Although England is often considered to be Europe’s leading gardening nation, there are fabulous gardens and designed landscapes across the continent that should be on your “must visit” list. Here are six of the best, in no particular order, but the list could be so much longer! Most of these gardens use carved stone and terracotta garden ornaments to enhance the overall design, thereby providing accents and focal points throughout the year. Similar designs can be found in the ORNAMENTI collection.
Versailles, near Paris, France
Although now a mass tourism destination, the Jardins du Château de Versailles, are still mightily impressive. Arrive as early as you can to beat the worst of the crowds though! Originally designed in the seventeenth century for King Louis XIV by Andre Le Notre, the most famous and influential landscape designer in French history. The gardens are designed around a main axis with the Latona Fountain nearest the Chateau and terminated by the Grand Canal in the distance. Many more intimate gardens or bosquets are hidden behind tall, manicured hedges – we recommend searching out the Bosquet de la Colonnade, Salle de Bal and, of course, the famous Grand and Petit Trianons. The sunken Orangery is also a sight to behold, particularly as it is here that you can see the antique originals of the Versailles Planters, replicas of which are in the ORNAMENTI collection.
Giusti Garden, Verona, Italy
Most visit Verona for its amazing arena/amphitheatre, or for its associations with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We would recommend the Giardino Giusti as worthy of a visit in its own right. A hidden gem in the heart of a city. The green lung of that city. And one of Europe’s finest Renaissance gardens, being first planted in the late sixteenth century. You enter through the palace courtyard which is right on the street, and then through the swallowtail topped walls into the most beautiful garden and park. The gardens rise into the distance through lines of tall cypress trees with parterres and mazes either side punctuated with timeless terracotta vases and carved stone statuary. No great garden reveals all at first glace and that is certainly true here with the garden continuing up the hillside to the ancient city walls. To reach the highest point you climb a spiral staircase concealed within a tower before enjoying views back across the city. Along the way you will stumble across everything from a belvedere and grotto to an enormous grotesque mask. Truly magical.
Wörlitzer Park, Dessau, Germany
Wörlitzer Park is the heart of the fascinating Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz. Laid out by Johann Friedrich Eyserbeck for Duke Leopold III in the late eighteenth century, this was one of the first English-style gardens in Europe. In style it is reminiscent of the likes of Stourhead an Stowe with follies and garden buildings forming a prominent part of the design. The most unusual structure – inspired by a Grand Tour visit to Naples – is Europe’s only artificial volcano: a five story high edifice complete with functioning artificial crater, recently restored. Most structures can be viewed from the water during a serene gondola ride. Highlights include the Gothic House, Temple of Venus, Pantheon, White Bridge and Rock Island. The park was designed to provide educational enlightenment in architecture, gardening and agriculture, with large parts were open to the public from the beginning – unlike many other great gardens of that period. After years of comparative neglect under the old communist regime in East Germany, Wörlitzer Park has undergone much restoration in recent years, returning it to its former glories.
Alhambra, Granada, Spain
The Alhambra, located in the heart of the city of Grenada, is a fortress and palace complex containing some of Spain’s most fascinating gardens, particularly when combined with the adjacent Generalife. A fascinating mixture of wonderfully preserved Islamic and Spanish Renaissance architecture, the origins of the Alhambra we see today date from the early thirteenth century. Key to the site is water as the complex has a complex water and irrigation system which also allows for many cooling pools and fountains. The Court of the Lions, the Court of the Myrtles and the Lindaraja Courtyard all have water at their heart. The extensive landscaped spaces and showpiece gardens also provide much-needed trees, shrubs, plants and water for the Alhambra and Generalife. Stay at the Parador on site and you will enjoy privileged access to this wonderful place.
Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore, Italy
Located on an island in the centre of Lake Maggiore, these fabulous gardens provided the inspiration for the first Chelsea Flower Show exhibit designed by the curator of the ORNAMENTI collection of garden ornaments back in 1997. Until 1632 the island of Isola Bella was not much more than a rocky outcrop with a small fishing village. That year, Carlo III of the Borromeo dynasty began construction of a palazzo and gardens, both initially the work of Angelo Crivelli. By 1671 the gardens were complete. Baroque at its most astonishing, the Teatro Massimo is the most important monument in the garden with statues, obelisks, fountains and terracotta platers perfectly integrated on ten scenic terraces – at the top of which rises the statue of the Unicorn, the heraldic symbol of the Borromeo family. All around the Theatre is a glorious display of rare flowers and plants. The whole garden is designed to resemble a ship sailing across the lake. And it by water that you visit these gardens. Simply amazing.
Castle Howard, North Yorkshire, England
We had to include a fabulous designed landscape from our own North Yorkshire, relatively near to where ORNAMENTI’s own show garden is located. Castle Howard is considered one of the treasure houses of the UK and its Grade I listed gardens and landscape are equally impressive. Near to the Castle is the unique Atlas Fountain, the centrepiece of the formal terrace in front of the southern façade. Other highlights include the iconic Temple of the Four Winds, overlooking the land beyond the more formal gardens, and the imposing Mausoleum in the distance. There is so much more to discover here including no less than four pyramids (although you have to know where you are looking to find them!) and the magnificent entrance lodges. Most of the landscape structures are to the designs of either Sir John Vanbrugh or Nicolas Hawksmoor. The other great designed landscape in North Yorkshire is Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, which is equally worth visiting.