America's Most Hauntingly Beautiful Sunken Gardens

These gardens lie just below ground level, but they can feel like time machines to long-gone eras.

Sunken gardens can make stylish and unusual additions to any landscape. With a little digging and fortification, you too can create a unique garden that exists just below ground level. Whether you're seeking a new design concept for your backyard or a peaceful retreat from the world, these unusual gardens make perfect places to break free from the normative restrictions of ordinary gardens.

Sunken gardens are also strangely eerie, and can emanate unnatural, skewed auras, perhaps due to the disorienting nature of a garden submerged below the earth's surface. This has made these gardens into hotbeds of various myths and legends, in addition to being architectural and natural wonders.

Without further ado, here are six of America's loveliest and most intriguing sunken gardens.

1. The Sunken Garden in St. Petersburg, Florida

This four-acre Floridian park packs a lot of punch for its size. Full of winding, labyrinthine trails and populated by creatures such as butterflies, tortoises, brightly colored koi, and pink flamingos, that this garden exists is entirely thanks to the vision of a certain plumber. In 1902, George Turner, Sr. purchased a large lake in Florida and promptly drained it. He then turned it into a below-sea-level garden, starting with a few citrus trees. Today, the St. Petersburg Sunken Gardens are a local historic landmark. They were allowed to grow wild for many years, but restoration efforts have since returned the tropical vista to its original radiance.

Image via Green Bench Monthly

2. Sunken Gardens, Huntington County, Indiana

These gardens began as a stone quarry, which was acquired by county residents in 1924. They proceeded to beautify it, installing features such as gazebos, a meandering river, and a stony bridge. Today, the garden is one of the two largest sunken gardens in the nation, and it's a popular place for weddings, gatherings, and contemplative retreats of all stripes.

Image via Visual Commonwealth

Image via Flickr

3. Sunken Gardens, Lincoln, Nebraska

This unnatural wonder features an annual floral display of over 30,000 individual blossoms, which correspond to a specific theme each year. In 2018, the theme was "Sun Salutations," meaning that the garden was lit up with an array of fiery orange and red floralia. It's the only garden in Nebraska to make the list of the top 300 gardens in the U.S., and it features a huge number of tulips, ferns, and perennial shrubs. The garden also contains a secret 'Healing Garden,' inspired by the famous White Garden of Sissinghurt Castle, England, which was created by Vita Sackville West (who was—fun fact—Virginia Woolf's longtime secret lover) and her husband Harold Nicholson in the 1930s.

Image via Flickr

Vita Sackville-West's White Gardens, via Pinterest

4. San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden

As one of the most beautiful parks in San Antonio, Texas, this garden was also originally a rock quarry. It was then transformed into a lily pond, which was later drained to make way for the park it would become. Today, the park is a registered Texas Historic Landmark and has also garnered a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a wonderland of limestone bridges, pagodas, koi-filled ponds, plants, a 60-foot waterfall, and other opulent natural wonders. Despite its idyllic appearance, the park has a bit of a fraught history. In 1917, efforts began to transform what was then a pond into a Japanese garden, and the Japanese-American artist Kimi Eizo Jingu was invited to design it. However, the Jingus were evicted when anti-Japanese sentiments overtook the U.S. in the 40s, and in an act of extreme disrespect, the garden was renamed the Chinese Tea Garden. Though its elaborately carved entrance sign still unfortunately reads "Chinese Tea Garden," the garden was publicly renamed in 1983, when City Councillor Van Archer announced the change and stated, "Officially renaming the sunken gardens will serve as at least a small and symbolic reparation for the wrongs suffered by an American minority group caught in the madness and hysteria of war."

Image via Imgur

Image via Texas Hill Country

5. The Sunken Garden of William and Mary

Located at the heart of the historic West Virginia University, this sunken garden is a popular place for students to congregate on sunny days. Designed in the style of eighteenth-century English gardens, this landscape is "intended to uplift the spirit by leading the eye toward a distant, natural setting," according to the college's website.

Image via Twitter

The gardens are oriented to look out over the Crim Dell, an iconic and historical bridge that Thomas Jefferson once insisted on preserving so "the College could look out forever on the Country." Today, the bridge is more of an emblem to natural beauty than patriotism, and it's emblazoned with a plaque that reads, "...[T]hat one may walk in beauty, discover the serenity of the quiet moment, and dispel the shadows." The same sentiment might apply to the sunken gardens—if they weren't so paranormally active. According to university folklore, the sunken garden at William and Mary is haunted by many spirits from colonial times, including the ghosts of Native American children and specters from George Washington's Northern Army encampment. It's also haunted by another odd fact: In 2009, the gardens were the location of a world-record-breaking achievement when the lawn became the location where the most people did the zombie dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" at one time.

Image via Redbubble

6. The Sunken Gardens at Caramoor

In 1928, New York's Caramoor was purchased by a wealthy couple who became enraptured by the Italian villa's array of old gardens. Thanks to their efforts, some of those gardens have been successfully preserved to this day—including the old sunken garden, which provides a popular spot for wedding ceremonies, as well as a refuge for contemplation and communion with nature.

Image via Pinterest

In 2014, these gardens were the location of an interesting installation called "Sunken Gardens," created by composer Betsy Briggs, whose work is intended to "expose the beauty in the everyday." The exhibition was an audio installation, and featured an array of sounds that would be triggered as visitors walked throughout the garden. According to the artist's statement, "Unlike traditional music, visitors will play the piece non-linearly simply by walking through it." Caramoor's strange and peaceful sunken garden seems like a natural place for an art exhibit like this, one that molds the natural landscape into a mirror of human desire.

Sunken Gardens

7. The Sunken Garden at Warner Castle

Located near Rochester, New York, this castle was originally owned by Horatio Gates Warner in the mid-1800s. After that, it went through several iterations, including a stint as a sanatorium. Today, the Scottish-style fortress is undergoing renovation, but its gardens remain open to the public—including its most famous attraction, the sunken garden. Nestled at the crux of a stone fortress in the castle's backyard, the garden was designed in the 1930s by Alling DeForest, a land artist and student of Frederick Law Olmstead. According to legend, there's a sealed entrance to the castle's catacombs located somewhere in the sunken garden—and perhaps that's the origin point of the garden's mystical aura. Regardless of the source of its romantic mystique, this garden definitely feels like it's a time capsule from a past era.

Warner Castle Sunken Garden Image via Harbors and Meadows

Image via Pinterest

Sunken gardens are places where human vision melds with the natural world to create something hauntingly beautiful. As the earth's climate continues to warm, we'll have to find ways to beautify and rewild all the empty, barren lakes and ruined landscapes that will result from all the droughts and wildfires, so perhaps we'll be seeing more sunken gardens crop up as the years go by. If you're inspired to create your own, be sure to check out some expert gardening tips, and get ready to start digging.

Read More from Journiest

Subscribe now

Related Posts

If you've googled one thing during this pandemic, it is definitely: "Thai food near me."

Thai food has remained one of the most delicious and sought after takeout gems; and in New York City, specifically, there are so many delicious options that it can be overwhelming. Often unlike Chinese food, Thai food offers fresher ingredients and versatile cuisine options. Whether you want some Pad Thai or Pad See Ew, or some coconut milk-infused curry or even just some soup, Thai food is good for any occasion. But with so many options, how do you know you're getting the freshest ingredients at the best price? Here are the best spots to order take-out from, and we even broke it up by borough for you.

Manhattan: Fish Cheeks

Fish Cheeks

Reviewed by The Times as "fresh, vivid and intense," Fish Cheeks offers solid takes on traditional Thai Cuisine. Their speciality remains seafood, so their Crab Friend Rice and Coconut Crab Curry are delicious highlights. Their Tum Yum is also to die for, made with fresh galanagal, lime leaves and lemongrass.

The version [of tum yum] here hums with fresh galangal, lime leaves and lemongrass. Shrimp and knobby mushrooms simmer in a broth that gets extra body from milk, a twist I've never seen before but one I approve of. It could be spicier, but the use of bird's-eye chiles is far from shy.

Manhattan: Lan Larb

thia food

Arguably some of the best Pad Thai in the city, Lan Larb is focused mainly on the food of Thailand's northeast region. As a result, there is often a combo of meat and seafood involved in most dishes, such as the Lao Chicken Soup, which combines fresh chicken with pickled fish and a steamy brown broth. The menu will make your tastebuds whirl if you're one for experimentation, if not, their Pad Thai is iconic and filling enough on its own.

Brooklyn: Ugly Baby

Brooklyn has always been teeming with amazing Thai food joints, but Ugly Baby is the borough's most established success story. The Carrol Gardens sensation was preceded by two long gone Red Hook restaurants known for their authentic Northern Thai cuisine. With Ugly Baby, a name which comes from an ancient belief in Thailand that ugly children bring good fortune, chef Sirichai Sreparplarn had mastered his craft. The restaurant quickly gained glowing praise throughout Brooklyn and New York, and their take on Khao Soi Nuer and Kao Tod Nam Klook remain the stuff of legends.

Queens: Ayada

ayada thai

Ayada's cuisine is so good that it made a New York Times journalist cry at his table. Not out of emotion though, but out of spice. For those looking for a truly bold eating experience, this Queens Thai restaurant holds nothing back when crafting their drunken noodles or Pad Thai, but that spice is what makes it one of the best spots in the city.

Bronx: Ceetay

​While the Bronx isn't necessarily a buzzing Thai food borough, Ceetay's asian fusion cuisine is of the highest quality and will appeal to anyone desperately needing to nom on some noodles. Their sushi is amazing but their Pad Thai is packed with amazing flavor. Seasoned with onions, peppers, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, peanuts, scallions and cilantro, this Pad Thai is packed with flavors and will slam your taste buds in the best possible way.


5 Countries to Visit This Fall

As the weather starts to chill out, we're just getting warmed up to travel

It's not winter yet!

So that means, we're all about that fall travel. It's a beautiful time of year to be outside in many countries, soaking up the colorful landscapes and fresh air. Here are our picks for the top places to visit this fall.

1. Germany


Burg Eltz Castle is a magical step back into the Middle Ages that's been here for more than 850 years.

2. Switzerland


The red leaves in Bern are absolutely striking.

3. Italy


Nothing like the sheer beauty of the formidable Italian alps.

4. Peru


Machu Picchu beckons visitors from near and far this fall.

5. Mexico


It's not too cold to skip the beach!

Everyone has heard of the murder-hotel where dark shadows creep at the edge of your vision, or the abandoned house where the furniture moves each time you leave the room.

But sometimes the places set up to capture the fun and fright of the Halloween season for paying customers can be far more horrifying than any ghost stories. These "fake" haunted houses will leave you genuinely haunted.

Pennhurst Haunted Asylum

So spoooky!

Thomas James Caldwell

Pennhurst Asylum was in operation from 1908-1987 in the small town of Spring City, Pennsylvania. While we don't have all the records of the residents' experiences there, it doesn't take much imagination to realize that this building was home to true horrors. In many ways, 1908 wasn't that long ago, but in terms of mental health treatment—especially in small-town Pennsylvania—it was absolutely the dark ages. This was the time of lobotomies, straight jackets, and shock therapy. Whatever the jump scares and fake blood contribute to the fear you will feel walking through Pennhurst Asylum's aging, echoing halls, they can't come close to the deep, sinking feeling caused by the deep history of torment that has left its imprint on the very fabric of the place. Four spooky skulls out of five.


Haunted Trap House

Like this, but less 90s

In Centreville, Maryand, in the year 1989, a group of visionaries were struck by a bolt of inspiration. What if—instead of zombies and werewolves and demons, and all the stuff out of children's nightmares—what if they filled their haunted house with the real-world nightmares that were actually infesting their city, killing their residents, and generally afflicting every corner of the entire nation. Thus, the Haunted Crack House was born. Since renamed the Haunted Trap House, it's ostensibly an educational experience on the dangers of drug use, it features simulations of overdoses, arrests, and shootings, as well as actual former convicts who are paid to draw on their real experiences to make your visit as terrifying as possible. This kind of fetishizing of human misery to capitalize on the Halloween season is as despicable as it is spooky. Four-and-a-half skulls out of five.


McKamey Manor

He technically consented to this

A $20,000 reward? A 40-page waiver? These figures have garnered a lot of attention in recent headlines. Supposedly this is the "scariest" haunted house experience in the country. Who could resist the temptation of that once-in-a-lifetime experience, combined with the chance to win a big cash prize? Unfortunately, that is exactly what Russ McKay wants. There's a reason he's put so much work into the legal side of his operation. Rather than gassing up neutered chainsaws and chasing you around in a hockey mask, McKay has opted for producing actual, real, straight-up torture. You may not find the decorations and costumes that scary, but you will absolutely fear for your life when you consent to be water-boarded with fake blood. For being operated by a man who is clearly an unhinged psychopath, McKamey Manor ties the Haunted Traphouse, with four-and-a-half spooky skulls.


Donald Vann's House of Horrors

Donald Vann murdered eleven people. Happens to the best of us, but it does present a problem. How do you dispose of all those bodies? Donald's solution was to open a haunted house and put his victims' decaying remains on display as props. Props to him. For eight months he prepared his fetid, malodorous horrors, before debuting on October 1st. Unfortunately, you won't be able to visit his house of horrors, because he has since landed in some legal trouble—board of health, maybe?—but I'm sure for the lucky few who were able to visit during its brief tenure, and witness Vann's "psychotic smirk," I'm sure the nightmares they're left with keep on spooking.


Every Hell House in America


In the same vein as the Haunted Traphouse, Hell Houses are church presentations intended as educational experiences that warn kids and teens away from the path of sin. Their methods for achieving this obviously vary, but according to The Washington Post, you can generally expect the following: "A devil ushers a gay man dying of AIDS into the fiery pit. A teenager who is raped at a drug-filled rave commits suicide and also goes to hell. A young girl hemorrhaging from an abortion repents at the last minute." Awful. Truly sickening. What kind of trauma are they inflicting on these children to prop up their outdated ideologies? Six spooky skulls. Where'd that extra skull come from?? Nobody knows…