The countries covered by this Regional Garden Guide includes the western or 'European' areas of Russia; the Baltic states and Turkey in the east; Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Greece in the central zone; and Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia in the west.
Gardens to see and visit in Eastern Europe and Russia include well-kept historic gardens, many of them surrounding palaces and stately homes in St Petersburg and Prague, as well as monastic gardens, large edible produce gardens, remnant garden archeology around Roman ruins, plus exciting new estate and resort gardens created by some of Europe's leading landscape designers.
Country guides in this region:
Garden Travel Guide to Eastern Europe and Russia
Note: There are beautiful gardens to see in many countries in this region however, sadly, some countries such as Ukraine and Turkey currently have security concerns for tourists. However in Turkey the threat of terrorism is in the larger cities and rural Turkey and smaller towns are still generally regarded as safe places to travel. Expo Antalya 2016 in southern Turkey is 2016’s biggest horticultural expo.
Eastern Europe and Russia topography and vegetation
Much of European Russia, with Ukraine, Romania, the Baltic states, Poland and Hungary are on a large plains, with elevations only around 100-200 metres. The northern taiga part of the European plain is covered by peat bogs and conifer forests of spruce and fir, which change to deciduous forests of birch, alder and willow in the lower and more southern areas. Further south on the plain are the steppes – the vast grass-covered plains of Hungary and Ukraine extending south to the Black Sea, and which are a major area for grain crop growing.
The Danube is the main river of eastern Europe, rising in Germany and flowing 2,860km east to the Black Sea. It is navigable for much of its length and is very popular for tourist cruises. It is a good access point for Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Romania.
Some countries of eastern Europe are more mountainous, especially Slovenia, northern Slovakia and the eastern (Moravia) part of the Czech Republic, Greece and northern Turkey.
Eastern Europe and Russia climate
Across much of the central area of this region, summers are warm but the winters are very severe with deep snow and frozen lakes, increasing to sub-polar conditions further north in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In the southern areas of Russia and across Ukraine and northern Turkey the climate is warm Mediterranean through to maritime. In southern Turkey and Greece it is hot Mediterranean with very hot dry summers and mild, wet winters.
Moscow has a very cold winter and a brief but surprisingly warm, humid summer (often over 30C for days in a row) with up to 100mm of rain in July. Snow falls can be expected as early as October and as late as May.
Much of Eastern Europe has quite low annual rainfall of 500-600mm.
Further west in Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and inland Croatia the climate is typically Continental with warm dry summers and cold winters, including snow. Coastal areas of Croatia have a Mediterranean climate with milder winters although snow can still fall on coastal cities.
Best time to visit Eastern Europe and Russia
April-May is usually both warm enough to be outdoors and you can enjoy the spring blossom, while June-August can be very hot, although this is also the season of the main cultural activities, especially in Russia during its brief summer.
Coastal areas will be very busy and expensive during the summer months as tourists from Europe’s land-locked countries head to the ocean and the beach resorts.
Autumn/fall colour is not a strong feature of Eastern European landscapes compared to North America, China and Japan, as nearly all deciduous trees change to yellow rather than rich orange, red and burgundy colours. However October can be a peaceful time to travel with fewer crowds about and you can enjoy the last of the open gardens before winter sets in.
Best gardens to visit in Eastern Europe and Russia
Best gardens to visit in Bulgaria
Black Sea area (Varna)
• Balchik Botanical Gardens – oriental style gardens surrounding the Palace of Balchik near Varna on the Black Sea, dating from the 1920s. Subtropical plants and cactus collection, terraces, cascades, decorative temples, canals, art and sculpture. Originally built for the Romanian Queen Maria when Varna was part of Romania.
• University Botanic Gardens in Varna and Balchik – botanic gardens of Sofia University Saint Kilment Ohridski
• Sea Park (also called the Maritime Park or Marine Gardens) – large public park laid out in grand style, many mature trees, promenade paths, Avenue of the Cosmonauts with trees planted by Soviet cosmonauts, cafes.
• Stone Forest – 18km west of Varna – an interesting natural landscape of unusual stone columns
Gardens to visit in Stara Zagora area
• Kazanlak – ‘Rose Valley’ is the Bulgarian centre for damask rose oil. Rose museum surrounded by pretty courtyard garden. The air is scented with roses from May-June.
• Ayazmoto Park (Metropolitan Metodi Kussezv Park) – 320 hectare park dating from 1895, with many mature deciduous trees and conifers.
Gardens to visit in Sofia
• City Garden Park (Gradska Gradina) – popular with amateur chess players, large fountains, sculpture, tree-lined avenues
• University Botanic Gardens – open Jan-July and Sept-Dec. Guided tours in English available. Established 1892, large greenhouse, mature trees, rose garden, perennial gardens, water lilies.
• Boris’ Garden Park – (Borisova Gradina) named for Tsar Boris (also called ‘Freedom Park’ during Communist rule) – tree-lined paths, large pond (a skating rink in winter), sculpture
Bulgarian garden events and festivals
• Bulgarian Rose Festival – Kazanlak, first week of June
Best gardens to visit in Croatia
Croatia is better known for its sunny islands and elegant cities than for its gardens but it has many fine gardens to visit. Italian garden style is very evident in the older terraced gardens, although using more drought-hardy shrubs and perennials plus many palms, succulents and cactus, reflecting the country’s dry climate. Many Croatian fountains also use salt water rather than fresh.
Coastal Croatia has a dry mediterranean climate, with many of the islands having only 500-600mm rainfall a year, mostly in winter. Summers are hot and sunny. Inland in cities like Zagreb, separated from the coast by the Dinaric Alps, the climate is continental with cold winters and warm summers.
A dominant feature of Croatian landscapes are limestone and dolomite rock outcrops, and also its use of rock and stone in buildings and garden terracing. These limestone rocks also weather to alkaline soils. It is also one of the most forested countries of Europe.
Gardens to visit in Eastern Croatia
• Zagreb Botanical Gardens – 5 hectares of mature trees and conifers, ornamental lake with picturesque bridge and water lilies, spring bulbs, iris, roses.
• Plitvice Lakes National Park, Dinaric Alps, between Split and Zagreb – a stunning natural landscape of 16 lakes, waterfalls and cascades. Several of the lakes are distinct colours of grey, blue, turquoise and green. Abundant wildlife, including many rare bird species. A scenic pathway winds around the lakes.
Gardens to visit in Dubrovnik and the Dalamtian coast
• Franciscan Monastery, Placa, Dubrovnik – founded in the 14th century and rebuilt after a 17th century earthquake 1667. Medieval Romanesque cloister with elegant colonnade is complemented by a period-style garden.
• Hvar – the ‘island of lavender’, which thrives in its chalky soil
• Lokrum Island Botanical Gardens – small island 15 minutes by ferry from Dubrovnik. Once the garden of Maximilian of Hapsburg. Olive groves.
• Elaphite archipelago – Šipan island is known for its natural forests and colourful home gardens
• Trsteno Arboretum and Renaissance Gardens, just north of Dubrovnik – summer residence of the Gučetić-Gozze family. 25 hectares of gardens created by seeds and plants brought back from ships sailing to distant lands in the late 15th century, including two 500 year-old oriental plane trees. Fountains using ancient aquaducts, grotto, sculpture, pergolas, views to the Elaphite islands
• St Lawrence Medieval Monastery gardens in Šibenik – 21st century created gardens replicate the herb and healing gardens of this 17th century monastery
• Biblical Garden, Stomorija, Kaštela – late 20th century garden featuring many plants from the Bible, plus vineyard and views.
Gardens to visit in Northern Croatia and the Istrian Coast
• Hotel Millenij, Opatija – colourful parterre gardens, palms
• Villa Angiolina Opatija, Istria – eye popping colour in extensive parterre gardens
• Lošinj Aromatic Garden – Island of Mali Lošinj – terraced garden featuring aromatic plants, herbs and quirky sculpture.
• Villa Miranda on Rab island (garden stay)
Best time to visit Croatia
Spring (April-May). Often included in Danube cruises
Croatia Garden Events, Festivals and Shows
• Flora-art, Bundek Lakes, Zagreb. Garden design displays, plants and sculpture. Early June
Best gardens to visit in Czech Republic – see Garden Guide to Czech Republic
Best gardens to visit in Estonia
• Tartu University Botanical Garden – beautiful 3 hectare garden, rockery gardens, lake, large glasshouse
• Tallinn Botanic Garden – a recently established botanic garden (1961) with large glasshouse
• Poltsama Rose Garden – best in mid to end July
• Karla Village – horticulture farms, gardens and nursery; open May-Sept with Flower Fair in early August
• Kadriorg Park (gardens of Kadriorg Palace) – 70 hectares of ornamental gardens dating from 1718, large formal flower beds, lake, follies, mature trees, Japanese garden
Best gardens to visit in Greece – see Garden Guide to Greece
Best gardens to visit in Hungary
Hungary is located mostly on a vast continental plain, which has cold winters and hot summers. Budapest as it was developed under communist rule was quite devoid of trees apart from those in the oldest parks, most street trees are less than 20 years old. Many older houses in the original Jewish ghetto around Király Street in Pest (now a bustling market area) had rear courtyard gardens, some of which can still be glimpsed on a guided walking tour.
Gardens to visit in Budapest
• Garden of Philosophy, Gellért Hill, Budapest – bronze statues of world-renown philosophers and spiritual leaders. Views over Budapest.
• Margitsziget (Margaret Island) – a small island in the Danube in central Budapest. 13th century church ruins, lakes, Japanese gardens, annual beds, mature trees, rose garden, large lawns, musical water fountain. Huge spa complex at the Platinus baths.
• Károlyi Garden, Pest – small English-style city park behind the Károlyi Palace
• Szabadásg Square – water park surrounded by beautiful buildings
• Shoes of the Danube Bank – (near the Hungarian Parliament) bronze shoes line the edge of the river, a memorial to the Jews shot here in WW2.
• Füvészkert Botanical Garden – founded in the late 18th century, large plant collection, Japanese garden, elegant palm house with many subtropical species
• Seminarium Centrale – early 20th century cloister garden with central water feature and statues. Guided tour only.
• Rose Hill – a wealthy suburb in Buda with large houses and well-kept gardens
St Paul’s Seminary Gardens, Pest
• Vácrátót Botanical Garden, Vácrátót (Pest) – with some features dating from the mid 19th century, these gardens were further developed by Count Vigyázó Sander into a romantic style garden of winding paths, large lakes, tree plantings, waterfalls, grottoes and lawns. Damaged by Russian occupation during WW2, the gardens were restored in the 1960s. Carpets of native spring bulbs, annual beds in summer, autumn foliage, snow-covered conifers in winter. open all year. Guided walks availble.
• Grandio Bar – one of Budapest’s ‘ruin bars’ created in old apartment buildings. Huge tree-shaded courtyard surrounded by backpacker hostels
• Szimpla Kert – ruin bar with trees, lots of potted plants and crazy decoration (including a trabi table)
Gardens to visit in Northern Hungary
• Alcsúti Arboretum, Alcsútdoboz in Fejér county – 40 hectare Hapsburg garden from the early 19th century, largely in its original design. Collections of mature trees, palm house, chapel
Gardens to visit in Western Hungary
• Zirci Arboretum, West-Balaton – beautiful all year-round, this arboretum has 18 hectares of English-style woodland gardens dating from the late 18th century. Lakes, stone bridges, deciduous tree and conifer collections, lime tree (Tillia sp) avenue, wetlands. Restored and extensively replanted in 2012.
• Eszterháza, Fertod – surrounding a palace built by wealthy Hapsburg noblity, large French-style formal gardens with avenues and many parterres.
• Jeli Arboretum, Vas – these 80 hectare sub-alpine gardens along the Koponyas River have stunning rhododendron displays in May-June.
• Széchenyi Mansion, Nagycenk – created during the early 19th century in the English style with mature trees. Recreated French parterre.
• Kámon Arboretum/Botanic Garden – 10 hectare alpine garden
Best gardens to visit in Latvia
• National Botanic Garden (Latvijas Nacionālais botāniskais dārzs) in Salaspils – 129 hectares with more than 14,000 taxa. Summer gardens of annuals, llarge dahlia collection and hydrangeas. Mature trees and many conifers. Latvian-bred roses, rock garden.
• Botanical Gardens of the University of Latvia (LU) – 15 hectare garden with both exotic and native Latvian plants, herbal garden, arboretum, large azalea collection, plant houses of exotic plants
• Vermane’s Park, Riga – historic 5 hectare park with fountains, colourful annual beds and sculpture
Best gardens to visit in Poland
Poland has a continental climate of very cold winters and hot summers. The natural vegetation is open woodland dominated by conifers. Many old gardens suffered extensive damage during WW2 and then years of neglect under communist rule. There are some mansion gardens dating from the 18th century and many colourful allotments gardens, much-prized by city dwellers.
Gardens to visit in Warsaw and Central Poland
• Warsaw University Library Roof Garden – huge 1 hectare roof garden with views over the Vistula River. Trees and shrubs, ponds, fountain, stream, bridges, pergola, granite sculptures. Open every day.
• Arkadia Park and Nieborow Palace Garden, Łowicz County – once one of Europe’s finest gardens, these two romantic gardens were developed during the late 18th century. Temple of Diana, gothic ‘ruins’. large lake and mature trees.
Royal Baths Park, Warsaw
• Wilanów – small park of restored gardens around a 17th century mansion. Formal gardens , orangery, stream, terraces, cascade.
Gardens to visit in Wrocław
• Wrocław Botanic Gardens (Ogrodu Botanicznego Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego) – 5 hectares of pretty and picturesque gardens founded in early 19th century. Tree and shrub plantings, medicinal garden, pond, bridges, Polish flora
Gardens to visit in Kraków
• Botanic Garden of the Jagiellonian University – Founded in 1783, it is the oldest botanical garden in Poland. 10 hectares, greenhouse, ‘Victoria’ House with giant lily, palm house, long perennial border, rock garden, Polish flora, arboretum, medicinal garden. Very large orchid collection.
Best gardens to visit in Russia – see the Garden Guide to Russia
Best gardens to visit in Slovenia
• Volčji Potok Arboretum, Radomlje – over 2,500 different trees and shrubs, parterre, garden design services, nursery and garden centre
Slovenia Garden Events, Festivals and Shows
Tulip Expo and Spring Horticultural Fair at Volčji Potok Arboretum. Late April – early May
Best gardens to visit in Turkey
Turkey is not well-known as a garden destination even though it has been influenced by ancient cultures that gardened, such as the Greeks and Romans and especially the Persians with their courtyard gardens. The Sultans of the Ottoman Empire (13th-20th centuries) built Persian-style walled pleasure gardens filled with conifers, roses and fountains and these gardens are still seen symbolically reflected in the elaborate patterning of Turkish rugs and embroideries. However the Ottoman’s ruling style, which kept land owned by the Sultan, meant that there was never a wealthy land-owning class to develop significant gardens.
None of the ancient gardens survive other than in historical record although there are many ruins where you can imagine the gardens that would have been, and enjoy instead spectacular spring wildflowers including oriental poppies, tulips and fritillaries. Remnants of the gardens are often seen in elaborate paving pebble or tile patterns of interlocking circles and diamonds as well as ancient fountains, wells and rills.
Gardens from the Ottoman Empire period have also largely disappeared, victim of years of civil war and other national priorities.
The rest of the Turkish population grew edible plants such as figs, apricots, almonds and mulberries, often in steep, terraced hillside gardens.
Turkey is also the natural home of many of our favourite garden plants such as tulip, apricot, hazelnut, cherry, verbascum, snowdrop, lilies, fritillary, crocus, and robinia as well as many important food crops such as lentil and chickpea. Many strains of wild wheat from which our modern hybrid forms have been bred can still be found growing in Turkey.
Gardens to visit in Istanbul and northern Turkey
• Istanbul Botanic Gardens (Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden) – 8 separate ‘islands’ created by the intersecting surrounding motorways. Native Turkish plants; colourful garden beds and shrubberies; cacti and succulents gardens; special habitat rock, crevice and dry halophyte gardens; Japanese garden; hedge garden; recreation of an18th century Turkish mansion garden; views to the Bosphorus Sea.
• Rüstempaşa Medrese – a 16th century octagonal cloister garden with central fountain, restored in 2011
• Yildiz Park, (Yildiz Royal Gardens), Beşiktaş -a mid 19th century in European style with lake, fountains
• Gülhane Park, Eminonu – avenues of mature trees, green lawns, flower beds
• Emirgan Park, Emirgan – 117 acres, native conifers, pavilions, extensive tulip plantings for spring display, mature trees
• Sakip Sabanci museum gardens, Istanbul
• Kasri Gardens (Ihlamur Kasri), Beşiktaş – small garden popular for wedding photography
• Atatürk Arboretum and Belgrade Forest – the 50 hectare arboretum features a wide range of native and exotic trees, and the 400 hectare forest of natural woodland, streams and aqueducts, boardwalks.
• Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet) – admire the beautiful flower-depictions on decorative tiles
• Hagia Sophia cloister garden
• Topkapı Palace – exquisite blue and green tiled facade, surrounded by lawns and rose gardens re-landscaped during 2012-2013
• Dolmabahçe Palace Garden – neo-rococo style building surrounded by formal gardens with box hedging, flowerbeds, specimen trees
• Zeytinburnu Herb Garden – over 800 medicinal plants, phytotherapy center
• Istanbul flower markets
• Karaca Arboretum (Yalova) – over 7000 trees in this private arboretum with lakes, rockeries, plant nursery
• Yedigöller National Park, Bolu
• Japanese Garden (Kırşehir Kaman) – The garden is adjacent to the Kalehöyük Museum, which has artefacts on display. It is claimed to be the biggest Japanese garden outside of Japan.
Gardens to visit in Eastern Turkey
• Cappadocia wildflowers – best viewing time in spring (April-May)
• Hevsel Gardens (Diyarbakır) – 700-acre gardens are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The area along the Dicle River is home to over 180 different types of birds.
Gardens to visit in Southern Turkey and Antalya and Western Turkey
• Isparta Rose Farms – Isparta is the centre of Turkey’s damascus rose oil and rose syrup industry. Roses in bloom perfume the air from May-June
• Tropical Butterfly Garden (Konya) – 20,000 tropical plants support 6,000 butterflies of 15 different kinds, butterfly and insect museum
• Bodrum – the centre of Turkey’s olive industry
• Antalya bulb and wildflower viewing – best time is late March to early April. Contact Yasemin Konuralp at Wildflowers of Turkey for bespoke wildflower tours
• Edward Whittall Garden – Bornova, Izmir – wedding and event centre surrounded by significant historical gardens created by noted plant collector Edward Whittall during the late 19th century
Gardens to visit in Princes Islands
• Çolak Villa
• Dervish Villa
Turkey Garden events, Festivals and Shows
EXPO2016 ANTALYA – ‘Cultivating the Future‘ International Horticultural Expo from 23 April to 30 October 2016, 17km from Antalya on Turkey’s picturesque south coast. Expo features include: An Expo Greenhouse, The Agriculture and Biodiversity Museum, The Kids Science and Technology Centre, the Turkish Biodiversity Theme Trail, a Mosaiculture Plant Sculpture Area, a Water Mill, the Expo Tower, a Convention Centre, Amphitheatres, Kids Island, the Activity Field, Expo Lake, Expo Forest, Culture and Art Street, Restaurants as well as Indoor and Outdoor Gardens.
Best gardens to visit in Ukraine
Have you ever seen a piece of art and imagined it as a garden? I am not a horticulturalist, garden designer or landscape architect. My only design experience comes from moving seventeen times in thirty four years and always having to cram my stuff into a new house