York Gate Garden
When asked to spotlight a special garden, designer Andy Sturgeon (who has won numerous awards at the Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows) picked York Gate, saying simply, "It's a gem." The one-acre garden is tucked behind a 12th-century church and comprises a series of outdoor rooms: The Dell is an informal woodland garden with half-hidden pathways and a stream; a formal herb garden, with an Italianate summer house, is dotted with topiaries, many pruned into spirals. 011-44/113-267-8240, perennial.org.uk, $7.
Elk Rock Garden of the Bishop's Close
What can you say about a garden that overlooks a dormant volcano? "'Wow' is right," says landscape architect Steven Koch, whose Portland firm is known for its ecologically sustainable work. Vast lawns lead to woods with magnolia trees and English-style borders (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted). The vista opens up at the edge of the gardens—from a bluff, you can see Mount Hood and the Willamette River. The east-facing scene calls for a sunrise visit. 800/452-2562, diocese-oregon.org/theclose, free.
Queen Califia's Magical Circle, Kit Carson Park
"Queen Califia's Magical Circle garden in the park's arboretum is a sculptural fantasy," says landscape architect Pamela Palmer, whose firm, ArtEcho, won the American Society of Landscape Architects' top residential-design award last year. The Magical Circle was dreamed up by the late French artist Niki de Saint-Phalle; it depicts the mythical figure Queen Califia standing on top of a 13-foot-tall, five-legged eagle. (Legend has it that California was named for the warrior queen.) Eight totems, each covered in hand-cut glass and stone, represent the cultures that settled the state. 760/839-4691, queencalifia.org, free.
Julie Moir Messervy, who collaborated with cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the Toronto Music Garden, didn't think twice about her top pick. "I love how quirky Chanticleer is," says Messervy of the garden in suburban Philadelphia. Walk among the cut flowers and the bulbs (there are tens of thousands) and you may come upon a carved-stone sofa. Stroll through a woodland only to encounter a ruin where plants appear to be reclaiming all vestiges of man. Bend over a gushing fountain and you may be startled by the carved marble faces looking up at you. Formerly the estate of Christine and Adolph Rosengarten Sr. (he was head of a pharmaceutical company), Chanticleer was established in 1913. It was made a public garden by Rosengarten's son, Adolph Jr. 610/687-4163, chanticleergarden.org, $5, guided tours $10.
Yew Dell Gardens
Imagine sprawling lawns dotted with evergreens surrounding a Cotswolds-style castle; a secret garden overflowing with 70 types of hellebores (Lenten roses) hides at the end of a holly-canopied allée. Then imagine that you're only 15 minutes from Louisville, Ky., usually thought of as a mecca for horse lovers, not horticulturists. "This is a must-see," says designer and author Wayne Winterrowd, who visited the gardens while working on nearby residential projects. Yew Dell was the vision of plant expert Theodore Klein, who started the now-public garden as a nursery and laboratory in 1941. Klein collected and tested more than 1,000 plants and developed more than 60 unique plant varieties, including a variegated redbud and several types of sugar maple. 502/241-4788, yewdellgardens.org, $7.
"The last thing you'd expect in the middle of the Midwest is a Japanese teahouse," says designer Tracy DiSabato-Aust, author of The Well-Designed Mixed Garden. "The garden, owned by entrepreneur Ted Schnormeier and his wife, Ann, offers many things—except a sense of place." Indeed, the 75-acre garden in central Ohio is a monument to the unexpected. Along with a Chinese pavilion, there's a Japanese zigzag bridge over a pond with Australian black swans. The Schnormeiers also added a waterfall, 10 lakes, and dozens of sculptures. The garden is privately owned, and it's only open one weekend a year (in 2008, June 14-15). schnormeiergardens.org, free.
This is a garden that beer built—and landscape architect C. Colston Burrell finds it intoxicating. "It's a journey through lots of colorful plantings in an artful design," says Burrell, a residential designer who has twice won the American Horticultural Society's book award. Grain Belt Brewery founder Frederick Noerenberg created the garden on the north shore of Lake Minnetonka, just outside of Minneapolis, first planting a grove of Scotch pine and Norway spruce that reminded him of his native Germany. The garden is noted for its ornamental grasses and some pretty resilient azaleas, which are cold-hardy down to -35 degrees Fahrenheit. 763/559-9000, threeriversparkdistrict.org/parks, free.
NEWTOWNARDS, NORTHERN IRELAND
Spread across 90 acres on the Ards Peninsula, about 30 minutes east of Belfast, Mount Stewart is one of the finest gardens in Europe. Founded in the 1920s by Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, with advice from gardening legend Gertrude Jekyll, Mount Stewart contains so many subtropical plants that you'll have to remind yourself you're in Ireland, says Helen Dillon, one of Europe's best-known gardeners. There are more than 100 eucalyptus trees, some of which top out at 120 feet, as well as an eye-popping stand of bloodred and orange rhododendrons. The whimsical topiaries include an Irish harp, a shamrock, a sailboat, stags, the goddess Diana, and the devil. 011-44/28-4278-8387, nationaltrust.org.uk, $11.
APPLEDORE ISLAND, MAINE
Celia Thaxter's Garden
Celia Thaxter's Garden is on an island 10 miles off the coast of Portsmouth, N.H. "You can only reach it by boat, which is pretty exciting stuff for a gardener," says designer Gordon Hayward, author of several books, including The Intimate Garden. Framed by spectacular sea views and tended by volunteers and staff from the nearby Shoals Marine Laboratory, the garden is only 750 square feet, but it's filled with colorful annuals such as red poppies and blue love-in-a-mists. Nineteenth-century poet Celia Thaxter fashioned the garden, saying it gave her "perfect happiness." 603/430-5220, sml.cornell.edu, full-day tour $85.
HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND
The small city of Hamilton is home to "one of the most spectacular gardens you'll ever see," says Richard Lyon, an award-winning landscape architect in Kennett Square, Pa., who also leads garden tours of New Zealand. Built on the site of an old sand mine, the 143-acre public park is like a trip around the world. There's an Indian walled garden with a carpet of Persian roses, dianthuses, sweet williams, zinnias, and more; English-style garden rooms with a fountain and a dovecote (and doves); a Japanese Zen garden with artfully raked sand; and an American modernist garden with a kidney-shaped pool and a mosaic of Marilyn Monroe. 011-64/7-838-6782, hamiltongardens.co.nz, free.