While you don't need the services of a specialist to enjoy the old Czarist summer gardens at Peterhof in St. Petersburg or the alluring Moorish gardens in Granada, Spain, expert help can get you past some lesser-known garden walls. The private estancias of Uruguay or the hidden villas of Italy, for example, offer gardens all the more exquisite because they are almost never opened to the public. "A garden is most appreciated when it is peaceful. And special private visits are now very popular," says Sue Macdonald of U.K.-based company Boxwood Tours.
If access isn't a problem, then neither is timing, given that there's a garden for every season. In the spring, Dutch bulbs burst out at Keukenhof. April sees the gardens of the Neapolitan Riviera lovely and fresh before the summer heat. July and August hold the promise of drowsy afternoons and long evenings in Oxford's Christ Church Meadows. In the fall, a permit for the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto is the best way to see Japan's fiery autumnal foliage. And when all is dreary in the north, there's always Cape Town's Kirstenbosch Gardens, or New Zealand's Ellerslie Flower Show in Novemberthe largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Check out these websites, too, for holidays with a green-fingered focus:
www.globalgardenproject.com This specialized operator organizes garden tours to destinations as diverse as Scotland and Mexico.
www.shenzhengarden.com Starting Sept. 16, the Chinese city of Shenzhen hosts its fifth garden and flower expo, featuring 120 gardens.
www.visitbritain.com/gardens This contains info on over 400 of the U.K.'s best-loved gardens.
www.jgarden.org Use this database to search for Japanese-style gardens in countries as far afield as Poland and Egypt.