of the Most Impressive Botanical Gardens in the U.S.
Claude Monet once said, “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.” Just as a museum is a place to view impressive works of human-made art, a botanical garden is a display of art in its most natural form. If you’re looking to witness blooming orchids, learn about the transformation of butterflies, or walk through a rainforest, plan a trip to one of these 10 magnificent botanical gardens in the U.S.
United States Botanic Garden (Washington, D.C.)
Three of America’s Founding Fathers — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison — all shared a dream of one day creating a botanical garden on the National Mall. In 1820, that dream came to fruition with the United States Botanic Garden, the nation’s oldest continuously operating public garden.
In continuous operation since 1850, the conservatory is home to both desert and tropical environments, and its rotating exhibits have included everything from blooming orchids to edible plants. The newest addition is the National Garden, which features rose and butterfly gardens, in addition to a space dedicated to mid-Atlantic plants. Best of all, entrance to the United States Botanic Garden is completely free, making it an economical (and lovely) way to spend an afternoon.
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Columbus, Ohio)
A visit to Columbus isn’t complete without a stop at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Located on 88 acres of land, the conservatory greenhouses feature flora and fauna from around the world, with rainforest, desert, and mountain biomes.
Connected to the conservatory is the John F. Wolfe Palm House, a Victorian-style greenhouse built in 1895 that features one of the building’s original plants, a fiddle-leaf fig. The Palm House is particularly enchanting at night, when it is illuminated by thousands of lights. The botanical gardens also feature rotating exhibits, including Blooms and Butterflies, and weekly glass-blowing classes in the Hot Shop, an outdoor pavilion in the North Courtyard.
Chicago Botanic Garden (Glencoe, Illinois)
Technically not within city limits, the Chicago Botanic Garden spreads across an impressive 385 acres in the village of Glencoe on the shores of Lake Michigan. With four natural areas and 26 different gardens, it’s one of the largest botanical gardens in the country.
Lovers of Japanese gardens will be amazed by the impressive collection of over 200 bonsai trees, some of which were gifted from bonsai master Susumu Nakamura. There’s also an English walled garden, a native plant garden, and a sensory garden. Entrance to the gardens is free, although parking is not. Luckily, the North Branch Trail of Chicago’s bike path runs right by the botanic garden, so you need not pay for parking if you’re willing to put in some physical effort.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden (Dallas, Texas)
Between the manicured gardens, the magnolia grove, and the photogenic crape myrtle tree tunnel, the 66 acres of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden are prime for exploration. Each garden is distinct and lovely in its own way — from the elegant Woman’s Garden, which features minimal sculptures and infinity pools, to the Color Garden, which is awash in the vibrant hues of blooming flowers.
Springtime features the Dallas Blooms festival, which celebrates the emergence of 500,000 tulips, while autumn brings the beloved Pumpkin Village to the pecan grove. Best of all, the gardens host family-friendly music concerts next to White Rock Lake every Thursday during the spring and early fall.
Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis, Missouri)
When Henry Shaw immigrated from England to St. Louis at the age of 18, he found the American soil to be “uncultivated” and “without trees or fences.” Forty years later, after the businessman and amateur botanist amassed a considerable fortune, Shaw created the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1859 to give back to the community and recreate the gardens of his homeland.
Today, it is considered one of the top botanical gardens in the world. Visitors can walk through Shaw’s restored residence, complete with an authentic Victorian garden and hedge maze. The garden’s highlight, though, is the Climatron — a large geodesic dome that recreates a rainforest with lush greenery, an exotic fish aquarium, tumbling waterfalls, and 2,800 tropical plants.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (Richmond, Virginia)
The crown jewel of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is its classical Conservatory, an 11,000-square-foot building housing exotic plants from around the world. A marvel inside and out, the domed conservatory is separated into wings that feature orchids, cacti, and rotating exhibitions, including a live butterfly exhibit and holiday light displays in December.
Outside, the gardens are equally impressive and provide a wide range of activities for all ages and interests. The Children’s Garden provides an interactive experience (and a wheelchair-accessible treehouse) where kids can learn about and appreciate plants. The Rose Garden features 1,500 fragrant rose bushes climbing arbors, arches, and trellises, and the Cherry Tree Walk is a particular highlight in the spring.
Desert Botanical Garden (Phoenix, Arizona)
Located in one of the driest regions in the country, Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden showcases plants that thrive in the desert. A network of trails loops throughout the complex, where visitors can learn more about both plant and human life in the desert, from tall cacti to blooming desert plants, grasslands, native gardens, and a reconstructed Apache household.
In addition to a comprehensive research library and butterfly pavilion, the Desert Botanical Garden hosts several annual events, including spring concert series in the garden, dog-friendly days, and wine tastings. Rotating exhibits are also a big draw — especially Chihuly in the Desert, which features large-scale sculptures by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (Boothbay Harbor, Maine)
Spanning 295 acres along Maine’s MidCoast, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is the largest botanical garden in New England. With extensive grounds that house a Native Butterfly and Moth House, a Bee Apiary and Exhibit, and a tranquil Meditation Garden, these botanic gardens allow visitors to interact with nature in many fascinating ways. The complex is also ideal for families, who can explore the Children’s Garden, Five Senses Garden, and Fairy House Village.
The Caterpillar Lab is an annual event where visitors can get up-close and personal with creepy crawlies, while the garden’s resident trolls, known as Guardians of the Seeds, are must-see art installations. During the harsh Maine winters, the gardens are illuminated with thousands of lights during Gardens Aglow, an event that brightens even the darkest of nights.
Filoli (Woodside, California)
Situated on 654 acres in the Bay Area, Filoli is a historic private residence that houses some of the most beautiful gardens in the country. The 54,000-square-foot Georgian mansion opened to the public in 1977, as did the 16 acres of English gardens, seven acres of orchards, and a vast nature preserve. Since it’s located near the temperate California coast, the garden is in bloom as early as February, with the tulips in full splendor in March.
With 12 gardeners and 14 horticulturists on full-time staff, Filoli strikes a delicate balance between the elegance of a cultivated garden and the wild beauty of nature. Whether you're walking through the estate’s tree-lined paths or exploring the walled garden — a one-acre space filled with cherry and crabapple trees — Filoli is a magical place to spend an afternoon.
Bellevue Botanical Gardens, Bellevue, Washington
Celebrating the lush botanical life that thrives in the Pacific Northwest, the Bellevue Botanical Gardens cover 53 acres of land just across Lake Washington from Seattle. Bellevue is home to various gardens that bloom throughout the seasons, featuring everything from trilliums, dahlias, rhododendrons, and perennials such as evergreen trees and conifers.
Adventurous visitors should check out the garden’s Ravine Experience, a short trail that spans a steep ravine with a 150-foot-long suspension bridge, allowing visitors to view the region’s native understory. Other noteworthy gardens include the Rock and Iris Rain Garden — which features wildflowers, mountain hemlocks, and other hardy plants that can grow without constant cultivation — and the Fuschia Garden, which is known to draw hummingbirds in the summer months.