America has become well known for it’s abundance of botanical gardens. There’s hundreds of options to choose from, meaning that it’s quite likely that there’s one near you. While they pretty much all have some of the same features–such as a vegetable garden, a conservatory or two, possibly a Japanese garden, and so on and so forth–each is different in it’s own special way. These timeless designs and horticultural traditions continue to bring new life in the forms of aesthetics, as well as functionality. Even if you’ve visited your local botanical garden a time or two before, there’s always a reason to revisit thanks to expansions, changing exhibits, and special events. Special events can range from a Chihuly art exhibition to showcasing a magical holiday light display that the children will be begging to visit again and again.
1. New York Botanical Garden, New York City, NY
This 250-acre urban oasis is located in the heart of the Bronx and welcomes nearly a million visitors to it’s grounds each year. Unlike Central Park, which has become known for it’s many acres of grassy fields, these gardens are home to 50 different plant collections. One of the garden’s most notable features is the historic Victorian-style glasshouse, which provides a world tour of 11 different plant habitats, ranging from a tropical rainforest to African desert environments. This National Historic Landmark is also home to the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, a rock garden, a 37-acre conifer collection, and extensive research facilities including a 550,000-volume library and an herbarium of over 7 million botanical specimens dating back more than three centuries. Be sure to discover the 50-acres of old-growth forests, which are the largest remnant of the original forest that covered all of New York City before the arrival of European settlers in the 17th century. Those visiting in the spring will be able to see their seasonal orchid exhibit, while those visiting now through January 12, 2014 will be able to visit their annual Holiday Train Show, where model trains zip around replica’s of New York’s favorite landmarks.
2. Denver Botanical Garden, Denver, CO
This 23-acre park is home to more than 500 tons of rock and 2,300 species of plants. It features North America’s largest collection of plants from cold temperate climates around the world, along with 7 various gardens that mostly include plants from Colorado and neighboring states. Succulent collections are situated in the Dryland Mesa and include cacti, yucca and other xeric plants. Among the newest additions is The Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion and Tea Garden. Other favorites include the Boettcher Tropical Conservatory, Marnie’s Pavilion and the Orangery. Visit now through January 1st to experience their Blossoms of Light and Trail of Lights, which are both illuminating nighttime light displays that take you to a dazzling winter wonderland that the family is sure to enjoy.
3. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta, GA
Home to the largest collection of orchids under glass in the USA, featuring specimens from exotic locations like Asia, Australia, Mexico, Ecuador and Madagascar. They are displayed within the 16,000-square-foot Fuqua Orchid Center. Here is where you will also find indoor exhibits of plants ranging from the driest of desserts to a tropical rainforest, which displays a variety of birds, turtles, and even poison dart frogs. One of their newer features is a $55 million, 600 foot-long canopy walk that offers elevated views of native azaleas, camellias and hydrangeas. Other exhibits include a children’s garden with fountains. This 30-acre garden is located next door to Piedmont Park. See one million lights at the third annual Garden Lights, Holiday Nights extravaganza, which is on display now through January 4th. See illuminated corn stalks, an exotic Poinsettia Wall, and the incredible Orchestral Orbs, which is where topiary lights are evenly choreographed to your favorite holiday tunes.
4. Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA
Located about an hours drive outside of Philadelphia, this 1,077-acre garden is best known for it’s gorgeous 4.5-acre conservatory, which is the largest conservatory in the country. They also take a special interest in plant exploration, research, and environmental stewardship, with projects including a 10-acre solar field. Take note of their special 10,010 organ that is often played by their organist-in-residence, as it can be heard throughout the massive conservatory. Be sure not to miss the conservatory’s orchid collection of more than 9,000 plants. Philadelphia happens to be home to over 30 other regional public gardens, therefore the area has been given the title of “Garden Capital of the U.S. A Longwood Christmas takes place now through January 12th, featuring an 18-foot fruit tree and a 12-foot fountain of lights.
The countries oldest continually operating botanical garden was established by Congress in 1820. Explore the the garden’s collection of some 65,000 plants, including rare plants such as ferns that date nearly as far back as the garden’s founding. Enjoy visiting the Rose Garden, the Butterfly Garden, the Lawn Terrace, and my favorite, the First Ladies’ Water Garden. The conservatory was built in 1933 by the same masterminds who built the Capitol, featuring nearly 30,000 square feet of growing space, with ten garden rooms. The exterior stays true to it’s 1933 appearance, keeping in touch with the regions historical heritage. Just like the nearby Smithsonian Museums, admission is free of charge.
6. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO
Since opening in 1859, this 79-acre garden has grown to include a 14-acre Japanese garden, which happens to be the largest Japanese garden in all of North America, along with the garden founder Henry Shaw’s original 1850 estate home, and one of the world’s largest collections of rare and endangered orchids. The Linnean House is said to be the oldest continually operating greenhouse west of the Mississippi River. Also consider visiting their nearby butterfly house in Chesterfield, which includes an 18,000-sq.-ft. indoor butterfly conservatory that’s filled with nearly 2,000 butterflies. Traditional candlelight displays combine with state-of-the-art sensory light tunnels, made of LED and solar power lights, to bring you their first annual Garden Glow holiday celebration, which will be on display now through January 4th. Crews began putting up lights back in August – so you know it has to be good!
7. San Francisco Botanical Garden, San Francisco, CA
Conveniently located in Golden Gate Park, this 55-acre urban retreat hosts 50,000 plants from regions all across the world. It opened in 1940 and is now home to a Japanese garden and flower conservatory. From mid-January through March, nearly 100 rare magnolias come to life in radiant pink and white flowers to form “the world’s fourth most significant collection of magnolia for conservation purposes, and the most important collection outside of China.” While they do not have a holiday extravaganza, they do have a special event going on through the end of December called “Cloud Forests: Beauty in the Mist,” featuring rare and endangered plants from high elevation forests that are currently in bloom. Admission is free for locals.
8. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, FL
Located near Miami, this 83-acre garden features rare and exotic fruit species, including mangosteens, cacao and vanilla orchids, and they are home to the American Orchid Society. They have the largest palm collection in the US, as well as a butterfly conservatory that showcases almost 3,000 exotic butterflies. Visitors can watch butterflies hatch and be released into the conservatory. The two-acre Richard H. Simmons tropical rainforest is always a treat, and so is the Whitman Fruit Pavilion where you can smell the delights of ripening tropical fruit. Their 166,428 square foot conservatory features 1,900 species of plants from the humid tropics in a two level indoor garden with rare palms and cycads, ferns, orchids, aroids, bromeliads, fruit trees and unusual vines.
9. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA
This 50-acre botanical garden houses a conservatory with an orchid collection as well as an annual butterfly exhibit (Memorial Day Weekend through mid-October). A giant wheel-chair accessible treehouse is part of the garden’s interactive children’s area, with other themed gardens including a Healing Garden, Fountain Garden, Asian Valley and Victorian Garden. Now through January 14th, you can see more than half a million lights at their GardenFest of Lights celebration, which is home to model trains and plenty of fireside s’mores and hot chocolate.
10. Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ
Discover the beauty of the nation’s largest collection of arid-adapted plants that focus on the Sonoran Desert. With a focus solely on desert plants, the garden’s 145-acres showcase over 50,000 plants and they are getting ready to celebrate their 75th anniversary in 2014. See the rare giant cacti and century plants and explore the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail to learn how native peoples thrived in the desert, and the Center for Desert Living Trail to gain a better understanding of sustainable living in the herb and edible gardens. Now through the end of December, you can celebrate Las Noches De Las Luminarias, where more than 8,000 hand lit Luminaria bags, thousands of white twinkle lights, and Chihuly’s vibrant works of art come together for a magical look and feel.
11. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus, OH
The Palm House conservatory was originally built in 1895 and is on the National Register of Historical Places, housing over 400 species of plants, in environments that include desert and rainforest habitats. There is also a unique glassblowing pavilion for demos and classes. See over 850 varieties of daylily’s in the Ohio Hybridizers Historic Daylily Garden. Other than wanting to see the Columbus Zoo (which is one of the most-visited zoos in the country), this gives me another reason to head to Columbus. Now through January 5th, you can see their Merry & Bright with poinsettia and evergreen displays and classic traditions like the poinsettia tree, the 7th annual Gingerbread Competition, and the Paul Busse Model Garden Railway.
12. Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, Dallas, TX
This 66-acre garden features 17 beautiful types of gardens. Its Spring Flower Fest is the largest in the Southwest, featuring over 500,000 blooms, and in the fall, the garden becomes a pumpkin village, with over 50,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash. See thousands of varieties of azeleas and play in the 8-acre children’s area, which includes more than 150 interactive games and a 20 foot-high waterfall. Now through December 31st, you can visit Holiday at The Arboretum, showcasing the interior decor with the DeGolyer Estate, over 500 angels, take a stroll through the gardens to view seasonal plantings, and enjoy a variety of family-friendly activities throughout the holiday season.
Also check out my guest post on Amateur Traveler about 10 Must-See Art Museums In America.
Have you ever visited any of these botanical gardens? If so, what were your thoughts? We would love to hear from you in the comments.