If you've got a budding green thumb on your hands, or you are working to pass on your love of gardening to your kids, you no doubt appreciate how many life skills gardening can teach children. Be it creativity, patience, an appreciation of ecology, or—let's face it, fellow gardeners—the ability to deal with failure, gardening gives to the body, mind and soul. But gardens aren't only about the micro level of seedlings and crumbs of soil, they can also tell captivating stories and make visitors feel transported somewhere otherworldly. With this in mind, we've prepared a roundup of 10 magical and enchanting gardens and parks from around the globe that are not quite so well known as the blockbusters such as the Park Güell in Barcelona, or Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg. If you and your garden-loving tribe are traveling anywhere near these very special places, why not consider adding them to your "to visit" list to behold awesome feats of gardening.
1. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, UK
While the “Lost Gardens” sound mysterious, the reason for their fall into disrepair for much of the 20th century is sadly commonplace. In 1914, nearly all of the gardeners of this 400-year-old estate went off to fight in the Great War, never to return. Without them, the gardens rapidly descended into chaos and languished under weeds until a painstaking process of restoration was begun in 1991. One of the most fascinating features of Heligan is its Pineapple Pit, which uses the heat of decomposing horse manure to maintain temperatures suitable to grow this subtropical fruit in the UK. The Gardens’ 300 restored acres of ferns and palms make Heligan a magical place for children and the giant sculptures half buried in the earth simply add to its charm and wonder.
2. The Huntington Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA
The botanical gardens surrounding the Huntington Library are a great place to take children exploring because of the variety of garden themes on display. There’s an Australian section, a camellia garden, Japanese and Chinese gardens, a ranch garden and a jungle-style garden, as well as 5,000 species of cacti and succulents, and 200 species of palms. With 10 acres of weird and wonderful cacti gardens and many spectacular and rare palm trees, kids can play “spot the strangest-looking plant” while learning about the delicate balance of dryland ecosystems.
3. Rockingham Castle Gardens, UK
The first stage of Rockingham Castle was built on the orders of William the Conqueror in the 11th century, but over the years the castle has grown substantially. It’s surrounded by 18 acres of formal and informal gardens with sweeping views off an escarpment overlooking five neighboring counties. There are orderly rose gardens and wild woodland spaces, but the truly amazing feature of this garden is its 400-year-old “Elephant Hedge,” a massive planting of yew trees whose lumps and bumps really resemble elephants. There is a yew walk down the center of the planting so kids can explore this intriguing botanical marvel up close.
4. Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand
Hamilton Gardens on the North Island of New Zealand is another public garden with several themed areas that are both entertaining and educational in equal measure. There is an internationally significant Tudor garden, an Indian garden filled with a riot of color thanks to plantings of more than 4,000 flowering annuals, a Japanese garden of contemplation, kitchen gardens, and an Italian Renaissance style garden. The Te Parapara garden also showcases traditional Maori gardening techniques and in April visitors can watch the annual kumara harvest and learn about the importance of this traditional food staple in Maori culture. Established in 1960, Hamilton Gardens won 2014 Garden of the Year from the International Garden Tourism Network.
5. Les Jardins de Marqueyssac, France
The Jardins de Marqueyssac are in the Perigord region of France. They feature 150,000 hand-pruned box shrubs that are more than a century old and are rumored to be clipped to look like flocks of sheep. Children will love exploring the quirky plantings! Marqueyssac’s grounds contain waterways, rockeries, sunny clearings and nearly four miles (6km) of pathways. The garden’s Belvedere gives a sweeping view of the Dordogne Valley, which is filled with castles and picturesque villages. Other child-friendly features include playgrounds, swings, huts and an extensive educational and craft programs.
6. Hitachi Seaside Park, Japan
Hitachi Seaside Park is becoming very well known for its spectacular “Nemophila Harmony” festival, which features around 4.5 million flowering Baby Blue-Eyes each spring. However, the park has mass plantings all year round. In fall there is an amazing display of Bassia scoparia (aka burningbush, Mexican firebrush, etc.), which covers the hillsides in big tufts of hot pink, resembling something out of a Dr. Seuss illustration. There are also over one million daffodil bulbs in the grounds, and 150 different varieties of tulips. This park is breathtaking at any time of the year.
7. Sacro Bosco, Italy
This garden is maybe more for older children than the very little! The Gardens of Bomarzo or the Sacro Bosco (Sacred Grove) in Lazio, central Italy, is commonly known as the Park of Monsters and for fairly obvious reasons! Established in 1552, the park is home to scores of stone sculptures, chiefly based on characters from Classical mythology. The sculptures are randomly placed around the gardens, which stand at the base of a hilltop castle. One of the most famous sculptures on the garden is the Orcus. Not only has it featured in a number of films over the years, but its acoustics mean that visitors standing inside the mouth can whisper and be heard clearly by someone standing at the base of the steps leading up to it.
8. Paronella Park, Australia
Everyone who visits Paronella Park falls in love with it due to the knock-out combination of the lush tropical landscape and the wildly romantic folly of its creation. Every construction on the 13 acres of the former private residence was hand built by Spanish emigré José Paronella throughout the 1920s and ’30s as a testament to his love for his wife, Margarita. Grand staircases, their home, a castle, hundreds of concrete planter boxes, and the tennis lawns and pavilion were all made by Paronella when he wasn’t busy building the first hydro-electric system in the area, setting up gas bowsers to serve day trippers, or installing a public cinema on the grounds to keep the local sugar cane farmers entertained. Children will love exploring the grounds, feeding the river turtles, learning about the restored hydro system, or being pleasantly spooked by a tour through the hand-hewn Tunnel of Love, which turns out to be home to a colony of harmless, teeny and adorable microbats.
9. Oedo, South Korea
The gardens on the South Korean island of Oedo were established in 1976 by husband and wife, Lee Chang-ho and Choi Ho Suk. The grounds now feature more than 3,000 plant species, many of them rare and all suited to the subtropical climate that the island enjoys. Just like Hitachi Seaside Park, there is a surrealistic Dr. Seuss-like element to some of the plantings here, which kids will love. There are also immaculately maintained formal gardens, and stunning views of the surrounding sea and islands.
10. The Park of Pena, Portugal
The Park of Pena surrounds UNESCO World Heritage-listed Pena Palace in south-west Portugal. The gelati-hued, fairy-tale palace sits on the site of a former monastery and the park’s 85 hectares of gardens were laid out in the Romantic style in the mid-1800s. Filled with ferns, waterfalls and ponds, and designed to allow for set views from every vantage spot, the park will have children expecting to see knights, unicorns and fairies at every turn.
Lead image by canadastock via Shutterstock Photos by 1. The Lost Gardens of Heligan and Robyn Mackenzie via Shutterstock, 2. Ken Wolter via Shutterstock and Pamla J. Eisenberg via Wikimedia Commons, 3. Rockingham Gardens, and Richard Kendall via Flickr 4. Sarlat Office de Tourisme, Heligan image by khd via Shutterstock. 5. Hamilton Gardens on Facebook, 6. Katorisi via Wikimedia Commons and Hitachi Seaside Park, 7. canadastock via Shutterstock, 8. Paronella Park, 9. Steve 46814 via Wikimedia Commons and Hang Dinh via Shutterstock, and 10. Parques de Sintra, and Bojan i Jelena via Shutterstock