One of my favorite things to do, especially during the summer months when I am on vacation, is to visit Botanical Gardens and other gardens and nature preserves around the USA. They are a wonderful source, often free, for those who love gardening as much as I do.
From the lush and green gardens of Hot Springs, Arkansas, to the desert of The Saguaro and Sonoran deserts in the southwest, the USA has it all!
The United States has a huge range of climates and hardiness zones. This means that no matter the type of plant you want to see, there will be a Botanical garden that features that growing style.And with climate controlled buildings meant to mimic Mother Nature, you can often see a multitude of growing styles in one setting! Join me on a virtual tour of Botanical Gardens, conservatories, arboretums and nature preserves of the USA. 🌸🏵💐🌼🌹🌲🌿🌾 Click To Tweet
What is a Botanical Garden?
Botanical gardens are areas dedicated to the display and cultivation of a wide variety of different plants. Often these plants are identified and labeled with their botanical names, which makes them a wonderful resource for those wanting to learn more about gardening.
Botanical Gardens can be themed to a particular type of garden, or all encompassing – having plants across the spectrum. Themed gardens are often suited to their native location.
Each Botanical Garden is a bit different. Some have conservatories or greenhouses. Others have large shaded areas and some feature mainly native plants suited to sunny temperatures.
Sometimes a Botanical Garden is part of another attraction. Often large estate have admission to tour the home and also have attached gardens.
When you visit a Botanical Garden, you might just wander around by yourself, or take part in a garden tour if they offer this feature.
Often a Botanical Garden will offer educational displays and some even coordinate with local artists to combine nature and art in one place.
The origin of Botanical Gardens
Horticulturists often trace the origin of modern day botanical gardens to Renaissance Italy The Romans also loved gardens, and were very interested in the medicinal properties of plants.
Even though the origins of botanical gardens appear to have started many centuries ago, their resemblance to modern day Botanical Gardens was minimal at best.
During the 16th and 17th century, international trade became more prevalent and this meant that plants grown in one location were being introduced to other places. It was during this time that the Royal Botanic Gardens, and Kew Gardens, among others started cultivating new species.
The introduction of these new species to the public was a natural outcome and then Botanical Gardens were born.
Types of Botanic Gardens
There are many gardens around the world. In fact, there are now estimated to be over 1700 botanic gardens in almost 150 countries around the world. (Close to 200 of them are in North America!)
Many more are under construction. I have toured the US and have visited close to 30 Botanic Gardens and have many more to visit that are on my bucket list.
With so many gardens to visit, it is good to know terms that are often used when you are looking to visit one of these lovely natural settings.
Botanic Gardens are often run by State Universities or other research organizations. One of the purposes of the gardens is to educate the public about the various types of plants and trees.
When visiting a Botanical Garden, you might also find these areas:
An arboretum is an area that is devoted to the planting of trees and shrubs. It is not just a forest. In an arboretum the trees have been nurtured and planted with a purpose.
Many botanical gardens also have an arboretum as part of their overall plan, but not all do.
I am delighted if the Botanic Garden that I visit contains a conservatory. A conservatory is a large building or room with glass walls (and often a glass roof) that is used as a huge greenhouse.
Temperatures within these domes are controlled, so that plants that need certain temperatures can prosper, no matter the outside condition.
When I find a conservatory listed as part of my visit to a Botanic Garden, I know that I will likely be strolling through a lush, tropical building.
However, not all conservatories are tropical. Some conservatories have a dry climate control that is conducive to succulents and cacti – also favorites of mine.
Not as often seen in Botanical Gardens is a butterfly garden. These are normally large screened in buildings which house plants that make a natural butterfly habitat.
Many butterfly gardens also have exhibits showing the life of butterflies from caterpillars to cocoons and beyond.
The plants grown in these butterfly gardens are those known to be attractive to the insects.
When visiting a Botanical Garden, you may find a small area devoted to a demonstration garden. These areas are designed and maintained for the purpose of teaching horticultural practices.
Many demonstration gardens are aimed at children to get them started in gardening early (and to keep them happy and occupied while their parents tour the rest of the Botanic Gardens!)
Often, the themes of the demonstration gardens will particularly appeal to children. Many include bugs, butterflies and even Miniature Railway Stations such as this one from the Albuquerque Botanical Garden.
Visiting Botanic Gardens around the USA
If you love Botanical Gardens as much as I do be sure to put the gardens shown below on your must-see list .
I have divided the gardens into areas of the country so that you can easily see which ones you live near. You can find Botanical Gardens in four areas of the US:
- Northeast – Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland.
- Southeast – West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida.
- Midwest – Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota.
- Southwest – Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona.
- West – Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, California, Alaska, Hawaii.
Since each of these areas have common features such as natural resources, as well a a similar climate, the Botanical Gardens are somewhat alike. However, there are still lots of differences from center to center.
I’ve also given a small overview of the garden as well as a link to a separate page which gives many more details and photos of the Botanic Garden.
Note: These gardens are just a few of those that I have visited. I’ll be adding more to the post as I get the photos edited and more posts written. Be sure to check back often for updates to the page.
Since this is a hobby for my husband and me, you’ll be sure to read about lots more Botanical Gardens on our “must visit” list very soon.
Northeast Botanical Gardens of the USA
From Maine to Pennsylvania, this area has states with rocky coastlines and large open areas of farmland. It also features the Appalachian Mountains. States in this region are:
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
- New York
- New Jersey
I was born in Northern Maine and got my gardening roots here, so it’s a treat to revisit the garden centers in this part of the country.
Since the weather is naturally cooler in this area of the country, the plants don’t suffer too much from sun damage, so it was a delight to wander around the garden centers in the middle of summer seeing plants that would be languishing at this time of the year in the Southern states.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Coastal Maine is home to many garden centers but one of my favorites is The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine. The center has everything from a butterfly house to a woodland garden, Meditation garden and more.
The children’s garden at Boothbay is one of the best that I have seen in any of the botanic gardens that I have visited. You can read more about the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens here.
Southeast Botanic Gardens to Visit
Lots of rain with humid summers and short winters are traits of the states in the Southeastern part of the USA. Since I live here, I love to visit botanic gardens in these states.
States that make up the Southeast are:
- West Virginia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Georgia, Alabama
Botanical Gardens in these states offer a nice mix of plants, although the humidity means that succulents and cacti prevalent in the west need special rooms with tempered air.
Lush is the word that I often used to describe the gardens we visited. Check out this scene looking down a hill at the Garvan Botanical Gardens in Hot Springs Arkansas!
Raleigh Botanical Garden
Just a few minutes away from me is the Raleigh Botanical Garden, also known as the JR Raulston Arboretum.
One of the nice things about this garden is that the plants displayed there are all suitable for growing in the southeast USA.
The shade gardens and dragon at the entry to the garden are a favorite of mine and I visit this garden several times a year to take advantage of the views from the different seasons.
Get more information about the Raleigh Botanical Garden here.
Hahn Horticulture Garden
One of the first Botanical Gardens that my husband and I visited was this treasure at the campus of of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.
This Horticulture Gardens is set on 6 acres of land and have both teaching and display gardens. It has been established since 1984 and serves as a teaching area for students of the university as well as a place for visitors to enjoy.
The garden has a nice combination of water gardens, shade gardens with many native annuals and perennials.
One special feature of this garden is the abundance of garden art of display featuring local artisans. Find out more about the Hahn Horticulture Garden here.
Biltmore Estate and Gardens
While not classified as a botanical garden, Biltmore Estate, gardens and conservatory will still appeal to those who love to tour this type of garden.
The conservatory is the best part of the gardens, in my opinion and you won’t find much labeling of plants but the day will still be well spent in their natural setting.
The outside grounds are massive and contain many types of native plants. Find out more about Biltmore Estate and Gardens here.
Midwest Botanical Gardens
The states in the USA that sit midway between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains and north of the Ohio River make up the Midwest States.
The Midwest States are these:
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
Temperatures in this area can get to 100 plus degrees and summers tend to be humid and hot. Since I travel across the country a lot on my way to California, I find myself in many Botanical Gardens along the way.
It is not unusual to get a wide range of plants, from tropical specimens to desert plants in one setting, like the Missouri Botanic Garden plants featured in this photo. What a contrast!
Wellfield Botanic Gardens
If you love to stroll in gardens that also have a lot of garden art and statures, then the Wellfield Botanic Gardens are just the garden for you.
This Botanic Garden is located in Elkhart, Indiana and is like a living museum with art, nature, and structure all coordinating beautifully.
The waters of Christiana Creek stream through the gardens making for a very serene visit. All along the walkways are statues and artwork. Wellfield Botanic Gardens is known for their bronze statue displays from talented, local artists.
Find out more about the Wellfield Botanic Gardens here.
Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory
This indoor Botanical Garden features an enclosed conservatory that is nestled in the down town area in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The gardens have a series of tropical displays, indoor waterfalls and a Sonoran Desert display with over 72 types of cacti. If you enjoy both succulents and tropical plants, you will really enjoy this Botanic Garden.
Find out more about the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory here.
Beech Creek Botanical Garden & Nature Preserve – Ohio
If you are taking a trip and have a car full of kids, visiting a Botanical Garden may seem like quite a challenge. But this is not the case if you add Beech Creek Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve to your list of attractions.
This delightful garden center seems tailor made for children and is the perfect way to introduce them to flowers and nature!
The family friendly garden has hiking trails, a butterfly house, small picnic area, a playground and a plant science center devoted to teaching children about plants and nature.
The gardens, although on the small size as far as botanical gardens go, are still very nice and easily accessible for all age groups.
Learn more about the Beech Creek Botanical Garden here.
Southwest Botanical Gardens
The Southwest part of the USA contains these states:
- New Mexico
These states are warmer and drier than the northern areas of the country and are known for wonderful succulent and cacti gardens.
The dryness of these states makes the perfect home for desert plants that don’t mind the drought. Seeing flowers popping out of the top of these cacti at the Sonoran Desert Museum Garden was a real treat for us!
Since my daughter lives in Los Angels and I visit her each year, the garden centers in this area of the country are often on my route to visit her, and they are some of my favorite.
San Angelo International Waterlily Collection
San Angelo, Texas is home to many historic attractions and one of my top spots to visit when we pass through the region is this fabulous waterlily garden.
While not a Botanical Garden in its own right, it offers fantastic views of waterlilies, all labeled so that you know what you are viewing.
The garden consists of large pools surrounded by railings which allow the visitor to get close enough to take photos and view the waterlilies up close.
Almost the entire garden is devoted solely to waterlilies. The best time to visit it is early morning or late afternoon, when you can get a look at the largest number of varieties.
Waterlilies like to take a break from the middle of the day sunlight, so you won’t get as impressive a display if you visit during this time.
Be sure to put this attraction on your list of things to do in San Angelo. For more information about this fantastic garden, see my visit to the International Waterlily Collection.
Botanical Gardens to Explore in the Western USA
The Western USA land area comprises more than half of the land area of the USA. The climate is generally semi-arid but temperatures can vary greatly, depending on elevation.
There are a large group of states in the West:
This area of the country is majestic and scenic and the garden centers match! With such mild climates in some of the states, one can enjoy meals in stunning outdoor settings, like this gazebo at the Pasadena Botanical Gardens.
If you love getting inspiration from professional garden centers and nature preserves, be sure to put one of these Botanical Gardens on your bucket list.
It will be a wonderful way to spend a weekend and you’ll come back to your own garden, raring to plant some new flowers and shrubs.
The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
At the top of my list for Botanical Gardens in the west is the LA combined zoo and botanical garden.
This fabulous place is set on 135 acres and houses over 1400 birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians in magnificently landscaped habitats.
The gardens are huge and use plants that are common in the areas from where the animals originate. It is not a typical botanic garden, but a whole new experience that blends nature and animals together in a very cohesive way.
Read more about the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Garden here.
No matter where your travels take you in the USA, you’ll find a Botanical garden to enjoy. Most large Metropolitan cities in the USA have Botanical Gardens and some small towns do, as well.
Have you toured any of these Botanical Gardens? Be sure to leave your comments below so that the readers can share in your experiences, too.
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