Travels Abroad: A Few of My Favourite ‘Must See’ Gardens!

By Tim Evans, Master Gardener

I once had a reading a number of years ago by a medical intuitive who told me about my most recent past life, one which I was unable to recall because of the closeness of that very recent life. I was told it held a very strong emotional charge in this lifetime which explained why I was unable to access it easily on my own. For those who believe in past lives, you would understand that we can very easily have interests carry on from one lifetime to the next. It’s only natural. Towards the end of my very enlightening reading, the medical intuitive said to me “You had two main passions in your most recent past life – traveling and gardening!” (She didn’t know me from a hole in the ground) She sure was accurate with that comment. Old habits die hard! As a result, I feel travel destinations are not complete without touring the local botanical gardens, a winning combination of travel and gardens! Here are four of my favourites in no particular order.

Yu Garden or Yuyuan Garden of Shanghai, China

This popular tourist site is located in central Shanghai a short distance from the southernmost end of Shanghai’s famous Bund walkway along the Huangpu River. The garden consists of a spectacular five acres, rambling pathways, hidden pavilions and ancient flora. I had taken a walk along the historic Bund and then wandered through a park which led to the Yu Garden, stumbling upon it totally by accident. After touring this garden, I rate it as one of the very best examples of a Chinese garden with all its classic elements.

The original garden was created in 1559 by Pan Yunduan, a Ming-era governor of Sichuan Province who wanted his parents to enjoy it in their golden years. Pan Yunduan unfortunately became bankrupt in 1577 and the garden had fallen into disrepair until it was restored and expanded by a number of rich merchants in the 18th century.

The Yu Garden features the timeless two-storey Huxinting teahouse located in the middle of a manmade lake; it is a spot for tea so famous that foreign dignitaries, including Queen Elizabeth, have partaken in its tea and dainties. (The quail eggs boiled in black tea were amazing!) A zigzag pathway to enter into the teahouse keeps evil spirits from entering inside, as it is believed spirits can’t turn corners at all.

The highest point of the garden is the Grand Rockery, towering 12 meters in height and consisting of 2,000 tons of yellow stones from Wukang, China. The fusion of rice glue and limestone was mixed to create the foundation of the structures of Yu Gardens.

Yu Garden contains separated areas, 30 in number, with unique regions surrounded by white walls.

Each wall has tiles capping the top resembling the scales of a dragon with the end of the wall forming a distinct dragon’s head. Claws, serpentine and ornate skull are present, a strong reminder of Chinese mythology representation. Beneath the dragon’s chin is an unusual and whimsical detail consisting of a toad which represents longevity. In Chinese mythology, the two animals are reported to make a formidable pair.

The ‘Exquisite Jade Rock’ entitled Yu Ling Long is one of the valued acquisitions towards the centre of the garden. Weighing 5 tons of porous rock, it towers as a unique monolith.

What I found amazing was the extensive usage of lava rock throughout combined with the various plants and an explosive amount of deep, dark stain used on all buildings and walkways which lend to a very timeless, ancient feel, a common feature of the Ming Dynasty.

Entrance fee is only 40 yuan high season and 30 yuan low season. Expect to explore this grand example of a Chinese style garden for at least 2-4 hours.

The Exotic Garden of Monaco / Le Jardin Exotique de Monaco

This garden of 15,000 square meters towers above Monaco as one of its prized showpieces and tourist attractions. A multitude of cacti and succulent plants from all corners of the globe exist within this space.

The plants originate from South-West USA, Mexico, Central and South America for the cacti and agaves, south and eastern Africa and Arabia for other succulents.

The garden opened to the public in February 1933 and soon became the country’s most visited tourist attraction.

What I found amazing was the wild assortment of mature cacti and succulents on this cliffside garden. Imagine a massive garden overhanging a cliff! The pathways were well defined and easy to traverse with various outlook stops along the way to view the Mediterranean and the metropolis of Monaco.

Connected to the garden is a subterranean cave which was well worthwhile touring. Prehistoric man inhabited the cave by proof of the remains of the animals they ate. Individuals in wheelchairs won’t be able to access the cave, unfortunately, and may find the garden somewhat limiting.

At the moment, the gardens are closed to the public. No explanation was provided but I am sure it will open into the future. Cost for access is 7.20Euros.

Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro / Jardim Botanico de Rio de Janeiro

My priority for visiting Rio de Janeiro was to see Christ the Redeemer Statue, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a bucket list achievement. Of course, the visit wouldn’t be complete without seeing the city’s other famous sites such as Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and Sugar Loaf Mountain, but one definitely can’t leave Rio without seeing the world famous Jardim Botanico! Its gardens are a must! UNESCO has designated Jardim Botanico and surrounding area including Christ the Redeemer Statue as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Collection.

The garden dates back to 1808 and was founded by Dom Joao VI (King John VI) of Portugal renowned for his understanding of the scientific importance of plant collections. Located on a 350-acre site at the base of the Corcovado Mountain, it is home to 7,000 species of tropical plants, many of them endangered.

From most areas of this immense botanical garden, you can look upwards to the northeast and see Christ the Redeemer Statue high above the tropical trees perched on the top of its mountain.

Jardim Botanico consists predominantly of native Brazilian plants such as aroids, palms and woody members of the legume family. Palms line the walkways and grow as high as 30 meters with a main street , 750 meters in length, called ‘The Avenue of Royal Palms’. Jardim Botanico is also home to 140 species of birds including the Channel-bill Toucan and the White- neck Hawk. Wild monkeys and marmosets are regularly spotted throughout the garden.

The park’s various divisions include an Amazon section containing Amazon rainforest plants such as rubber trees, babassu and cocoa trees.

The orchid and bromeliad collection contains over 1,700 specimens from South and Central America. There is also a sensory garden designed for visually impaired visitors where plants such as cacti and herbs can be touched or smelled. Plates identifying the various plants throughout the park are written in Braille.

What I found fascinating was the exhibit of various beehives containing only stingless bees from the Amazon.

The price to enter the gardens is $15 Brazilian reals. Plan numerous hours to properly tour all the garden has to offer.

Easter Is land Tau Kiani Garden / Jardin Tau Kiani Easter Island

Easter Island is a difficult destination to get to with only two flights a day from Santiago, Chile. It is one of the most isolated islands in the world located in the south Pacific nestled between New Zealand and Chile. Administered by the government of Chile, it’s also listed as one of the thirteen ‘runners up’ for Wonders of the World. Privately owned, Tau Kiani Botanical Garden is a recent tourist attraction on Easter Island, second only to the famous main attraction of 1,000 moai statues interspersed throughout the island. It is situated a short distance away from the main town on the island, Hanga Roa. This is a newer garden, created in 2009 by Juan Carlos Poblete with a focus and goal of preserving the native fauna of Polynesia and other tropical species.

Positioned throughout the garden are moai statues and sculptures in rock and wood. Numerous varieties of bananas, hibiscus, palm species, avocado trees, guavas and beautiful flowers called Tipanie (also called Plumeria and Frangipani) adorn the area.

Two small ponds contain papyrus and lotus flowers. Turtles and coloured koi fish inhabit the ponds.

Of interest is the Toromiro or Easter Island Tree (Sophora toromiro), one of the rarest trees in the world. Its only natural habitat was Easter Island. It, however, is now extinct on the island. Attempts by the Gothenburg Botanical Garden in Sweden to reintroduce the plant to the island have been unsuccessful. Hopefully the Botanical Garden will be offered plants to maintain on their property. Sheep were to blame for its extinction on Easter Island although I saw no sheep whatsoever but definitely hundreds of wild horses.
What I found astounding were the washrooms of this botanical garden. Hands down, they were the most beautiful washrooms I have ever seen; covered with a plexiglass ceiling allowing ample sunlight for the various vines and flowering plants grown within the washroom areas.

This garden needed a bit of tender loving care as the ponds weren’t working properly, some areas were filled with common everyday annuals which should have been local plants instead, but being that they rely entirely on contributions, it is still a ‘must see’ botanical garden should you visit Easter Island.

It’s been almost 2 years since my last vacation and naturally the pandemic has been the factor preventing further garden exploits. There are endless gardens in the world left to explore. No doubt I will find more to photograph and enjoy.