9 Real-Life Fairy-Tale Gardens

Fairy-tale-like Château du Rivau with flower gardens in foreground
The garden at Château du Rivau looks as if it's from a fairy tale.

Andrea Corsica / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Gardens often play a major role in stories both real and imagined. Queen Marie Antoinette strolled the famed gardens at Versailles, which have captured the imaginations of tourists and locals alike for centuries. 

Still, some gardens that seem like they could be set in a novel or fairy tale are very real, like France's Château du Rivau. Some have a history, full of drama and intrigue, that eclipse the most well-plotted novel. Others poke at visitors' imaginations with their atmosphere and settings.

Here are nine living gardens that could be pulled straight from the pages of a novel or fairy tale.

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Tarnim Magic Garden (Thailand)

Buddha statues and waterfall at Tarnim Magic Garden, Thailand

Arkadij Schell / Getty Images

Tarnim Magic Garden, also called Secret Buddha Garden, is a sculpture park on Pom Mountain (Khao Pom) on the island of Koh Samui. The garden contains numerous statues, including angels, Buddhas, minstrels, and various animals, hidden among the foliage. They are arranged in the middle of a mountain forest around a rushing stream and small falls. The garden is somewhat remote and requires a trip up the mountain, usually done in a four-wheel drive.

The story of the garden's origin is almost fable-like. Successful durian farmer Nim Thongsuk, who spent a lifetime on the mountain tending his crops, decided to express his love for the land by creating the garden. He started when he was 77 years old and continued adding statues and features until his death at 91. Tarnim includes statues of Thongsuk's parents and a statue that touchingly depicts him holding hands with his father.

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Claude Monet's House and Garden (France)

green bridge over the lily pond at Claude Monet's garden at Giverney

Kathryn Donohew Photography / Getty Images

Claude Monet lived in Giverny, France, from 1883 to 1926. During this time, he expanded the home and added to the extraordinary gardens. People who appreciate the famous impressionist's work may find that some of the landscapes in the garden are similar to the nature scenes in his paintings.

This comparison is most obvious in the water garden, which features a pond with water lilies surrounded by flowers and topped by a Japanese bridge. Monet is known for creating images where the water reflects the landscape. Visitors buy a ticket for entrance to the entire estate, so they get to see the living spaces and original artworks as well as the pond and gardens.

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Märchengarten (Germany)

Metal statues of Hansel and Gretel at Märchengarten

Immanuel Giel / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The German town of Ludwigsburg, just outside of Stuttgart, is known as the City of Palaces. Famous for its Baroque buildings, it is also home to an impressive collection of gardens surrounding the palaces. Perhaps the most notable space is Blooming Baroque, an ongoing garden show that features a variety of different plants and styles. Some of the green spaces feature aviaries housing both local and non-native birds.

Imagination is not required to see the fairy-tale connection at the aptly named Fairy Tale Garden (Märchengarten, in German). Installations that depict more than 30 fairy-tale scenes are scattered throughout the garden. "Hansel and Gretel," "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Frog Prince" are among the fables portrayed here.

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Château du Rivau (France)

Chateau Du Rivau lit up at night in Loire Valley, France

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Despite being associated with important historic figures like Joan of Arc and officers who led French forces during the succession of wars in the 15th and 16th centuries, Château du Rivau is now best known for its fairy-tale gardens and classical architecture. Located in Lémeré, this was one of Europe's first "ornamental" castles, and as such, it was built with aesthetics in mind as much as fortification and function.

The property features 12 gardens—including Rapunzel's Garden, Fairies' Way, and Alice's Maze—each inspired by a fairy tale or a legend. An extensive rose collection will appease gardening enthusiasts while sculptures placed throughout the grounds add a sense of whimsy that fits the romanticized surroundings.

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Majorelle Garden (Morocco)

Tropical garden at Le Jardin Majorelle with blue building, red pathway, and cacti

Balate Dorin / Getty Images

French artist Jacques Majorelle chose Marrakesh as his home. He painted watercolors, but those works are now overshadowed by the Majorelle Garden, which he created during the 1920s and 1930s while living in the city. The garden, with its water features, deep blue walls, and dramatic foliage, became famous even before it was opened to the public after World War II.

After being saved from redevelopment by designer Yves Saint Laurent, Majorelle once again became one of the most popular attractions in the city. Visitors come to appreciate the blend of fountains, streams, foliage, and songbirds and soak in design styles that range from art deco to traditional Moorish. A museum of Berber culture is also on the property.

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Kenroku-en Garden (Japan)

Kenroku-en l garden and pond in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan

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Kenroku-en Garden, in the city of Kanazawa, is considered one of the "three great gardens of Japan." It is a landscape garden that has been open to the public since the latter decades of the 19th century. The garden features a complex system of streams and ponds, and the waterways are fed naturally by nearby rivers. The streams can be crossed on classic bridges.

One of the main features of Kenroku-en is a fountain that was the first created in Japan. It was built using natural pressure to shoot the water upward. The garden is open year-round and offers a different kind of experience in each season. Cherry blossoms are visible in springtime, flowers in summer, and snow-covered evergreens in winter.

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Forestiere Underground Gardens (California)

orange tree in a stone container at Forestiere Underground Gardens, Fresno, California

Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress / Public Domain

An unexpected garden is Forestiere Underground Gardens—which is, as its name suggests—underground. This unusual garden, located in Fresno, California, contains a network of underground chambers, passageways, and courtyards built by Baldassare Forestiere. When Forestiere found the land too hard for agriculture, he spent four decades, from 1906 to 1946, excavating and building underground arches, passages, and courtyards that eventually stretched for more than 10 acres.

Forestiere escaped the heat of Fresno's summers by doing his work underground and protected his fruit trees from frost by planting them there. The result was that he could not only cultivate native fruit trees and berry plants but also grow non-endemic crops like kumquat and jujube. The gardens are open to the public, so you can experience this underground wonder first-hand.

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Sacro Bosco (Italy)

Neptune statue at in the Sacro Bosco in Park of the Monsters, Bomarzo, Viterbo, Italy

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Located in Bomarzo, in the province of Lazio, this Italian garden dates to the 1500s. Unlike other Renaissance-era gardens, Sacro Bosco (Sacred Woods) features naturally growing vegetation, off-kilter structures, and monstrous statues carved into stone. Art historians attempting to understand the motivations of Vicino Orsini, the park's creator, believe the asymmetrical enchanted forest may have been inspired by literature, such as Arcadia, the utopia featured in Virgil's "Aeneid." Others seeking to uncover the mystery behind Orsini's work have suggested that the designs are based on his personal experiences.

Whatever the motivation, the garden has remained relevant throughout its history. In the 1940s, Salvador Dalí made a short movie about Sacro Bosco. The gardens were restored in the 1970s, and people still come to see the moss-covered monster statues peeking out from the foliage.

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Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum (Washington)

Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, Washington

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The Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum is part of Seattle Center, a 74-acre entertainment and culture neighborhood. The garden features colorful plants, but it also includes the whimsical glass art of Dale Chihuly, one of the world's most famous glass-blowing artists. The brightly colored, abstract glass sculptures are placed both inside and outside a greenhouse.

Visitors might feel like they are walking through an avant-garde garden, or they may find it easy to imagine themselves strolling through the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. But this is certainly not a quiet "secret garden." It sits at the foot of the Space Needle in the heart of Seattle. On the plus side, it is very easy to find, and most will find themselves looking down (and up) at the glass rather than focusing on the surrounding city.