A good dose of outdoor frolicking is just what's required after the post-Christmas sofa slump; natural light, fresh air and exercise being key to both our happiness and healthiness. And when the countryside is inaccessible, where better to enjoy the outdoors and escape the city rush than a beautiful park? As part of our ongoing upbeat January drive, and in eager anticipation of spring, we bring you five of our favourite international parks in all their leafy green glory…
Butchart Gardens – British Columbia, Canada
In 1908 Jennie Butchart began the development of Vancouver Island’s stunning Butchart Gardens on the site of a disused and exhausted quarry, owned by her husband. Lining the quarry floor with tons of high quality soil from nearby farmland, brought to the quarry by horse and cart, she began its miraculous transformation into sunken garden. Over the years the Butcharts added new aspects to the landscape, including a Japanese garden, an Italian garden and a rose garden, complemented by fountains, streams and ponds. The gardens soon became one of the island’s most prized assets, and so it remains – it was named a National Historic Site in 2004.
Gardens of Marqueyssac – Vézac, France
The wonderful Gardens of Marqueyssac overhang the 17th century Château de Marqueyssac, located above the picturesque Dordogne Valley. In the 1860s, a new owner of the château, Julien de Cervel, planted thousands of boxwood trees and had them hand-clipped into whimsical shapes, many in groups of rounded bobbles that resembled flocks of sheep. He also added linden trees, cypress trees, and stone pine from Italy, and introduced the cyclamen from Naples. Inspired by the popular Romantic style of landscaping, he then built rustic structures, redesigned the parterres, and laid out five kilometers of walks. After falling into relative disrepair in the second half of the 20th century, the gardens were happily restored to their former glory in 1996 and thereafter opened to the public.
Keukenhof – Lisse, Netherlands
With around seven million new bulbs planted on its grounds each year, Keukenhof is the world's most extensive flower garden, filled with budding flowers that appear to flow in streams of colour. It is situated on medieval hunting grounds in the small Dutch town of Lisse and was opened in 1949 as an exhibition space where flower growers from all over Europe could show off their hybrid plants. This became an annual event, attracting hoards of visitors and accounting for the park's current size (35 hectares) and fame.
Ritsurin Garden – Takamatsu, Japan
The mountainside city of Takamatsu plays hosts to one of Japan's most idyllic parklands, Ritsurin Garden (literally "chestnut grove garden"). The garden dates back to the early 17th century when the feudal lord of Sanuki, Ikoma Takatoshi, ordered the construction of a garden around the South Pond, against the beautiful green backdrop of Mount Shiun. Successive lords built upon the original garden up until 1745 when it was declared complete. When the new Meiji government took control some years after, the garden was deemed a prefectural garden and opened to the public on March 16, 1875. As well as the antique structures and bridges, the park is punctuated by streams and lakes filled with koi which can be fed with breadsticks sold on the grounds.
The High Line – New York City, USA
Built on a historic freight rail line, elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side, The High Line is one of the world’s most striking and unusual public parks. In 1999, when the structure came under threat of demolition, community residents formed “Friends of the High Line” and fought for its preservation and transformation. The first section of the High Line (from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street) opened on June 9, 2009, and the second section, between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened June 8, 2011. Dutch gardening pioneer Piet Oudolf is responsible for the beautiful plant design, which sees the site brimming with a breathtaking array of wild flowers and herbaceous plants.
Text by Daisy Woodward