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.
Missouri: Botanical Garden
The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, which opened to the public in 1859, is a National Historic Landmark and home to one of the world’s leading programs in botanical research.
While you’re there, don’t miss the Climatron conservatory, an amazing geodesic-domed greenhouse that stretches over half an acre. It encloses a living tropical rain forest complete with waterfalls and exotic plants. Here you can view more than 1,100 species of plants, including banana trees, cacao trees, coffee trees, the rare double coconut tree (which has the largest seed in the plant kingdom), and a fabulous collection of orchids.
You can also visit one of the oldest continuously operating greenhouse conservatories in the country. There you’ll find a beautiful collection of camellias, the largest Japanese strolling garden in North America, and an English woodland garden with quiet paths of wildflowers and dogwoods. If you get weary of walking, there are trams offering narrated tours of the grounds.
Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63110. For information: 800-642-8842, mobot.org. Open daily. The garden is closed Christmas day.
New York: The New York Botanical Garden
After you step onto the grounds of the 250-acre New York Botanical Garden, just 14 miles from midtown Manhattan, you will quickly see why this breathtaking garden has won numerous awards.
A mandatory first stop is the spectacular Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. Its 2,700 rose plants, in hundreds of varieties, make this a colorful and sweet-smelling retreat indeed. While the rose garden is at its peak in June and again in September, it’s also a lovely spot to visit in midsummer.
After leaving the rose garden, you can stroll along the Bronx River to view the waterfall and relax in a 40-acre forest. Then step inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a glass building with 11 galleries. Here you’ll wander through re-created tropical rain forests, deserts of the Americas and Africa, and an aquatic gallery of water plants. My family and I spent the better part of one snowy February afternoon in this warm, sunny spot. It was the next best thing to visiting the Caribbean.
A favorite with my children is the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden. It’s a 12-acre site with 40 hands-on activities where kids can learn about plant science.
The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Road, Bronx, NY 10458. For information: 718-817-8700, nybg.org. Open year-round, Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday, except federal holidays. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Pennsylvania: Longwood Gardens
One of the most impressive horticultural displays anywhere is Longwood Gardens. Situated in Pennsylvania about 30 miles west of Philadelphia, it was created by industrialist Pierre S. du Pont and is sometimes referred to as the du Pont Gardens.
The gardens have 1,050 acres of meadows, woodlands, and spectacular fountains, which shoot up from manicured gardens filled with seasonal flowers. You can also visit its 20 indoor gardens and choose from as many as 800 horticultural and performing arts events each year, such as the chrysanthemum festival, held every fall.
The best way to enjoy Longwood Gardens is to walk through it slowly, so wear comfortable shoes and plan to spend the better part of a day. The must-see sites are the Topiary Garden — where evergreen shrubs are clipped into the shapes of a table and chair, as well as cones, cubes, and spirals — and the two rose gardens.
Longwood Gardens, U.S. Route 1, Kennett Square, PA 19348. For information: 610-388-1000, longwoodgardens.org. Open daily year-round and many evenings.
South Carolina: Brookgreen Gardens
About 20 minutes south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is the world’s largest outdoor figurative sculpture garden, an enchanting place called Brookgreen Gardens.
Situated in the middle of a 9,100-acre nature preserve on the South Carolina coast, Brookgreen is home to more than 550 pieces of sculpture by American artists, plus a plant collection of about 2,000 species and subspecies from the southeastern United States.
Everyone seems to have a favorite section. When we visited Brookgreen, my kids enjoyed it so much they begged us to go back. They especially loved the Children’s Garden, a kid-scale version that features a butterfly house, sunflower garden, and pool with fountains. For the first-time visitor, however, the must-see event is its expansive Southern garden of live oak and pine, myrtle, and gardenias.
Brookgreen Gardens, 1931 Brookgreen Drive, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576. For information: 800-849-1931, Ext. 6001, brookgreen.org. Open year-round. Closed Christmas day.
Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Gardens
When you feel like getting away from the hectic pace of the nation’s capital, Dumbarton Oaks Gardens in Georgetown is a soothing side trip. Although it was originally a private garden, this serene oasis, with 10 acres of formal gardens, is open to the public every afternoon.
Designed by the noted landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand, it incorporates elements of traditional European gardens. You will find nearly 1,000 roses planted in the Rose Garden, and at the Fountain Terrace there’s a huge English beech that was planted in 1800s, along with colorful borders of seasonal flowers.
If you’re there in late September, make sure to see the chrysanthemums, and in mid-March through April, enjoy the cherry trees, azaleas, dogwood, lilacs, and forsythia, which will be in full bloom.
Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, 1703 32nd St. NW, Washington, DC 20007. For information: 202-339-6401, doaks.org. Open Tuesday through Sunday. Closed during inclement weather, Christmas Eve, and federal holidays.