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MALENY BOTANIC GARDENS & BIRD WORLD, QLD
Frank Shipp is a former engineer from South Africa with a thing for big machinery. When he bought a rough cattle-grazing property clinging to the side of Queensland's Blackall Range in 2005, he couldn't help himself. He started rearranging the landscape: carving terraces, creating waterfalls, planting his favourite species and installing whimsies such as a replica of Monet's curved bridge and elevated gazebos offering uninterrupted views over the Glass House Mountains to the south. He opened his fantasia to the public in 2012 and last year added a walk-through aviary filled with curious macaws, extravagantly feathered Lady Amherst's pheasants and more.
GARDEN OF DREAMS, KATHMANDU, NEPAL
Need a break from Kathmandu's chaotic, pot-holed, hawker-filled streets? Dive into the tranquil Garden of Dreams near the tourist hot-spot of Thamel. The neo-classical 1920s garden and its pavilions fell into disrepair over the 20th century but, with help from the Austrian government, they were restored from 2000 to 2007. Now, its shaded benches and intimate nooks and crannies are popular with loved-up local couples and visitors alike. The elegant pavilions house eateries and an exhibit showcasing the garden's transformation from overgrown jungle to a manicured paradise filled with roses, cherry trees, frangipani and a sculpted bamboo plant known as Buddha's Belly.
SHAMIAN ISLAND, GUANGZHOU, CHINA
With broad boulevards, formal low-rise hedges, mature trees, colonial mansions and strict traffic controls, Shamian Island is a peaceful oasis within Guangzhou's sprawling metropolis. Measuring just 900 by 300 metres and fronting the Pearl River, the island became a foreign concession in 1859 after the two Opium Wars; the British and French governments returned their land holdings in the 1940s. Today, it's a joy to wander its shaded streets, enjoying pastel-coloured architecture, whimsical bronze sculptures and striking churches such as the 1892 Our Lady of Lourdes. The island also attracts couples in their wedding finery taking advantage of the good-looking backdrop.
NORMAN LINDSAY GALLERY & MUSEUM, NSW
Of course, there's all that art to admire inside the sandstone cottage. But those who explore the 17–hectare grounds of the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum at Faulconbridge in the lower Blue Mountains will also be rewarded. In spring, the wisteria enveloping a long colonnade bursts into a profusion of purple that frames some of the 14 sculptures populating the property that was immortalised in the 1994 film, Sirens. Go exploring and discover the century-old, statue-ringed empty swimming pool sitting in a secluded valley, the nymphs and satyrs that enliven the lawns and the cool-climate gardens ringed by Australian bush.
ALICE SPRINGS DESERT PARK, NT
Head to Australia's Red Centre to learn what native flora and fauna species thrive in arid-zone environments. Alice Springs Desert Park, a mixture of botanic garden and wildlife park seven kilometres west of town, showcases outback landscapes such as desert rivers, woodland and sand country (complete with clay, gypsum and salt pans). Wander among trees, shrubs and grasses such as eucalypts, river red gums, corkwoods, bloodwoods, silver cassia and spinifex, and admire the tenacity of wildflowers such as the Sturt's desert pea, poached egg daisy and pink everlasting. Wildlife fans can catch the birds of prey show and see what's asleep in the nocturnal house.
IMPERIAL PALACE GARDENS, TOKYO, JAPAN
While serious garden aficionados can tour the Imperial Palace's inner grounds with a carefully planned reservation, less organised types can still drop in to wander around the palace's neat-as-a-pin Outer and East gardens for free. Pick up a token upon arrival and dive in: the grounds in the heart of Tokyo include 10-metre-high stone walls dating back to the era of shoguns and samurai guardsmen, tea pavilions, bamboo forests, water-filled moats, seasonal colour courtesy of azaleas, hydrangeas, irises, waterlilies and cherry and plum trees, and quirks such as a planting of prefectural tree emblems.
The writer was the guest of China Southern Airlines, Aurora Expeditions, Princess Cruises, Accor and Sunshine Coast Destination Ltd.