Notable Victorian era author George Eliot said about gardening, "It will never rain roses; when we want to have more roses, we must plant more trees." Of course, as in all the complicated metaphors, Eliot's garden was more than just a literal one. Nonetheless, his statement was adopted by patrons of gardens around the world, and the world is greater and more beautiful because of it. Here is a little history of some stupendous gardens that everyone -- garden lover or not! -- should make time to visit.
First and foremost are the Gardens of Versailles. Just outside of Paris, France, the gardens were commissioned by King Louis XIV in the 17th century to complement his opulent new palace. While the palace itself is famous for its Hall of Mirrors and the signing of the treaty that ended World War I, the gardens contain a tale of their own. The gardens took 40 years to build and had shrubbery shipped in from all over France. The almost 2,000-acre garden needs to be replanted every 100 years, and architect Andre Le Notre's designs have been followed to a T. Any visitor can now take a 40-minute train ride out of the city and see the same expansive gardens, canals and fountains that a 17th-century visitor would have seen.
The next garden is unconventional to say the least. Compared to Versailles' expansive lot, Ryoanji Temple's rock garden is a measly 98-by-32-foot rectangular plot. The garden consists of 15 rocks laid on patches of moss amidst thousands of tiny pebbles raked into lines. The meaning of the garden is unknown. Some have interpreted it to be a tiger carrying its cubs across a pond, and others believe it's a physical representation of infinity. Its mystery has become so well known that the Zen garden has been imitated thousands of times across the world, and the original has even made it into high school art history curricula.
Rousham Park in Oxfordshire, England, is our next hidden gem. In blatant rejection of the manicured and highly decorated gardens championed by baroque-crazed Europe, this park adopts a more open and naturalistic design. William Kent was commissioned to create the park in 1737, and it now stands as one of the best-preserved examples of early English landscape gardening. Unlike Versailles, Kent chose not to flatten the land and isolate the garden from the surrounding hills. Instead, he planted a sloping masterpiece that melted into the bordering countryside. The garden features vast fields and wooded paths, with temples to ancient gods littered in between. It holds a great deal of historical significance, housing the graves of three sons who died during World War I.
The Botanical Garden of Padua is the oldest botanical garden in the world. These kinds of gardens represent not only plants but also scientific discovery. This garden birthed botanical science and is a crucial meeting point between nature and culture. While it houses 6,000 species that would make any garden fiend faint, it is also notable for its 50,000 manuscripts on modern scientific disciplines such as botany, medicine, ecology and pharmacy. Though heavily protected, visitors are welcome to not only enjoy the garden for its aesthetic beauty but also marvel at the educational value that it brought to the world.
For centuries, gardens have brought harmony and beauty into our lives. But it's also crucial to take a step back and recognize the historical and cultural impact of taming the wild. Every lover of gardens should find time to learn about these incredible sites.