Great gardens of Europe

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As you hunker down with another cup of coffee to read the paper, thoughts of travel must surely tip toe through your head. If there is one universal benefit of our long Canadian winter it is that it makes dreamers out of all of us.

Mark Cullen

This time of year I dream of the great gardens that I plan to visit this season. The experiences that I have abroad while touring public and private gardens have inspired me to develop my own garden in many unique ways. I recommit myself to write and broadcast the gardening message here in Canada in an ongoing effort to encourage non gardeners to give it a try and people who enjoy the gardening experience to do more of it. Travel broadens our horizons on so many levels.

With this in mind I recommend the following European public gardens. This list is limited by space and my travel experience.

Kew Gardens: London, England.

The oldest botanical garden in the world, located in a country of dedicated gardeners offers something for everyone. If you are into ‘collector' plants this is your place as the largest collection of plant genetics is located here. There are over 300 full-time researchers on staff who access the seed and plant pool at Kew in an effort to find answers to many of life's challenges. Medical research is a primary function of the garden. Alas, this activity occurs beyond public access.

In full and public view is the wonderful glass house that underwent major restoration just a few years ago. Extensive perennial borders, a tree collection to beat the band (including the oldest Japanese Maple in the world), a real-life Japanese pagoda and the ‘largest compost in the U.K.' all lend themselves to a full day of walking, gawking and note taking. And picture taking. Each season the garden is cleverly choreographed to accentuate the very best flowers and plants. The largest display of crocus that I have ever seen, for example, are offered for your pleasure each March.

For details go to www.kew.org and remember that Kew Gardens is the last stop on the tube (subway) and therefore very accessible.

Monet's Garden: Giverny, France

I have viewed this garden twice and plan to return often. The first time that I saw it was in mid-August and more recently this past October. In a word you will find Claude Monet's garden ‘inspiring'. Without a doubt. He said, after all, that he was a "gardener first, a painter second." And so he ‘painted' his garden using plants and interesting structures as only Monet could do.

As you tour this compact horticultural treasure you will see reflections of Monet's most famous paintings. The lily pond, the rose arbor/walk lined with nasturtiums, his miniature apple orchard with dwarfed trees - it is all there. The remarkable thing is the level to which the restoration has occurred and the maintenance of the property exactly as it was when Claude Monet died in 1926.

Mr. Monet was an unusual painter in his time for a number of reasons. One of them is that he actually made a decent living selling his work while alive. As a result he was able to finance the purchase and maintenance of his home in reasonably high fashion.

Details at www.giverny.org/gardens.

Trebah: Cornwall, England.

I am leaving my very favourite to the last. This lovely estate garden in the south west of England contains the elements of gardening that make the British famous for their favourite past time. You will enjoy its 160-year history, an extensive collection of rare plants and a creative design that demonstrates a great passion for gardens, using the unusual topography to full advantage.

Trebah is not easy to get to. You will need at least a day to travel there by road or rail from London, but while in this part of the country you will find many other horticultural treasures. Located on a mere 22 acres your tour begins with a view of Falmouth Bay on the English Channel that is to die for. The site lines to the water take you over a forest of giant 150-year-old Australian tree ferns, 60-foot rhododendrons and palm trees that are so dramatic they look out of place in their U.K. home.

As you walk down the meandering paths you will end up on a beach where Private Ryan and company disembarked the night of ‘D Day' for the Normandy landing. Anyone that has seen the movie Saving Private Ryan will be moved by the plaque that tells you the story. The image is compelling.

You will want to sit down.

The climb back to the top of the garden is after all a 220 foot incline.

Take your time with this one: you have travelled far for the treat of viewing it first hand.

Details at www.trebahgarden.co.uk

Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com.

 

Geographic location: Kew Gardens, London, Europe Canada U.K. England Falmouth Bay English Channel Normandy

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