Five great world gardens to visit

Matt Biggs is best known for his contributions to the long running BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time. But he is also very well travelled, hosting gardening tours and visiting gardens all over the world. Here are five of Matt’s favourite world gardens.

Giverny. Image: Eric Sander
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Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Sissinghurst rose garden. Image: Marianne Majerus Garden Images

Biddenden Road, near Cranbrook, Kent, TN17 2AB

Garden lovers from around the globe flock to this classic English garden, created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson. Vita ‘fell in love; love at first sight. I saw what might be made of it’ and turned the land around a farmhouse with picturesque ruins in the grounds into a sequence of elegantly themed walks and rooms, painted with plants. Most famous is the much copied but never bettered ‘White Garden’, a place of romance, subtle in flower and foliage and filled with seductive fragrances at its best at twilight. Vita wrote to her husband just before she died. ‘We have done our best and created a garden where none was’. It is so much more than a garden.

Sissinghurst Castle website

Cloudehill

89 Olinda-Monulk Rd, Olinda : Melway P122 A9, Australia

In 1990, Jeremy Francis sold the family farm and searched Australia for two years for the perfect site for a garden. He finally settled on the site of an old flower farm, in the Dandenong Mountains near Melbourne. Inspired by his love of plants and art, Jeremy has created an Arts and Crafts Garden with a contemporary twist. Influenced by the great British nurseries and gardens, he created a garden with twenty five rooms and spaces, including a water garden and reflecting pool, shade borders and a copper roofed peony pavilion with ‘moon’ windows. Among the highlights is a double border, moving from hot to cool shades using an eclectic mix of perennials and shrubs. There is wonder and inspiration at every turn.

Cloudehill website

Majorelle Garden

Rue Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakech, Morocco

Majorelle Garden. Image: Fondation Jardin Majorelle

French painter, craftsman and gardener, Jacques Majorelle settled in Morocco in 1919. The garden he created is an extraordinary fusion of Islamic design, botanical collection, living contemporary art and the now famous Majorelle Blue paint. He built the garden on an oasis and commissioned Paul Sinoir to design the Cubist villa, which became his home and gallery. The garden is a place of contemplation and refuge with serene reflecting pools, fruit trees like oranges, lemons, dates and pomegranates. Majorelle loved plants, filling his garden with rare and beautiful species from around the world, his paintings financed plant collecting expeditions and the garden became his ‘cathedral of shapes and colours’. After his death, and subsequent decline, it was bought by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and restored to its former beauty. It is a place to sit and dream.

Majorelle Gardens website

Giverny

84 rue Claude Monet 27620 Giverny France

Giverny. Image: Eric Sander

Claude Monet, the ultimate ‘artist/gardener’, painted one of his greatest works in earth and flowers. When he was not painting he was tending or thinking about his garden; it became a place where he experimented with light, form and colour before applying the brush to canvas. The garden has been expertly restored to its painterly past under the guidance of English Head Gardener, James Priest. Narrow paths lead among bright, flower filled borders around the central axis of the grande alle which is filled with nasturtiums in the height of summer and of course there are the famous waterlilies. Visit early or late in the day, when the coach parties have disappeared.

Giverny website

Flor & Fjaere

Skagenkaien 35-37, 4006 Stavanger Norway

Flor & Fjaere

A 20 minute boat ride from Stavanger in Norway, at one end of the island of Sor Hidle lies an extraordinary garden bringing unexpected ‘exotica’ to northern climes. What began as an island retreat for bedding plant producer and nurseryman, Asmund Bryn and his wife Elsie Marie became a unique gardening extravaganza of 50 000 bedding plants like begonias, alyssum and petunias, planted out annually in a ‘free form’ style. Described as ‘where the rainbow hit earth’, this perfectly proportioned space is punctuated with neatly trimmed upright and pendulous conifers, immaculate lawns, still pools and giant rocks, rivers and waterfalls – there is even an artificial beach. It is an extraordinary Japanese influenced flight of fancy.

Flor and Fjaere website

Matt Biggs

About Matt Biggs

Matt Biggs is a garden writer and broadcaster who loves plants of all kinds. In his own garden in Hertfordshire, there’s a small wildflower orchard, crammed with historic varieties, a woodland border highlighting plants commemorating the great collectors and a heritage vegetable garden. One of his favourite pastimes is the re-creation of a border, filled with exotic plants he has seen while travelling around the world.
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