Port Augusta, South Australia
The 250-hectare Arid Lands Botanical Garden on the coast in Port Augusta (three hours’ drive north of Adelaide) made for a wonderful visit. Not only is it free of charge, there is a cafe serving great fresh food and some fantastic Australian wine, too. The gardens are a joy to wander, with plenty of bird life, amphibians and lizards, and ideas on how to make a colourful garden using as little water as possible. There are six specialist gardens, views to the Flinders Range and grey mangroves, emu and turkey bushes plus very rare plants. It’s amazing how beautiful the edge of the outback can be.
Cape Town, South Africa
Kirstenbosch Gardens is one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens. It’s on the slopes of Table Mountain, whose streams water the unique fynbos heathland, one of the world’s richest botanical kingdoms. Spotted eagle owls nest in the camphor trees; prehistoric cycads shade Lady Anne Barnard’s bath; and a superb raised walkway known as the boomslang gives jaw-dropping views across False Bay. Guinea fowl squawk around the sculpture garden, native flowers protea and strelitzia light up the flowerbeds, attracting colourful sugarbirds and sunbirds. A tearoom serves all-day breakfasts, and lunches of local treats such as Cape Malay bobotie (a curry-type dish) for well under £10.
• £3.60 adult £1 children,
More than 200 miles into the Arctic Circle, Tromsø’s Botaniske Hage is a mid-summer wonder that explodes into colour during the 24-hour daylightfrom mid-May to late-July. It is the world’s most northerly botanical garden, with a landscaped rock garden and a huge variety of plants overseen by the university since 1994, including colourful native, Himalayan and Patagonian varieties. The garden has examples of a buttercup that grows wild only on Svalbard and is one of the rarest plants in Europe. The garden meanders up the hill just to the north of Tromsø with views over the fjord, and has a cafe serving the most remarkable waffle topping ever encountered (Norwegian brown cheese with plum jam). This was a rest day for us after this year’s midnight marathon but it turned into a trip highlight.
In the very pleasant Parque Carolina, the unsung Jardin Botánico Quito is a lovely place to visit. Its collection includes a wide selection of the plants found in one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, with a major highlight being the orchid house, which contains a good range of Ecuador’s several thousand varieties. As well as spectacular bromeliads, fuchsias and native fruit trees, there are many butterflies and birds to be seen, including many hummingbird species.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
The 300-acre Royal Botanic Gardens in the Kandy suburb of Peradeniya has extraordinary specimen trees including the massive java willow, an avenue of royal palms, 40-metre high bamboos, a spice garden and an orchid house filled with hundreds of incredible specimens. But the gardens have an added attraction: go early enough and you’ll see the astonishing spectacle of thousands of flying foxes – huge fruit bats – returning to their daytime roost in the treetops.
Kingstown, St Vincent and Grenadines
Offsetting the tangle of tropical trees that blanket St Vincent’s wild mountains and active volcano, the botanical gardens provide relief like a cold Hairoun beer on a hot Caribbean day. The gardens date to 1765 and their guides captivate guests with stories of Captain Bligh, who sailed the world’s seas with precious cargo of plants and trees, including the Tahitian breadfruit which he brought here in 1791, answering the call for high-energy food sources. Listen and learn while wandering this peaceful, beautiful place, crumpling leaves and seeds, releasing their scents and guessing the spices. There are lots of parrots, lizards, hummingbirds and agoutis to enjoy too.
Near Chania, Crete
The 20-hectare Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete grew from disaster: a devastating fire in 2004 laid waste to the olive and orange groves around Skordalou village, so the local Marinakis family built the park to showcase the Mediterranean flora and fauna, and encourage hiking. There’s a citrus garden, a tropical garden, vineyards, and an area dedicated to aromatic herbs. Butterflies and birds abound. The White Mountains form a spectacular backdrop to the three-hour walk round the park and your reward is an outstanding restaurant, specialising in local produce. The last time I ate there my aperitif was a plate of sliced citrus fruits, 17 in total, some sweet, some sour and some unknown. There is a regular bus service from Chania city, or it’s a scenic 20-minute drive.
La Mortella is by far the best botanical garden I have ever been to. When I visited it was not awash with tourists; it felt like a well-kept secret. On a sunny dry island off Naples, it forms an almost tropical oasis, shaded from the heat and covered in beautiful cascading flowers and exotic ferns, with several beautiful fountains dotted around a valley and a hill garden. It also has an open-air theatre and concert hall, where classical performances are held. This is apt because La Mortella was created by Susana Walton, the Argentinian wife of the composer William Walton.
Singapore Botanical Gardens
Fantastic, free, and fun! This is a large tropical garden in the city centre, with good public transport. It’s easy to spend hours roaming around in the warmth and humidity. There is a children’s garden with farm, orchard, lakes, a rainforest and lots of exotic animals and insects. There are restaurants and bars; one served us one of the best laksas (spicy noodle soup) I have ever had. And there is an orchid garden … absolutely spectacular (small admission charge). The gardens were made a Unesco world heritage site in 2015. They are the best botanical gardens I have ever been to – and I’ve been to a few.
Carmarthenshire, south Wales
I was completely unprepared for the National Botanic Gardens of Wales. We called in on a rainy day en route home from Pembrokeshire and stayed all day. There is a phenomenal glasshouse with what is claimed to be the world’s largest single-span glass roof (120 metres long), filled with Mediterranean and South American plants. The outside areas, covering 230 hectares, were also impressive, with an array of native planting including many varieties of Welsh apple tree, and water is woven throughout the gardens. There was pond-dipping for children, with experts on hand to identify the catch. The rain did nothing to diminish the experience.
• Adult £11, family £30