The Castle of Mey

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, first viewed the then Barrogil Castle in 1952 whilst mourning the death of her beloved husband, King George VI. She fell for its remote isolated charm and when she heard it was to be left abandoned she was inspired to save it and preserve part of Scotland’s heritage. She bought it from Captain Imbert-Terry and it was the only property that she ever owned.

Once the Queen Mother acquired the most northern castle on the Scottish mainland, she set about restoring and renovating the castle to its former glory. She changed the name back to the orginal Castle of Mey and created beautiful gardens you can visit today. For almost half a century she visited and stayed for many happy summers here and visited at other times of the year as well. She had great affection for Scotland and in particular for the warmth of the Caithness people.

The gardens consist of the Walled Garden and the East Garden with a woodland area. The overall design remains much as it was in The Queen Mother’s time. Growing plants in this northern region can be challenging at times but this didn’t stop the Queen Mother developing a beautiful and productive garden. A 15ft high ‘Great Wall of Mey’ protects the plants from fierce gales and sea spray that blows in off the Pentland Firth. The walled garden is 2 acres in size and since it opened to the public in 2002 there have been several new developments including a  refurbished greenhouse for sweet Duke of York peaches and a viewing turret positioned in the South-east corner. The Queen Mother came from a family with impressive gardens such as Glamis Castle in Scotland and St Paul’s Walden Bury in Hertfordshire. As Queen her horticultural enthusiasm and skills were responsible for the garden at Royal Lodge Windsor and creating Sandringham’s formal garden and many ornamental trees and shrubs planted at Buckingham Palace. Her green fingers and horticultural experience meant that the Gardens at the Castle of Mey also flourished.

The Queen Mother even managed to nurture her favourite rose, Albertine – a pale salmon pink rose which has a wonderfully rich and fruity fragrance. A rambling rose with a branching, bushy habit and small dark green leaves. The garden today now consist of mainly roses, herbaceous perennials and old favourites like pink carnations, sweet peas and vibrant clary sage. The highlight must be the shell garden where roses and nasturtiums create a wonderful summer display and a favourite place to sit and enjoy the garden. The kitchen garden area within the walled garden also provides produce for the café and castle. Many of the fruit and vegetable varieties have been selected for their robust resistance to wind and sea spray. The current head gardener Chris Parkinson is also developing a woodland walk and adding plants that will provide year round interest. Whether you’d like to take a tour of the castle, visit the animal centre or take a wander round the walled Garden, there’s certainly something for everyone at the Castle of Mey. To find out more information about the Castle of Mey please visit

Mauritius Botanic Garden

The Mauritius Botanic Garden covers an area of 33 hectares. The core mission is conservation, education, recreation, culture and history, and it is known worldwide as one of the oldest botanic gardens in the southern hemisphere.

It dates back to the French period on the island. In 1736, the French governor, Mahé de Labourdonnais, chose to set up his domain around the present Main Gate at Pamplemousses. In 1767 of the French Intendent, Pierre Poivre introduced vegetables, fruits and flowers from all over the world. Amongst these plants were some of the most prized species of the time: namely nutmegs Myristica fragrans and cloves Syzygium aromaticum from the Malaccas. These species are still present in the Spice Corner of the Garden.

After Poivre’s departure, the garden was administered by Nicolas Céré (1775 – 1810). He planned many of the main avenues and had several ponds built, notably the Giant Water Lily Pond, now filled with spectacular Victoria amazonica. After the French period, the garden faced difficulties during the first thirty years of British rule over the island. Thankfully the garden was revived with the arrival of James Duncan as Director in 1849. A large collection of palms was introduced then including the majestic Royal Palm Roystonea regia. The Talipot palm Corypha umbraculifera is known to grow for 20- 80 years and is featured in an avenue. At some point in its lifetime the palm will mature. During this point the palm will produce the largest and most spectacular flower in the plant world. It produces as many as 200,000 flowers which in turn will set several thousand single seeded fruits in about a year. Within the gardens you can also see a variety of wildlife and even giant tortoises!

The garden was first known as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Pamplemousses. However it was renamed on the 18th September 1988 on the 88th Birth Anniversary the first Prime Minister of Mauritius and later Governor General of Mauritius.  In his honour it is now called the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden.  His funerary monument (Samadhi) is found near the Chateau de Mon Plaisir as well as a memorial consisting of a fresh water pond crowned by a lotus flower with the inscription: ‘In beloved Memory of the Father of the Nation’. Since the year 2000, a Trust under the aegis of the Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security now runs the Garden.



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Backhouse Garden at Rossie Estate

Step into this tranquil garden which is inspired by art and science with views to the Lomond Hills. A beautiful restored walled garden awaits and the Backhouse National Collection of Narcissus. Visiting the garden you discover and learn about the horticultural legacy of the important family of botanists and bankers. They enhanced the world of horticulture with their important introductions of plants. As soon as you enter the walled garden a beautiful Victorian greenhouse welcomes you. Here the visitor can also peer inside the traditional potting shed full of charm and historic character. During the summer months the garden is full of vibrant flowers smothered in bees. In one area is a pathway that is designed to resemble the structure of DNA.  Composed of cobblestones in the shape of a double helix and inlaid with crushed white shells. There is a mown labyrinth, water feature, sculpture and fruit trees within this peaceful space. Outside the walled garden are woodland trails, remains of a Covenanter’s tomb and a putting lawn for families. It is said that Mary Queen of Scots hunted wild boar through the woodlands of the Rossie Estate in the historic Kingdom of Fife. This highlights again the historic significance of the garden and surrounding estate. The garden is open April – September 10am – 4pm (Wed – Sunday). This garden is a delight to visit and certainly worth a repeat visit as it develops.  For further information please visit the website.

The Cactus Garden, Lanzarote

When did the Cactus become so cool?

Every hipster who loves cacti must get themselves to Lanzarote’s Jardin de Cactus. Situated  in a disused quarry within Lanzarote’s volcanic landscape there are over 1,100 species of cacti. The oustanding garden was designed by Cesar Manrique, a famous artist and architect. Cesar’s design philosophy was to work in harmony with nature and from a young age he was totally consumed by the unique beauty of the island’s landscape. The garden is extremely impressive  and highlights the diversity of cacti and succulents on our planet. There are towering giants to tiny spiny balls and visitors will have their eyes opened to another world which meanders through volcanic pools and soils. This garden is the best of art and nature combined incorporating lava rocks and the use of black volcanic sand to highlight the planting. Look closer and you will notice cacti motifs incorporated into the brass work, door handles and even the spectacular light fitting in the restaurant. Paths lead up to  a windmill, restaurant and these look over the breathtaking amphitheatre. In the warmth of the sunken quarry many plants are featured in stylish containers, terraces and on steps.







Crathes Castle

One of the National Trust for Scotland’s flagship gardens. The walled garden at Crathes Castle near Aberdeen is world class and worth exploring, particularly during the summer. It is one of the UK’s most northerly Arts and Crafts Gardens which Gertrude Jekyll visited and influenced. The walled garden is positioned South East of the Castle and covers 3.75 acres. It is divided into 8 sections or ‘garden rooms.’ The diversity of shrubs, plants and trees is outstanding. Much of the framework of the garden is made up of yew which dates from the 1700s which adds a magical charm to the atmosphere. There are superb glasshouses with vines and peaches and also a display of tender plants and the Malmaison carnations. These carnations came from France where its large flower that was scented soon became popular in the 19th century. Many in the past would reach 6ft with blooms reaching 15cm wide which were hugely popular in country homes.  The white plantings at Crathes pre date that of the famous Sissinghurst white garden. There is also a perfectly manicured croquet law, fountain, rose garden and world renowned June borders which provide outstanding summer hues. Outside the walled garden there are large areas of woodland to explore as well as the castle itself.




The High Line – New York

The High Line is a unique greenspace providing an oasis in the bustling urban jungle of New York City. This valuable regeneration project is the result of a visionary community of New Yorkers who fought to transform a derelict, elevated railway line into a free open park. Now enjoyed by locals and tourists from all over the world the High Line welcomes around two million visitors a year. It is maintained and operated by the Friends of the High Line in partnership with New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The planting design was conducted by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf who is famous for his naturalistic approach. He took inspiration from the existing landscape looking firstly at the plants which had colonised the disused space after it had stopped operating. He decided to use a sustainable planting choice that consisted of native, drought tolerant and low maintenance plants. The High Line also provides jobs, art installations and community benefits. As we learn more about living in our rapidly expanding cities we must not lose our vital connection with nature which today is more important than ever. The High Line is an inspiring example of changing a derelict urban space into a new greenspace that will enrich the lives of people who experience it. Not only does it have huge community therapeutic benefits but it is also now becoming a “must see” tourist destination. Visitors can return home encouraged to replicate something similar in their own cities.  Even in winter visitors will be impressed by this example of reconnecting people with nature in their urban greenspace. If you can’t visit in person learn more from their website and blog.


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Flower Forest Barbados

Enter the Scotland district of the island and you will find the tranquil flower forest. This beautiful garden has a half mile path that winds through the 53.6 acres of grounds. The garden has some breathtaking scenery looking out towards the rugged east coast of the idyllic island. It is an oasis of calm with the odd monkey crossing the path and the call of tropical Caribbean birds. The land and property was once a sugar plantation but today it is home to more than a hundred different varieties of tropical flora. You will see vibrant heliconia, ginger lilies, hibiscus and palms. Located 750ft above sea level the garden has been established since 1985 and is a real hidden gem in the countryside. The best time of year to visit for flowers is during the dry winter season from January to March. Barbados was once a useful holding station for Kew Gardens and other important plant hunters of the world during this era. After a period of quarantine on the island the plants were shipped to Great Britain. This is how plants from around the world reached the UK.




Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Step away from Singapore’s urban hustle and bustle into an oasis of beautiful gardens to enjoy and explore the Gardens by the Bay. Singapore’s newest open greenspace is owned by the National Parks Board of Singapore and was steered by CEO Tan Wee Kia. He helped create the vision from the beginning stages to completion. It represents the greening projects that have been taking place across the city since 1963. The project epitomizes the city’s links between environmental advances, history, heritage, recreation and tourism. In the early 2000s the Singapore government allocated 101 hectares of reclaimed land down by the waterfront. In January 2006 an international design competition was launched to find a world class designer for Gardens by the Bay. This was followed by an 11 member jury comprising of local and international experts. Two winners were shortlisted and put on display at the Singapore Botanic Gardens as an interactive exhibition which allowed 10,000 people to visit and give valuable feedback. It opened to the eager public in 2011 showcasing high standards of horticulture, technology and innovation. It cost S$1 billion to construct with an annual operation cost of S$50 million. The expanse of greenery is free to explore. Within this area are biospheres which replicate a dry, mild climate in one and a tropical cloud forest in the other. These help to produce and display plant habitats and environments that do not climatically occur in Singapore. The inspiring flower dome showcases the largest glasshouse in the world with spectacular changing floral displays. Inside this flower dome stands the African Baobab tree which weighs more than 32 tonnes and is the largest on display. This unique tree is pollinated by fruit bats with the dispersal of seeds by terrestrial animals such as elephants and baboons by digestive tract which is needed for germination to occur. Inside another biosphere named the cloud forest is a 35 metre tall mountain covered in vegetation that showcases the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Here plant species from 2,000 metres above sea level are displayed to convey the unique biodiversity, geology and ecological aspects of cloud forests. It also highlights the global threats that face the nine zones of the conservatory. This is a people’s garden and acts as an education tool as well as a recreational green oasis in a vibrant city.




Vizcaya Gardens, Miami

Vizcaya House and gardens stand as an oasis in Miami, away from the hustle and bustle of the city in Southern Florida. The name ‘Vizcaya’ traces back to a northern province in Spain which highlights the strong influence of European inspiration. This beautiful villa and estate was the winter home of the International Harvester Vice President, James Deering, and created between 1914 and 1916 to look like it had stood there for centuries.  Originally covering 180 acres including farm land Deering wanted his house to be designed in the style of the Italian Renaissance and French Baroque villas. The gardens were designed by Diego Suarez, a Colombian designer who trained in Florence and are one of the best examples in the USA of Italian garden design. They were adapted and manipulated to look Italian in design and form but planted using Miami’s subtropical plant species. Due to the garden’s location on Biscayne Bay, it is susceptible to high winds and storm surges during the hurricane season and mangroves surround the property offering protection. Inside the plants have been chosen to cope with salt spray, high humidity and wind damage. Limestone elements are used throughout the garden to create an aged feel which complements the planting design. Bromeliads spill out of stone urns and give a subtropical feel. Throughout the garden Italian influences from statuary, and water features are present that cascade and flow. In many areas plants have been clipped and trained neatly to resemble a formal presence next to the house. The orchidarium has recently been restored to its former 1917 design and showcases a beautiful display of seasonal flowering orchids. Visitors who arrived from the bay must have felt they were arriving in Venice and enjoyed taking tea in the teahouses in the warm winter subtropical climate.