I love flowers and plants, so one of my favorite things to do when I visit a new place is to find a botanical garden or an arboretum and immerse myself in nature. While you may think that you can only enjoy these sites in spring and summer, the fact is, many of them host guests year-round.
The United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, is a perfect example. I visited in the middle of winter and it was wonderful to escape the cold temperatures to wander among the towering tropical plants in an almost sauna-like setting. The 83-year-old building is a wonder in itself, including the 93-foot high glass dome; I especially like the mezzanine that allows you to look down over the jungle canopy. Group tours can be arranged, and you can also see if free guided tours are available when you visit. If you prefer to do it on your own, you can take a cell phone tour. Admission is free, and the garden is open every day of the year, which makes it a great place to visit during the holidays.
It’s worth it to make a stop in Morgantown, WV, where the West Virginia Botanic Garden is located. A little less showy than some other gardens, the only botanic garden in the state provides a wonderful place to hike among the hemlocks on five trails that are each less than a mile in duration. The garden is on the site of the former Tibbs Run Reservoir, and signs explain some of the history of the area that used to provide a clean water supply for the city. True to its “wild, wonderful West Virginia” character, the garden is also full of wildlife, including a large snake I found lazing underneath one of the garden’s sculptures.
The Arboretum at Penn State in State College, PA, is a glorious example of how to decorate a college campus. The perfect place to study or just relax, the 29.5 acre botanic garden sits amid a 370-acre site that includes environmentally sensitive landscapes and restored woodlands. There is also a children’s garden that is great for young families living in the area. The day that I visited, the garden was filled with artwork, creating a sculpture garden to go along with the plantscape. Despite the fact that this garden sits within walking distance of 75,000 people, it’s a surprisingly quiet place to enjoy the great outdoors.
Longwood Gardens, located in Kennett Square, PA, is a study in opulence. Designed by Pierre S. du Pont, the garden sits on more than 1,000 acres and features plants, trees, flowers and numerous water features, including the main fountain garden, which reopened to the public on May 27, 2017. In warmer weather, the garden hosts both a classical and jazz concert series, as well as offers free live performances for garden visitors. Even in the winter when the full garden is not in bloom, you can still enjoy the vast array of blooming plants in the four-acre conservatory; special tours include an “insiders’ look” at the history and horticulture of this impressive glass monument.
Speaking of stunning displays, there’s nothing quite like the Christmas show at the New York Botanical Garden, which combines trains with special displays to make for a one-of-a-kind presentation. This past year, the show included historical Big Apple buildings designed out of plants, and it was a lot of fun to watch native New Yorkers point out buildings that they recognized and that they planned to visit when the weather got warmer. It was a history, geography and biology lesson all in one, and even the little kids didn’t mind learning something! Just like everything in the city, the display is larger than life, so you need to give yourself lots of time to tour this National Historical Landmark in the Bronx.
Of course, this is just a short list of the amazing options out there for those of us who love this “garden-variety” beauty.
Do you have a favorite public garden that could make the list?
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