America’s Most Gorgeous Gardens

You don't need a green thumb to enjoy these oases of tranquility. But you might get an idea for your own yard.

By Rosemary Black

Here’s a guide to some noteworthy gardens across the country that are definitely worth a visit. You don’t need a green thumb to enjoy these oases of tranquility. But you might get an idea for your own yard.

Arizona: Desert Botanical Garden
Set on 145 acres, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, showcases more than 20,000 desert plants, some from as far away as Africa.

The garden’s main trail features plants from all over the world, as well as a variety of interactive exhibits. Its Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert trail has more than 400 edible plants, many with medicinal uses. Along the Center for Desert Living trail, you can tour a desert house and view exhibits on landscaping, vegetable and herb gardening, and water conservation.

When you’re ready for a break, head to the Patio Café. There you can sit among giant saguaro cacti and enjoy a light lunch of Southwest chicken Caesar salad and prickly pear iced tea. You may need that tea, by the way, since the entire garden is outdoors, and Phoenix’s summer temperatures soar into the high double digits as the day goes on. Generally, the best time to visit is early in the morning or after 5 p.m. (From October through May, the garden is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 North Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008. For information: 480-941-1225, dbg.org. Open daily except July 4 and Christmas day.

Florida: Harry P. Leu Gardens
If you’re in Orlando and would like to take a breather from the theme parks, escape to the peace and tranquility of the 50-acre Harry P. Leu Gardens. They feature the largest camellia collection in the South, in bloom from October through March, as well as the largest formal rose garden in Florida.

You can begin at the Tropical Stream Garden, with its intoxicating array of plant life, including bird-of-paradise flowers, banana trees, ginger plants, tree ferns, and palms. Then wander along the brick path to the butterfly garden, where colorful flowers — brilliant red and orange hibiscus — and other plantings are set out to attract butterflies.

If you wish, you can meander down paths shaded by oaks and camellias to take a guided tour of the Leu House Museum, a restored late 19th-century house once owned by Mr. Leu, an entrepreneur who donated his home to the city of Orlando.
Harry P. Leu Gardens, 1920 North Forest Avenue, Orlando, FL 32803. For information: 407-246-2620, leugardens.org. Open daily.

Illinois: Anderson Japanese Gardens
Through a remarkable coincidence of geography, perhaps the most tranquil and calming garden you’ll ever find is just an hour’s drive from one of the country’s busiest airports, Chicago’s O’Hare International. The eight-acre Anderson Japanese Gardens, located in Rockford, Illinois, was originally developed as the hobby of John Anderson, an industrialist who donated it to the people of Rockford in 1998.

Set up like a 13th-century “pond strolling” garden, there’s a path that winds and curves around the water, which is lined with Japanese maples and elegant cloud pines, resembling giant bonsai trees.

Other features include waterfalls, a teahouse, a gazebo, and quiet, out-of-the-way corners for contemplation. If you happen to be visiting in the spring, you’ll find a profusion of azaleas, magnolias, and rhododendrons. There’s also a pleasant spot to bring a picnic lunch and a gift shop that sells garden items and fine Japanese imports.
Anderson Japanese Gardens, 318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford, IL 61107. For information: 815-229-9390, andersongardens.org. Open daily from May through October.

Kansas: Botanica, The Wichita Gardens
Botanica, The Wichita Gardens features a variety of theme gardens, including the formal Shakespeare Garden. Surrounding a bust of the Bard of Avon are many of the flowers and herbs that were either mentioned in his writings or popular during his lifetime.

Also worth seeing is the Aquatic Collection, which displays water lilies and lotuses, and the Giant Water Platter. There you can view blossoms that change colors daily and leaves that grow to nearly 6 feet in diameter. Or tour the Butterfly House, a colorful, 2,800-square-foot net-covered enclosure filled with plants that provide nectar for the butterflies that thrive there.

Other highlights include a stunning rose garden, home to 45 varieties of rose plants, and the Woodland Walk, where birds, foxes, and other animals live in a setting of elm, mulberry, and honey locust trees.
Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, 701 Amidon, Wichita, KS 67203. For information: 316-264-0448, botanica.org. Open daily.

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail