Around the World in 80 Gardens

I wish I could claim the blog title. It is borrowed from a 2008 television show and is, of course, a spin off of Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in 80 Days. British television personality, Monty Don hosted a BBC production featuring his visits to 80 of the world’s celebrated gardens—hence the appropriation. 

I came upon this in the usual Google way. Since my spouse and I are planning a trip to Japan I was hunting for information on Japanese gardens and was pleased to find five listed among the 80 are in Kyoto. One, at Ryoan-ji Temple is a World Heritage Site.  Of course, I also scoured the list to see how many I have seen across the world. The number is distressingly short, bringing up thoughts of so many gardens, so little time. At least I can take a whack at checking off those five Japanese gardens while traveling.

The diversity of the gardens is astonishing and each has a particular claim to the description of ‘celebrated’. These range from the private to community gardens of Liz Christy in Manhattan and Wilson Wong’s in Singapore, both named after individuals who introduced the concept locally. There are some reflecting a love of nature. For those who embrace natural gardens, one is made up of grasses; James Van Sweden’s garden at Ferry Cove in Chesapeake Bay is listed. Another, The Savanna Rock Garden in Johannesburg, South Africa is full of – well, rocks. If one is of a mind, vegetables get a shout out too. The Floating Gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City is an interesting approach to growing crops that existed before the Aztecs and sounds interesting; also a World Heritage site.  The most northern most botanic garden in the world, 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle in Tromsø, Norway is on the list and intrigues.

As someone involved with a historic garden I was particularly interested in those that have been going a while. The Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou, China, was developed in the 16th century. That does feel really historic although inclusion of the word ‘humble’ in the title is a bit disingenuous considering it is full of pavilions, islands, pools and bridges. A little later, the 1680s, William lll had a baroque garden designed at Het Loo Palace in the Netherlands. Personally, I am leery of giving credit to royals for growing a garden, particularly in the 1680s since I doubt they ever got their nails dirty.  Monticello, in Virginia is the garden of the author of the US Declaration of Independence and was also showcased by BBC. A little national pride is warranted on this choice. Thomas Jefferson was indeed fond of plants and a great student of them in the new land he helped create. He was to claim in his later years: ‘Though an old man I am a young gardener.’  On another occasion, ‘Cultivators of the earth are the most virtuous and independent citizens.’ Those of us who like to put plants in the ground can only agree.

Despite our many distinctions, Dunn Gardens is not listed among the celebrated eighty. But we do have a suggestion. It’s possible to learn about some of these other gardens while visiting Dunn. We have ordered our lecture series this year around gardens of the world. Two are left in the series: one on Japanese gardens, the other, gardens in New Zealand.  September 20, our Director of Historic Preservation and Horticulture, Quill Teal-Sullivan will speak on Japanese gardens. October 25th the talk on New Zealand gardens will be offered by yours truly. I am pleased to note that Ayrlies Garden in Auckland is on the list of 80 and one of the few I have visited.  So if you are of a mind to do a little armchair garden visiting, we would love to have you.