Indigenous Gardens, a conservation run by the  Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples. The garden’s Indigenous name comes from the traditional Nuu-chah-nulth word for the cedar benches used for sharing knowledge between older and younger generations. The gardens highlight the traditional plants and culture of this region and also offer Indigenous-led activities.

The gardens (given their new name when the land was returned to the Naa’Waya’Sum in 2022) are becoming a hub for Indigenous-led environmental change and enable visitors to learn about the land and local communities. As you wander the paths of the gardens, you may happen upon Nuu-chah-nulth carvers at work. With the Naa’Waya’Sum the official owners and caretakers of these evolving gardens, visitors are offered a unique look into Indigenous culture, heritage and conservation.

When to go: The best time to visit is the drier, sunnier months between May and early October. Book accommodation in advance for July to September, Vancouver Island’s peak season. The gardens are closed in winter; check the website to confirm before planning your visit.

A peaceful, reflective pond situated in China's well-manicured Anji Bamboo Sea garden. The calm water creates mirror-like reflections of the surrounding weeping willows and varied greenery. A bed of bright red flowers adds a pop of color along the pond's edge, enhancing the tranquil and natural beauty of the scene.
The calm of China's Anji Bamboo Sea © Shutterstock / FerdinandFeng

8. Anji Bamboo Sea, Huzhou Shi, China

An emerald-colored canopy of bamboo awaits you as you walk down a stone path that leads you deeper into this serene mountain area. Nestled into the eastern Zhejiang province, one of the largest of these forests in China, it’s a place where these woody grass stalks have been growing for over 7000 years. In the 1990s, a 230-sq-mile (600-sq-km) of this region was designated as the Anji Bamboo Sea. While it might not look like your average garden, the Bamboo Sea is a wild ecological preservation area full of over 1400 species of natural, mountain bamboo groves. 

In addition to being a feast for the eyes, tourists can enjoy an adventurous zip line and glass bridge. If you want to feel like you’re completely alone there are plenty of opportunities to head down other paths where the only sounds you hear are birdsong and the rustling of bamboo in the breeze. 

When to go: Bamboo is evergreen, so the Anji Bamboo Sea can be visited year-round. The best season is from March to May, when new growth is sprouting and before summer’s crowds descend. This is also the best time to taste fresh, stir-fried bamboo shoots, a local delicacy.

A lush indoor garden inside of a futuristic looking airport terminal.
Jewel Changi Aiport connecting to Terminal 1 Arrival and Terminal 2,3 through linked bridges © Shutterstock / Sing Studio

9. Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore Changi Airport

When you think of a garden chances are you’re not thinking of one in an airport. But it’s difficult to beat the wow factor of the Rain Vortex at the heart of Jewel Changi Airport. The world’s tallest indoor waterfall, the water plummets an astounding 130ft (40m) through the air out of an oculus in the glass roof. Surrounding the rain vortex is the Forest Valley, where over 900 tall trees and palms and 60,000 shrubs sprout out of and flow over four floors of this shopping mall attached to Singapore’s Changi Airport. You can also wander along one of two cobblestoned trails through the multi-level Forest Valley. 

If you’re up for adventure, then head to Canopy Park on the mall’s top floor, where you can walk across the Canopy Bridge suspended 75ft (23m) above the ground. There are separate gardens there designed for fun, including the Hedge Maze, where motion-sensored flowers pop out from leafy walls, a Petal Garden with seasonal blossoms from all over the world, and a topiary walk that features sculptures of animals like a peacock with a feathered tail of orchids. 

When to go: Being an indoor climate-controlled garden, any time of year is good to visit. Around festive seasons, such as Christmas and Chinese New Year (end of January/early February), as well as the June holiday, there are special themed displays and extra activities throughout the mall.

Rocky terrain in a high-altitude garden setting at Arctic–Alpine Botanic Garden, Norway, where bright yellow poppies (Meconopsis integrifolia)bloom against the moss-covered stones. Various alpine plants fill the garden, and small labels provide information about the species. The overcast sky suggests a cool, moist climate typical of mountainous regions
Yellow poppies at the Arctic–Alpine Botanic Garden, Norway © imageBROKER/Erhard Nerger / Getty Images

10. Arctic–Alpine Botanic Garden, Norway

Located 217 miles (350km) above the Arctic Circle, this northern oasis seems like a region that would be impossible for any plants to grow. And yet, the Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden provides you with the colors and scents of a summer’s day. Rhododendrons grow among rocky slopes. Primulas, gentians and auriculas sprout between boulders. Buttercups, anemones, windflowers and saxifrages bloom until the first snow arrives in October. It’s a mentally jarring experience to be surrounded by such color and growth and see a fjord just beyond the garden.

There’s a plant from every continent here – including the rare Himalayan blue poppy. It’s one of the few gardens on Earth where the world’s northernmost and southernmost plants bloom together. In summer, you can have picnics, or stop for coffee and waffles at the garden’s cozy cafe. If you’re there during the Northern Lights, there’s a good chance you’ll catch them sparkling above the scientific garden, creating an otherworldly experience.

When to go: The garden shows off its best colors in midsummer (mid-June to mid-July), but spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) are very pleasant too. For the Northern Lights, November to February is peak aurora season.

A secluded pathway in the shaded Wendy’s Secret Garden, invitingly leading upwards via rustic wooden steps. The path is flanked by an abundance of tropical plants, with large fronds and white bell-shaped flowers hanging overhead. Dappled sunlight filters through the canopy, casting a pattern of light and shadow on the ground.
Stairs down to Wendy’s Secret Garden in Sydney, Australia © Shutterstock / FiledIMAGE

11. Wendy’s Secret Garden, Australia

Wendy Whiteley transformed a trash heap on a piece of unused railway land into an urban oasis. Her guerilla garden, created without a plan, on land she didn’t own, and without permission, is now one of Sydney’s most magical public spaces. Wendy initially created the garden after her husband died. In her grief, she began to clear the plot of abandoned railway land adjacent to their home. Guided only by aesthetics and instinct, she planted the slopes with fig trees, bangalow palm, fuchsias and golden wattle, jasmine, ferns and trumpet vines. In 2001 when Wendy’s daughter died of cancer, the garden became even more of a respite for Wendy. 

No longer quite a secret, the garden is still something of a hidden gem, known mostly by residents of Sydney’s lower North Shore. Visitors can wander between sun and shade, choosing which zig-zagging path to follow as they admire artifacts ranging from sculptures by well-known artists to old wheelbarrows and children’s toys. 

When to go: September to November are spring, an especially pleasant time in the garden.

This article was first published November 2018 and updated February 2024

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