Top 10 Weirdest Gardens in the World For Discovering
A landscape can be designed as simply as a small garden or as intricately as the massive amount of earth that surrounds a major city. Landscape architects, riding the wave of popularity for eco-friendly architecture, are coming up with novel approaches to extracting environmental benefits from natural settings while minimizing the visual impact of manmade elements.
Meanwhile, micro-gardens are being planned to investigate nebulous ideas and catalogue flora and fauna from all over the world.
We dug up this collection of the world’s most remarkable gardens and landscapes, from an ancient agricultural site in Sri Lanka to the young crops of the International Space Station.
Location: San Francisco, Calif.
Background: Roof gardens can be difficult to build and maintain, and adding hills to the mix doesn’t make things any easier. To nourish native plant species while minimizing upkeep, the team behind the California Academy of Sciences’ living roof installed a multilayered soil-drainage system and chose to rely primarily on natural irrigation. The building received LEED Platinum certification in 2008, the highest rating possible, thanks in part to the roof’s incredible insulation capabilities, which keep the building an average of 10 degrees cooler than a typical roof.
Why Is It Distinctive: The two larger contours of the garden correspond to the planetarium and rainforest exhibitions below, but the roof is as functional as it is aesthetically pleasing. “The mounds really came from the fact that when you look from afar, the backdrop is San Francisco’s hills,” says SWA Group’s Bill Callaway. This leading landscape architecture and urban design firm collaborated on the design of the Academy of Sciences’ living roof and has worked on projects ranging from Google’s HQ to the Tower Park at the Burj Khalifa. “So really what the architect was trying to do was echo those hills in the project by putting them on the roof.” The designers created an ideal location for watching the birds and bees buzz around the lush plant life by adding an open-air observation deck.
The Sky Garden, possibly London’s highest garden, is located at the top of the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ on Fenchurch Street, spans three floors, and offers 360-degree views of the city. The garden is dominated by Mediterranean and South African plant species; however, other plants fill in the gaps, allowing the garden to thrive all year.
Location: Xilitla, Mexico
Background: Edward James, an English surrealist and poet, traveled to Mexico to create a spectacle of a garden that blends strange architecture into an already vivacious environment. Footprint-stamping walkways, Orchid-inspired sculptures, and fantastical structures looming over the landscape are just a few of the features woven throughout the 40-plus acres.
Why Is It Distinctive: At times, it appears that the abundance of artwork will detract from the beauty of the natural landscape and fauna. However, when compared to the size of the entire rainforest, it is a small plot of land, and as time passes, the artwork and gardens blend in more and more. “I suppose it’s true of architecture, but certainly landscape design; it doesn’t take too many years when left to its own devices to be eaten up by the jungle,” Callaway said. “The natural landscape is going to win out.” James died in 1984, and nature has been consuming the features so quickly that the World Monument Foundation recently designated Las Pozas as an endangered cultural site.
Evangelisto Blanco has been trimming each shrub and twig in the topiary garden on a daily basis since the 1960s. The bushes vary in size and shape, with unusual faces, animals, mythical creatures, avant-garde shapes, and arches among them.
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation was created by architect and architectural critic Charles Jencks and his late wife Maggie Keswick, a specialist in Asian garden design. The 30-acre garden on Jencks’ private estate in Scotland is only open to the public once a year. It took nearly two decades to finish.
Why It’s Special: It’s not uncommon for scientists to inspire artists, but when that inspiration manifests itself as spiraling landforms, double-helix staircases, and intricate floral arrangements, the results are spectacular. Pyramid-like landscapes reflected in a still pond evoke thoughts of parallel universes, and swirling earth mounds resemble grassy black holes. Bridges, streams, fences, and other structures divide and connect the garden’s various areas. Jencks’ fascination with modern physics extends beyond the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, as many of his landscapes morph space and perspective.
Visitors will find not only shrubs, trees, and plants in one of South London’s largest parks, but also Victorian dinosaurs emerging from the tidal lake. ‘Jurassic Park’ was created by sculptor and fossil expert Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Natural History Museum founder Richard Owen. They primarily created ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, but they also created dinosaurs from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras.
Location: Cornwall, England.
Context: The Lost Gardens of Heligan in England have a rich history of renaissance, neglect, and prosperity. With World War I encroaching on England, priorities changed and the once magnificent Heligan estate began to fall into disrepair. In the decades that followed, nature took its course, engulfing the gardens and covering the paths. Only in 1990, after the estate’s 1200-year-old owners, two Tremayne descendants, found a little garden, did they decide to redesign the location.
Why It’s Unique: Giant’s Head of Heligan and Mud Maid, two considerably larger creatures, existed before Chia Pets. Although there is a thin line separating art from kitsch, Callaway thinks these two sculptures are fantastic additions to the garden. “It could be that those mud sculptures are much better now than they were in the beginning,” Callaway stated. “Because now they have the patina of age.” Together with these striking sculptures, Heligan features an Italian Garden, a sizable section of jungle, and a ravine with an alpine feel.
Location: Eureka, Calif.
Background: Amy Stewart lives in Eureka, California, and is the author of Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. She maintains this little garden on the side of her house. Stewart recycles damaged books by burying them; she and her husband operate an antique bookstore. She transformed the garden into a true writer’s garden by adding a desk, chair, lamp, and window.
Why It’s Unique: Most people try not to grow plants that can kill them, but Stewart’s garden contains over thirty-five different species that, in the wrong hands, can seriously harm a person’s body. Among the deadly varieties sprouting here are nightshade, hemlock, datura, opium poppy, and castor bean, which is the principal ingredient in the deadly poison ricin. A cement tombstone tells passersby who the plants have killed, including Socrates (hemlock) and Abe Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks (white snakeroot). Gates at the front and rear of the garden help keep the neighborhood children and Stewart’s chickens from eating these harmful plants.
Location: Versailles, France.
Background: In order to enlarge the regal gardens at the Palace of Versailles, France’s King Louis XIV called upon the well-known abilities of landscape architect André Le Nôtre in the late 1600s. The geometric gardens are surrounded by acres of perfect lawns, opulent fountains, and the epitome of French landscape architecture. Today, many kilometers away in the nearby suburbs, are the remains of the original irrigation system.
Why Is It Special: Callaway is struck by Versailles’ remarkable ability to serve the public as a gathering spot, picnic spot, and place to unwind, despite its original purpose of entertaining France’s kings and their courts. “Over the years, the gold leafs and all that type of stuff that was excess wears off … the detritus goes away, and the bones of the thing are just spectacular,” he continues. Callaway adds that wealthy families like the Vanderbilt and Rockefeller families commissioned comparable private gardens, which have subsequently been transformed into lovely and useful public spaces. “The only thing decadent about them is that they were originally used by rich people.”
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Location: Sri Lanka.
Background: This ancient city, which dates to approximately 480, is both intricate and massive. Viewers gaze down over an extensive network of terraced gardens, meandering irrigation paths, and rock sculptures from the top of the massive granite slab known as Lion’s Rock. The location was listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1982.
Why Is It Special: The terraced garden, the boulder garden, and the water garden are Sigiriya’s three primary garden types. In contrast to most other rock gardens, the rocks in the boulder garden are real boulders that cannot be moved around with a few rake strokes. The size of the rocks is actually so great that a fifteen-foot-tall throne is carved out of one. Because of the primitive tools used in its construction, the sites like Sigiriya are all the more impressive. Their legacy offers priceless insight into the early days of agriculture.
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