Connecting Global Cities: Gardens

Aug 30, 2013 10:08:27 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Director of China Programs for CAPA International Education.

- - - -

There is a famous poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney which includes the line, "One is nearer God's heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth." Equally in China under the officially atheist Communist Party of China, gardens play a traditional role in creating a harmonious society. Gardens come in all shapes and sizes and often a lot can be fitted into a modest space. Chinese garden culture provides that, where possible, a garden contains a pond, a bridge over that pond, some colorful fish in the pond, a rockery, a covered walkway element to enjoy the garden in the rain, a sun house to sit out in the other kind of weather and beautiful flowers and trees, some of which might straddle the centuries, being hundreds of years old.

Photo: Chinese university grounds with a garden and pond by Colin Speakman

Many gardens in our global cities are famous, must-see places such as London's Kew gardens and Florence's Boboli Gardens. Some cities have annual garden festivals such as Beijing's International Garden Show (47 gardens on display grown in 69 Chinese cities) and the Chelsea Flower Show in London (where, this year, Trailfinder's Australian Garden was voted Best Show Garden). By coincidence, Sydney hosts Australia's first ever Garden Show in September 2013 in Centennial Park (see CAPAWorld: Parks in Global Cities).

Photo: Chelsea Flower Show by Steph Sadler

Japanese gardens are also a special tradition with that arch to walk under and another bridge. Many famous Palaces have beautiful gardens, such as the grounds of Buckingham Palace in London - perfect for a garden party but invitations are hard to come by! If space is a premium, there are roof gardens - Kensington, London (near CAPA) has a famous one. The Imperial Palace in Beijing boasts the Imperial Garden (see Beijing below). Emperors liked to relax in nice surroundings. Think also of the wonderful gardens of the Palace of Versailles - a nice retreat outside the global city of Paris.

Château de Versailles - Palace Gardens
Château de Versailles - Palace Gardens by Subhachandra Chandra

Some gardens have become immortalized in famous paintings. Monet so loved Giverny in France that he moved there and produced some wonderful works of art like his Water Lilly and Japanese Bridge paintings. The Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh painted the famous Garden Behind a House, also in France. People not only like to visit gardens, they also like to bring those beautiful images into their living rooms with nice replica prints or watercolors. Increasingly, botanical gardens are also taking on an expanded role in the preservation of endangered species of plant life - see Istanbul, London and Sydney below.

Monet and J. Seward Johnson
Monet and J Seward Johnson by Tony Fischer

So let's look at the top recommendations for gardens in our eight CAPA global cities.


The Imperial Gardens

Everybody coming to Beijing visits the Forbidden City. Nestled at the rear (Northern end) are the Imperial Gardens - a nice area to rest in after walking through the Imperial Palace. They contain all the essential elements of pond, fish, bridge, rockery and so on. The Gardens were built in the Ming dynasty, started in 1417 and finished in 1421. At that point the 3rd Ming Emperor relocated the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. Nice to have that garden ready! They opened to the public in 1925 and have remained popular with locals and visitors ever since.

Photo: The Imperial Garden of the Imperial Palace Beijing by Colin Speakman


The Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens in Buenos Aires are a good example of globalization. There are many fine parks in BA but for a tranquil example of a manageable sized garden, the recommendation is one tucked away within the larger Bosques de Palermo. The gardens were a gift from Japanese immigrants to Argentina in 1967. There's an attractive red painted bridge over a peaceful pond and next to the gardens a pagoda style Japanese tea house during the day that morphs into a Japanese restaurant in the evenings. The whole project oozes peace and relaxation.

Jardín Japonés - Japanese Garden - Buenos Aires
Photo: Jardín Japonés - Japanese Garden - Buenos Aires by Germán De Stéfano


Iveagh Gardens

Many gardens are found within larger parks, but for a manageable garden with many interesting features, our Dublin recommendation is Iveagh Gardens. It is located on Clomel Street not far from the National Concert Hall and dates from 1863. The gardens contain a maze, a grotto, a rosarium and fountains as well as a wide variety of plants and beautiful landscaping. What more could one want? This is definitely a garden worth seeing!

Iveagh Gardens Dublin (Ireland)
Photo: Iveagh Gardens, Dublin by William Murphy


The Boboli Gardens

The Boboli Gardens in Florence are a collection of gardens within a park, that extends from the hill behind Florence's Pitti Palace to the Porta Romana. Thus, they are big and have survived and been transformed over several centuries. The gardens are regarded as a living museum of landscape architecture design and detailing. The Pitti Palace and original gardens date from 1440 and the gardens were extensively worked on in the 1550s, so there is much history to be felt while enjoying a visit. Allow plenty of time!

Boboli Gardens
Photo: Boboli Gardens, Florence by Anna Fox


The Istanbul Botanical Gardens
(Nezahat Gokyigit Botanik Bahcesi - NGBB)

The Istanbul Botanical Gardens is selected as a contrast to some of the other historical gardens and is located in a recently developed and still expanding Financial District of Istanbul in Anatolia - 40 minutes drive from the historic center. This botanical garden was started in 2001 and is the brainchild of Turkish industrialist and philanthropist Ali Nihat Gokyigit. It is planned to preserve the rich history of botanical life in Turkey, which has around 10,000 species. It's a bit different from some of the other global cities gardens.

Photo: NGBB by Sinan Yüzaklı


Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens in London continues the theme of Botanical Gardens but on a grand scale. This UNESCO World Heritage site needs a lot of time to visit as it is based in 326 acres - but just 30 minutes by underground train from the center of London in the delightful suburb called Kew. Officially known as the Royal Botanical Gardens dating from the 1700s originally, the complex includes eight glasshouses, one covering ten climate zones, and such famous elements as the Waterlily House, a rain forest in the Palm House, the Princess of Wales Conservatory and tree-top walkway.

Kew Gardens
Photo: Kew Gardens, London by David Stanley


The Yu Garden

This famous garden in Shanghai is a great example of how a long walk can be taken in a relatively small amount of space thanks to the doubling back of the pathways and multiple levels assisted by rockeries. It is a very calming garden to visit in the Puxi side of a Shanghai In an otherwise very busy, bustling area. The garden dates from 1557 and was built by a government officer of the Ming dynasty named Pan Yunduan as a gift to his parents so they may enjoy the tranquility of this peaceful garden in their old age. Yu means "pleasing" and the full Chinese name is YuYuan (yuan meaning garden). It is highly recommended for visitors to Shanghai. CAPA students love it!

Photo: CAPA students in the Yu Garden Shanghai by Colin Speakman


The Royal Botanic Gardens

We're back to botanical gardens for our final global city, Sydney. The Royal Botanic Gardens, founded in 1816, are one of three botanical gardens to be found in Sydney and are the most centrally located. The Royal Botanic Gardens are the oldest scientific institute in Australia. Famous elements include the Rose Garden, the Fernery, the Herb Garden and the Oriental Garden, dating from 1997. It's definitely worth a visit! While you're there, consider heading to the Rare and Threatened Species Garden which opened in 1998.

Royal Botanic Gardens IMG_8402
Photo: Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney by OZinOH

Do you have a favorite garden? Tell us about it in the comments!

Topics: Global Cities