Botanical gardens — those lush havens where plants are cultivated for scientific, educational, and ornamental purposes — make for great vacation destinations. Think of how much fun you’d have if you linked together a series of botanical gardens destinations for a trip across a region or even across the U.S. You’d visit well-tended areas filled with large ranges of flowers and plants. You’d have the chance to see special and rare species of plants from other regions of the world. You’d give yourself the chance to absorb the beauty of our country. Learn its biological history. Explore different geographic areas. Interact with new people who, like you, appreciate the natural world and want to savor it.
Ten Noteworthy U.S. Botanical Gardens
At San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, 5 acres of garden are no longer enough. The nonprofit group’s expansion plans include installing zip lines to provide a steady source of income. Additionally, they intend to create a 150-acre garden with an outdoor amphitheater, paved trails, a visitors center, and an education and research center.
Since 1914, children have been growing flowers, vegetables, and herbs and learning firsthand about the natural world in Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Children’s Garden. With a focus on greening the urban environment through education, sustainable practices, and stewardship, BBG encourages young people to be participants, not just spectators, in community horticulture and conservation. Here, children 2 to 17 years old can plant their own crops and flowers and harvest them under the guidance of garden instructors. Younger children combine planting, tending, and harvesting with craft making and creative play. For older children, lessons in science and urban ecology accompany the gardening, and teenagers who successfully complete the program can go on to become junior instructors. Over a thousand youngsters now garden in the Children’s Garden every year.
The South Carolina Botanical Garden is home to miles of nature trails and streams, a butterfly garden, a wildflower meadow, many specialty gardens, an official American Hosta Society Display Garden, and a 70-acre arboretum. The Garden is also home to over 300 varieties of camellias, as well as an extensive collection of hollies, hydrangeas, magnolias and native plants. The Garden is a place “where nature and culture meet.”
Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center has an autumn Enchanted Forest event. Kids and their grown-ups will enjoy a guided nighttime walk through Riverside Park and encounter costumed characters along the way. After the hike, everybody comes back inside the Center for games, crafts, and hot apple cider. Walks begin at 5:30 pm and leave about every 20 minutes.
An interactive approach to a plant-rich environment with healing, stress reduction, and physical exercise can offer physical as well as psychological comfort. The Chicago Botanic Garden enables participants to engage with elements of the plant world in a planned, individualized, and expertly directed manner. The Garden is a world leader in providing therapeutic horticulture experiences. It also offers certificate programs for special-education personnel, healthcare providers and administrators, and landscape professionals to explore the multiple health benefits that are available in nature.
The New Orleans Botanical Garden hosts live music, garden shows, educational programs, and more throughout the year. You can try Thursdays at Twilight, the Scarecrow Contest, the Fall Garden Festival, Magic in the Moonlight, plant sales, Garden Party Concerts, even a Spring Garden Show.
The South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is a 182-acre showcase on Oso Creek. It offers a unique and varied take on botanical gardens: exotic parrots, native wildlife in a resident reptiles exhibit, artistic decorative water features, vast natural wetlands. Majestic rose pavilion. This nature center has an unusual approach to environmental education through creative horticultural design and a compelling landscape of wetlands and trails through native mesquite forest. There is a coastal birding trail site with a birding tower overlooking Gator Lake and a recently expanded and remodeled nature’s boutique in the visitors center.
A series series of magical, interactive treehouses was featured this summer at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Six locally designed, architecturally innovative treehouses were installed throughout the garden, beckoning guests of all ages to come out and play. Kids let their imaginations run wild at “Branch Out,” where each treehouse explored a theme connected to learning and fun including art, music, reading, math, and play. CBG will all activities focused on inquiry, adventure, and discovery this 2016 summer.
Now in its ninth year, the Idaho Botanical Garden offers a summer concert season in the garden. Picture the sun setting behind the stage and the foothills encircling. You can bring along a picnic or purchase food, beer and wine.
Home to 28 specialty gardens, the Memphis Botanic Garden emphasizes education and connecting the community with nature. Since they provide educational programs for thousands of area children, the garden is extraordinarily child-friendly. One exhibit, the “My Big Backyard” family garden, is built for play. Its goal is to encourage children to engage in nature using outdoor fun. Additionally, there is the Little Garden Club Sensory Garden. This is an area specially designed to allow individuals with special needs to enjoy the garden experience.
Hints about Making a Tour of Botanical Gardens Your Ecotourism Vacation
Like any trip, a vacation surrounding visits to a series of botanical gardens needs upfront planning. Here are some hints to help you have the most successful eco-vacation possible.
- Learn the layout: Each garden is an urban oasis. It takes a while to understand the flow of a wide variety of outdoor and indoor spaces. Learn ahead about hours, directions, accessibility, stroller access, photography, and landscape features ahead of time.
- Visit during non-peak hours whenever possible: Weekends, holidays, and school vacations are clearly the times when the most people visit a botanical garden. If at all possible, consider traveling during mid-week days or off-season. You’ll get the same experience without the hassle.
- Anticipate Mother Nature: Wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring a hat. Pack sunscreen and insect repellent. Consider adding in a rain coat or umbrella in case the weather changes during your visit.
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water. Don’t wait to be thirsty. Visit hydration stations where available to refill your water bottle.
- Pace yourself as you hike: Pick up trail guides when provided. Survey the length of each loop. Cool off in shady spots, in the garden, and in any public buildings.
- Ask a staff member: Don’t be shy. If you’ve always wanted to participate in harvesting honey from a hive, ask if there is a possibility for you to join the team. What an adventure that would be!
(Note: A version of this article, written by the same author, was published on EcoLocalizer.)
Photo Credit: Carolyn Fortuna (All rights reserved.)