Sunday, 6 September 2015

Ten Unusual and Beautiful Gardens in England, Europe, and Around the World

Beautiful Garden #1: Botanical Cactus Garden, Eze, South of France

This stunning and panoramic picturesque botanical cactus garden is spectacularly located at the very top of the beautiful and historic hilltop village of Eze. It overlooks the Mediterranean for miles and the rocky coastline of the Cote d'Azur, as well as the terracotta roofs of the village below. The gardens can be admired spreading out down the hill; azure blue against deep, bright green. The wide range of cacti and succulents thrive on the sun-bathed slopes and are complimented by the classy and elegant terracotta sculptures of women dotted around the gardens amongst the plants, by artist Jean-Phillippe Richard. Entry to the gardens is approximately €6 per adult.

Beautiful Garden #2: Japanese Gardens, Monaco

Unexpectedly located at the bottom of the urban sprawl of the city, along the coastline beside a collection of high-rise residential buildings, this garden is a tranquil and pretty little haven. It is very well maintained with its lovely pristinely raked gravel, little bridges, and colourful koi carp in the water.

The garden is located on Avenue Princess Grace and has no entry cost.

Beautiful Garden #3: Maui Garden of Eden

This tropical and colourful botanical garden makes a great stop on the famous Road to Hana. Parrots, peacocks, waterfalls, and sweeping views of the ocean and volcanic beaches and coves below add to the awe of this colourful place. Plants are well-labelled and the grounds are very well-kept. 

It is around $15 per person to enter but well worth the cost especially as most of this goes towards maintaining and looking after the grounds and specimens. 

Don't forget to look for the colourful bark on the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees in the park and along the Road to Hana, these trees are awesome! 

Beautiful Garden #4: Gardens of Surprises, Burghley, Stamford (UK)

These lovely, well-kept and typically English country garden grounds within the Burghley Estate include large grassy and hilly areas with modern sculptures to spark the imagination, as well as the Gardens of Surprise; beautifully maintained plants and trees amongst the many exciting water features; including jets, curtains and streams of water which children in particular love to run in and out of, splashing each other and giggling with delight!

The moss house, mineral room, mirrored maze and interactive waterworks are exciting features of the gardens along with interactive sculptures and obelisks combining light, steam and water for abstract and intriguing effects.

Shoes must be worn so bring a pair of crocs or something similar to enjoy usung the water features, which is especially tempting on a hot day!

It is around £8.00 for an adult to enter, and £5.30 for a child under 13.

Beautiful Garden #5: Kew Gardens, London, UK

The famous and world-reknowned gardens at Kew are comprised of an enormous expanse of beautiful grounds with mature trees and plenty of space to feel totally removed from the city, as well as tropical environments housing exotic varieties of flora like the Victorian Palm House with the lake in front, and the House of lilies with its giant varieties. There is also a great tree-top walk for higher views of the gardens, and a tall 1800s pagoda at the other end of the park, but easily viewed from many points across the grounds.

Kew Gardens take excellent advantage of seasonal changes and put on a fantastic winter wonderland walk at Christamas with the trees, grounds and palm house lit up spectacularly. In autumn and at halloween, the pumpkin displays and autum sculptures make great seasonal additions to the grounds.

Beautiful Garden #6: Richmond Park, London, UK

Much more wild and natural than any manicured gardens, this beautiful chunk of nature on the edge of London to the West is a wonderful place to spot the famous deer and other abundant wildlife. Created in the 1700s by Charles I, there is an enormous emphasis on nature conservation. There are various trails and walks, and in summer bike hire is available near Roehampton Gate.

The landscaped grounds at Pembroke Lodge are beautiful, and great cakes, drinks and snacks are available at the Georgian tearooms.

The quaint English town of Richmond itself is a fantastic place to visit on the edge of London for lovely tearooms, upmarket gift shops, and great restaurants.

Beautiful Garden #7: Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Wide tree-lined walkways and beautifully manicured lawns make this a lovely peaceful place to visit in the middle of Paris for a break from grubby metro statiins and busy shops and cafes. The little model boats on the circular basin lake in front of the palace make a great attraction for children as they can be sailed via remote control. 

There are beautiful rose gardens and greenhouses with stunning orchid collections, and the famous Medici fountain makes a great centrepiece in the middle of the lake.

Reach the garden by metro/RER and the Luxembourg stop is just outside the gardens' entrance on Boulevard Saint-Michel. 

Beatiful Garden #8: Jardins du International de la Musee de la Parfumerie, near Grasse, France

These gardens in Mouans-Sartoux are based around the perfume industry and the plants and trees at the centre of this romantic French tradition. Tour the gardens to sample and sniff the various plants by rubbing the leaves and experience the multitude of aromas grown locally in this stunning part of Southern France. 

In summer take a hat and water - there is little shade and temperatures can soar! 

Beautiful Garden #9: Butterfly Park, Aruba

This outdoors butterfly sanctuary at the Eagle Beach end of Palm Beach, is a hugely educational place with great talks and tours, and walking around at your own leisure is also a delight. The netting covering the sancturary keeps the butterflies and moths safe, and the entry to the outdoors enclosure is via a double curtain. Around the garden there are lovely tropical plants and trees, and a pond with terrapins, as well as butterfly and moth cocoons and chrysalises in dedicated house-boxes, and if you're lucky, young butterflies and moths emerging from the cocoon can be seen, especially early in the morning. 

There are many varieties of butterfly and moth around the garden, from large iridescent turquoise butterflies to enormous Indian moths with wingspans of 20-30cm! 

Beautiful Garden #10: Anglesey Abbey Grounds, Cambridge, UK

Much like the stunning and famous Kew Gardens, the grounds at Angelsey Abbey put on a great show at Christmas with their winter wonderland walk; the trees lit up spectacularly with bright colours and colour-changing lamps. Sculptures and light shows against the abbey are also beautiful and atmospheric even on the wettest winter evening! 

Anglesey Abbey is a National Trust country house and the 114 acres of grounds and colourful gardens at any time of year are grand and very well-maintained. The real working watermill makes an interesting addition also - why not purchase some freshly milled flour for some really tasty baking! 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Pandas, Penguins and Ponchos at Edinburgh Zoo!

Visiting Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival is a great experience, but an even greater time to make the most of other fantastic attractions in the city, such as the fantastic Edinburgh Zoo and of course the famous pandas!

After squeezing up through the narrow stone staircases of the atmospheric Scott Monument on Princes Street for stunning views of the city (no queue, just £4, and free for kids), we made our way to the Zoo which celebrated its centenary in 2013!

The Scott Monument and Princes Gardens

On arrival, my 5 year old nephew Dylan was immediately enticed by the lovely (and very reasonably priced) gift shop, but settled on the agreement that we would have a look at the end.

We headed out with our little maps but the rain started, so to make sure the experience was not dampened we bought plastic ponchos from the gift shop. With our little poncho-wearing blue ghost companion, and our own bat-like outfits, my sister and I headed straight off to the penguins. I was amazed to see the various species co-habiting and the enormous size of the enclosure! Penguins everywhere; fluffy gentoo chicks standing huddled, large king penguins with their stunning black, white and yellow markings waddling over to nose at the people looking in on them, and rock-hoppers frolicking and diving in and out of the crystal clear water.

There are lots of great vantage points to see the penguins from, making it very easy to enjoy the 2.15 penguin parade no matter how busy. The parade is something the penguins are never forced to do of course, so it’s not guaranteed but even if they decide not to play, watching them being fed is enjoyable anyway.

When it was time to visit the pandas for our booked slot (free but no guaranteed sightings of course), we weren’t too hopeful due to the weather but it turns out the male panda Yang Guang actually likes the rain and generally being outdoors so we had great joy in seeing him enjoying his bamboo and had front-row views from the indoor viewing area to his ground foraging when he came very near! Yang Guang was enormous and looked so wonderfully fluffy and cuddly; I was amazed and awed to see a real panda in the flesh and did my best to instil this appreciation in my 5-year-old nephew, who thankfully was not more interested in the fire extinguishers this time, as has happened on previous occasions!

We made sure to visit the Asiatic lion where we could clearly see her perched proudly up high in the huge outdoors enclosure. As well as more expected exotic creatures, there are some wonderfully diverse and unusual species, some endangered, and all with such clear and interesting information displayed such as eating habits, and habitats.

The stunning and rare Scottish Wildcat was delight to see, not only because she looked almost exactly like our cat Poppy but a bigger version with an enormous tail! There are some great displays with information about the Scottish wildlife and the process of ‘rewilding’ to get the landscape influenced by native species other than humans again.

The monkey area is full of impressive and entertaining monkeys - of a range of species - and the indoor viewing areas are great for when it’s raining as the monkeys seemed to head indoors too!

Around the zoo there are great interactive and colourful displays with impressive facts for children, such as penguin breeds and sizes, and their various calls and meanings.

The zoo has a lovely layout with gardens and green areas, and the hills and slopes make for great views of the surrounding area as well as good exercise; especially important for me, currently being an expectant mother who is rapidly expanding!

Edinburgh Zoo is in Corstorphine just outside the city centre, and very easy to get to on the buses (£1.50 per journey for an adult). It is £4 to park if you arrive by car which often works out cheaper if you are in a group.