These Must-Visit Botanical Gardens Will Give You Spring Fever
Some of America’s finest gardens are right here in our region, and they’re ready for you to explore
Atlanta Botanical Garden
This verdant retreat in the city leads visitors though a series of breathtaking scenes that inform and inspire. Meet Mother Nature personified in the Cascades Garden. Made of “mosaiculture”—a steel, topiary-like form covered with living plants—the magnificent Earth Goddess with flowing tresses emerges 25 feet tall as water falls through her outstretched hand. Get a bird’s-eye view from the treetops on the Kendeda Canopy Walk through the Storza Woods, or go below in the Glade Garden, where it’s always at least 10 degrees cooler. See orchid species from around the world in the Fuqua Orchid Center. The Skyline Gardens, set to open in spring 2017, promise “million dollar views” of Atlanta. Also enjoy the renovated Bog Garden, the Lily Pond, and a cactus-and-succulent garden, which is being relocated and expanded. Closed on Mondays and in the daytime on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day; adult admission $21.95; parking fee varies.
Hidden Gems: Frogs! The amphibious creatures can be seen hopping about in the Fuqua Conservatory’s live displays.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
On warm days, lose yourself in the Barber Alabama Woodlands, a 6-acre shady haven and birdwatcher’s paradise. Stroll two beautiful rose gardens, or see how to grow fresh foods in the lush Bruno Vegetable Garden. Don’t miss the Southern Living Garden, featuring the Southern Living Plant Collection as well as two beautiful sculptures and an azalea walk honoring founders of the magazine. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens offers a wide variety of learning opportunities, from photography to yoga. You can become certified in Native Plant Studies—or just join the savvy home gardeners who take advantage of the popular plant sales in April and October. Open daily; admission free
Hidden Gem: They have the largest public horticulture library in the United States.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art
Celebrate spring’s arrival at Cheekwood in Bloom, when 150,000 tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, and pansies burst into flower during March and April. Then come back again and again to enjoy one of the finest American Country Place Era estates in the nation. Cheekwood maintains a unique blend of intimate garden settings surrounded by broad, uninterrupted views of the nearby hills. Find just the right type of dogwood for your home landscape by touring the garden’s nationally accredited Dogwood Collection. Then you can relax in the serenity of the Japanese Garden. The Ford Wisteria Arbor, overlooking the reflecting pool and the magnificent rolling hills of Tennessee, is perfect for proposals. Closed on Mondays, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, June 3 of this year, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day; adult admission $20; parking $5 per vehicle
Hidden Gem: Follow the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail, a marriage of art and nature, to thought-provoking works of art amid birdsong and wooded beauty.
The Crosby Arboretum
Celebrate the sheer beauty and diversity of flora and fauna in the Piney Woods region of Mississippi, where the arboretum works to preserve and protect these treasures for generations to come. Explore the trails and “journeys” to see rare and endangered plants as well as stunning natural views that are revealed at every bend. Along the Pond Journey, pass through the Pinecote Pavilion, winner of numerous architecture awards; the cathedral-like, open-air structure is a favorite venue for weddings and gatherings. The fiery blooms of native azaleas frame it beautifully in the springtime. Behold the bog! Next to tropical rain forests, Gulf Coast bogs like this one are among the richest biological systems in the world. Take the cypress boardwalk for a fascinating up-close look at pitcher plants and other carnivorous curiosities. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve; adult admission $5
Hidden Gem: The Gum Pond is a quiet place that shimmers with the shadows and reflections of abundant black gum trees.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Consistently earning a spot on every garden lover’s bucket list, this spectacular arboretum and garden is one of the most romantic places in Dallas. For over-the-top floral fanfare, the Margaret Elisabeth Jonsson Color Garden has it covered from spring to fall with mass plantings of bright seasonal blooms. See more understated beauty at The Nancy Rutchik Red Maple Rill, where more than 80 kinds of Japanese maples produce stunning stained glass color and intricate leaf shadow along trickling waters. The Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden offers 8 acres of fun while connecting kids with nature. Creative play spaces abound, with plants, whimsical sculptures, and water features contributing to imaginative learning experiences; adults will find themselves captivated too. In fall, be sure to visit Pumpkin Village, an autumnal fantasy come to life; it will leave you speechless. Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day; adult admission $15 with additional charge for Children’s Adventure Garden; parking $15 (online-only discounted parking $8)
Hidden Gem: Don’t miss the Poetry Garden, which is perfect for proposals.
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
This garden’s slogan is not just a tagline—it truly is Carolina’s “garden for all seasons,” with an ever-changing tapestry of colors, shapes, and textures in abundance all year long. The Canal Garden impresses visitors with a rotation of colorful blooms flanking a watercourse as long as a football field, bookended by fountains. Showcasing heirloom plants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Cottage Garden and its sweet scents are guaranteed to take you back in time to your grandmother’s garden. In between these two lies the shady Crape Myrtle Grove, a favorite retreat on warm summer days. Or make a run for it through the tunnel fountain in the Allee Garden. Closed Christmas Day; adult admission $12.95
Hidden Gem: The Nellie Rhyne Stowe White Garden, with only white flowers, is a favorite spot for weddings.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Coral Gables, FL
Explore leafy, fragrant, “only in Florida” landscapes in one of the country’s southernmost botanical gardens, which is the international headquarters of the American Orchid Society. Admire ancient palms from world-class collections and see exotic edibles, such as cocoa and vanilla, growing in the William F. Whitman Tropical Fruit Pavilion. Be sure to catch the breathtaking view of the iconic Bailey Palm Glade. Experience the only outdoor tropical rain forest in the continental U.S., filled with orchids, ferns, palms, bromeliads, and more—all thriving on two atmospheric acres of cascading waterfalls and meandering streams. And definitely make plans to catch one of the twice-daily butterfly releases in The Clinton Family Conservatory’s Wings of the Tropics exhibit. You can see about 40 species of butterflies at any time—including exotic ones from Central and South America—fluttering about tropical plants and flowers. Closed Christmas Day; adult admission $25
Hidden Gem: Check out the kaleidoscopic bark of rainbow eucalyptus trees in the Tropical Flowering Tree Arboretum.
Fort Worth Botanic Garden
Fort Worth, TX
Of the many beautiful themed gardens in Texas’ oldest botanical garden, it’s hard to choose a favorite, but you can tell the locals are especially proud of The Japanese Garden. Follow winding paths through the landscape and around ponds where cherries, magnolias, and dogwoods burst into bloom in the spring. The brilliant colors and graceful shapes of Japanese maples enchant visitors year-round. Cross over the moon bridge for a glimpse of the colorful koi fish that swim in these placid waters. Or hop, skip, and jump over the checkerboard bridge, a popular spot for engagement photos. Take the Native Texas Boardwalk to see water wise indigenous plants, as well as invasive species. Along the way, education stations for kids offer plenty of opportunities for learning and play with hollow logs, balance beams, and speaking tubes. Main Garden open daily, admission free; The Japanese Garden open daily, adult admission $7; parking free
Hidden Gems: Besides featuring Japanese maples, cherry trees, bamboo, and magnolias, the 7.5-acre Japanese Garden is also home to over 1,200 koi fish.
Ladew Topiary Gardens
Winters spent foxhunting in England gave Harvey S. Ladew lots of opportunities to see grand gardens and manor houses, but it was a whimsical topiary hunt scene—glimpsed over a hedge—that planted the seed, so to speak, for this garden. Moving to Maryland, the intrepid traveler and artist set about re-creating that same “fox and hound” tableau, only better. Now with more than 100 larger-than-life topiaries, Ladew’s legacy is among the top 10 topiary gardens in the world. Among the must-sees is The Great Bowl, an oval pool set in lush lawns surrounded by 12 swans swimming atop waves of sculpted yews. From there, the Iris Garden follows a picturesque stream, a spectacular sight in late May when all 65 iris selections are in bloom. Explore the many garden rooms, each with a particular theme or color and all brimming with wit and charm. Open daily from April 1 to October 31 and on event days in the off-season; adult admission $18 for the house, gardens, and Nature Walk
Hidden Gems: When they’re dusted with snow, the topiaries bring new meaning to “winter wonderland.”
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Once a popular bicycle or “wheel” club in the late 1800s, Lewis Ginter’s Victorian resort is now one of the top botanical gardens in the country. Take in the impressive views from the Fountain Garden, facing toward the iconic domed Conservatory; it’s the most popular photo op here. (Bonus points if you shoot in spring during A Million Blooms, when thousands of tulips and daffodils flower.) With more than 50 acres of themed gardens, there’s something for everyone: the Louise Cochrane Rose Garden, the Children’s Garden, The Martha and Reed West Island Garden (with wetland habitat), the Edible Display Garden, the Community Kitchen Garden, and more. Events like Butterflies Live, Wild Art: A Journey Off-Canvas, and the Dominion GardenFest of Lights will entice you to visit here repeatedly. Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day; adult admission $13
Hidden Gem: Take a walk on the wild side, literally. The Wildside Walk follows a secluded path along the creek behind the historic Bloemendaal House. Its leafy canopy and trickling waters make for a cool, shady oasis.
Painted Rock Cactus Garden
This adorable DIY is great for those with brown thumbs or who want some greenery in the room without having to remember to water. This playful Painted Rock Cactus Garden looks great in a dorm room, office, or on a kitchen windowsill. Plus, you'll be able to create with items found around the house: smooth stones, paint, a terra cotta pot, some sand, and small pebbles.
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Evergreen azaleas are considered quintessentially Southern, but most are actually native to Asia. Charleston gardeners were the first in this country to grow them successfully outdoors. Azaleas became part of America’s “oldest Romantic garden” in the 1800s, when Rev. John Grimké Drayton attempted to soothe the homesickness of his Northern bride by planting in a style that aims to cooperate with nature rather than redesign the landscape. The result of this love story is one of the greatest gardens in the world. Incredible spring blooms create a wonderful “shock and awe” experience, while the overgrown pathways surprise visitors with unexpected views at every turn. Open daily; adult admission to the gardens $15, plus additional charges to tour the house and other attractions
Hidden Gems: Many of the original 86 azalea selections are still present and accounted for at Magnolia Plantation.
There’s always something blooming here, from the centuries-old camellias in the winter to roses and crepe myrtles in the summer. Carved out of the Lowcountry landscape, the gardens represent the Classical style of Europe in the mid-1700s. Ruled by order and symmetry, they offer a pleasing balance of long vistas and small garden rooms, with allées for rambling and canals for reflection. Henry Middleton received the first of his camellias as a gift from French botanist and explorer André Michaux. One—and only one—of those original plants survives. Beyond the gardens, the House Museum and Plantation Stableyards are an integral part of the rich history of this place. With so much to see, take a welcome break for Lowcountry fare like she-crab soup or shrimp and grits at the acclaimed Middleton Place Restaurant. Closed after 1 p.m. on June 11 for the Spoleto Festival USA finale, after 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day; adult admission $28
Hidden Gem: Once buried for safekeeping during the Civil War, the Wood Nymph statue now looks over the Azalea Pool.
Missouri Botanical Garden
St. Louis, MS
This National Historic Landmark has fantastic gardens and is an acclaimed center for botanical research and science education. In The Kemper Center for Home Gardening, glean design ideas and plant info from 23 residential-scale gardens. The Climatron, a half-acre, geodesic-domed glasshouse, offers a rain forest experience. Definitely don’t miss the impressive Japanese Garden. Closedon Christmas Day; adult admission $8
Hidden Gem: The Bakewell Ottoman Garden is an exotic feast for the senses.
Myriad Botanical Gardens
Oklahoma City, OK
This top Oklahoma City destination is a masterfully designed urban oasis in the heart of downtown. Follow the streams and waterfalls through the park for a leisurely stroll, or participate in one of many community programs—from summer movies to winter ice-skating. The Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory transports visitors to faraway places and plant kingdoms. It’s home to two distinct tropical climate zones, wet and dry, with an impressive 13,000 square feet of exotic plant displays. Gardeners consider the “genius of place” in the Prairie Garden, where they can see thriving examples of Oklahoma native plants that survive harsh conditions while attracting and sustaining birds, bees, and butterflies. Local plants and wildlife are also celebrated in the Children’s Garden; don’t miss the adorable prairie dog sculpture. Open daily; admission free to Myriad Botanical Gardens outdoor grounds; adult admission $8 to The Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory
Hidden Gem: Dogs are welcome on a leash in the outdoor gardens and can roam freely in the dedicated dog park.
San Antonio Botanical Garden
San Antonio, TX
Always a hot spot for fans of colorful floral displays—from Texas natives to exotic tropicals—this garden is undergoing an 8-acre expansion set for completion in May 2017. For hands-on learning, The Discovery Center features “dirty” classrooms where all ages engage in activities that showcase the importance of plants, water conservation, and environmental stewardship. Witness the short trip from harvest to table—from the Culinary Garden to the Outdoor Teaching Kitchen—where visiting chefs prepare delicious meals using just-picked produce grown mere steps away. Get a huge dose of “Vitamin N” (author Richard Louv’s term for nature, specifically, children’s connection to it) at the Family Adventure Garden. Make your way through the muhly grass maze, and spot cacti on the rooftop of the Prickly Pear Pavilion. Creeks, ridges, hills, and pools offer kids a carefree place to enjoy some inventive nature play. Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day; adult admission $10
Hidden Gems: The Bird Watch Structure, which has viewing portholes, benches, and fans, makes it easy to observe the winged ones migrating along the Central Flyway.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Wander through formal gardens to a wildflower-dotted prairie and shady woodlands—all without leaving the Duke University campus. Gaze up at a dawn redwood, a prehistoric species once thought to be extinct. Or stroll through the Italianate-style Terrace Gardens. It’s an experience not limited to lucky students; 300,000 visitors tour these 55 acres of stunning public gardens every year. Springtime here is a visual treat as tulips, daffodils, cherries, redbuds, and more start to bloom. Delicate star magnolias create a truly spectacular sight in flower by the much-photographed red arched bridge in the Asiatic Arboretum. Meander along rushing waterfalls and trickling waters through the new Pine Clouds Mountain Stream exhibit. Be sure to check the gardens’ calendar for a chance to attend one of the very popular Japanese Tea Gatherings. Grounds open daily year-round; Doris Duke Center closed on certain holidays (see the website for details); admission free to gardens; parking fee varies.
Hidden Gem: Explore the underappreciated beauty and ecological value of mosses, liverworts, and lichens in the verdant, peaceful Kathleen Smith Moss Garden.
United States Botanic Garden
The Capital City is filled with incredible museums and other indoor sites to see, but on your next visit, take a nature-inspired breather from the great indoors and get outside to explore the U.S. Botanic Garden, which is located right on the Capitol grounds. Stroll along winding paths in the National Garden—think of it as a living laboratory showcasing the rich diversity of plants native to the Mid-Atlantic region. Don’t miss the fantastic First Ladies Water Garden, which is the only one of its kind. You’ll be amazed by the dazzling array of plants and environments, from desert to tropical rain forest, in the garden’s Conservatory, which you can visit and enjoy year-round. The annual holiday show at the U.S. Botanic Garden pulls out all the stops, thrilling crowds with extravagant displays of festive garlands and wreaths, not to mention one of the biggest trees in D.C. (and that’s saying a lot for a city known for one spectacular tree on a certain Pennsylvania Avenue lawn). Kids of all ages marvel at model trains chugging their way through a wonderland of Washington landmarks made entirely of plant materials like bark, seeds, and cones. Open daily; admission free; some metered parking available; more convenient travel via public transportation
Hidden Gem: See an original ferocious blue cycad collected in 1842, a living artifact from the famed U.S. Exploring Expedition.
Yew Dell Botanical Gardens
This Kentucky jewel has its very own castle. Fashioned from local limestone and furnished with handcrafted chandeliers, the castle provides a dramatic foil for the lovely gardens throughout this former private estate of Martha Lee and Theodore Klein.
Be sure to stroll the Holly Allee, a magical walkway flanked by sculptural holly trees.
An internationally known nurseryman, plantsman, and educator, Theodore Klein ambitiously pursued new and exciting plants to collect and evaluate in unique settings, such as the Serpentine Garden. The extensive trail gardens continue Klein’s quest for excellence to this day and are dedicated to helping people create both beautiful and sustainable gardens at home. Picturesque outbuildings, a tobacco barn, a corncrib, and a hay barn contrast with cutting-edge concepts and technology such as the new solar/geothermal greenhouse, which has a north-sloped green roof covered in low-growing, drought-tolerant plants. Closed on Mondays, New Year’s Day, Kentucky Derby Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day; adult admission $7
Hidden Gem: Follow the allée to the Secret Garden, a delightful collection of hellebores, ferns, hostas, and other unusual shade plants.