Beautiful public gardens good places to visit while on vacation

Published on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 21:30 - Written by By Keith Hansen Keeping It Green

Summer time is vacation time — a time to travel and get away from the routine, day-to-day activities. No matter where you are going, there’s bound to be a public garden either on the way or at your destination. Regardless of whether you are a gardener or not, you’ll enjoy visiting one or more gardens while on vacation. It makes for a restful break and an educational experience.

My family enjoys visiting public gardens when on vacation or visiting other cities. We often get ideas for our own garden, and just enjoy being outside in a beautiful setting. Exploring winding paths and romping on expansive lawns gives youngsters a wonderful way to work off stored-up energy after a several-hour drive. Many gardens have special areas designed especially for kids to explore, interact and learn.

For example, two gardens we have visited in our travels have mazes. Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square near Philadelphia, Pa., has a section in its 4.5-acre conservatory dedicated just for kids. In St. Louis, Mo., the Missouri Botanical Garden has a large maze covering about 3,000 square feet where both kids and adults can temporarily get lost behind the 7-foot-tall, neatly pruned hedge.

Atlanta Botanical Gardens also has a great children’s garden section. Opening this September is the 8-acre Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden in the Dallas Arboretum with 17 outdoor and indoor galleries. Check out its preview video at the Arboretum’s website of what is sure to become a world-class, awesome educational and fun garden for both kids and adults.

Most major cities, and many smaller towns, have public gardens. Some are privately owned, while others are run by a municipality or an educational institution. Many are free, some open from dawn to dusk, while others have fees and set hours. Chambers of commerce can advise of gardens in or near your destination and provide admission details. There also are books to help the vacationing gardener to find public gardens. And of course, you can search the Internet for ideas wherever you are traveling.

The National Gardening Association has partnered with the American Public Gardens Association to provide an online public garden locator, searchable by state, city and/or zip code. Here is the address to this handy tool:

Here are some gardens you might visit when traveling in Texas and beyond:

Stephen F. Austin State University Mast Arboretum, Nacogdoches: Close to home is this plant collector’s paradise — a 10-acre garden that lies on the eastern edge of the SFASU campus. It offers several theme gardens, including a shade plants, azalea garden, Asian plants, bog plants, conifers, a dry garden, a heritage garden and much more. It is free and open during daylight hours. Also associated with the gardens are the Mize Azalea Garden, and the Pineywoods Native Plant Center.

Dallas Arboretum: a peaceful and beautiful place in Dallas where you’ll enjoy the cooling shade and mist in the Fern Dell or be inspired by the massive drifts of annual color plants including bulbs in the spring, annuals in the summer and chrysanthemums in the fall. There are several theme gardens.

Fort Worth Botanical Garden: Visit its large Japanese garden, stroll in the conservatory or compare notes in their rose garden.

Some Other Texas Gardens: Mercer Gardens in Houston; San Antonio Botanical Gardens; Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens; Zilker Park in Austin; and Moody Gardens in Galveston.

Although I couldn’t even begin to list all the public gardens, here are a few of the ones we have visited outside of Texas that we enjoyed:

Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis: This is the oldest botanical gardens in the U.S. and is truly a world-class garden. The 79-acre garden centers surround the Climatron, a tropical conservatory in the shape of a geodesic dome housing exotic plants from around the world. Like most botanical gardens, there are several theme gardens, including a woodland garden and a Japanese garden.

Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia: The former estate of Pierre du Pont is the site of one of the finest display gardens in the United States. DuPont had a “thing” about fountains and there thousands of jets of water in pools on the grounds. A very large conservatory (covering 4.5 acres) is divided into several sections including bonsai collections, a palm house, desert plants, ferns (a gigantic collection), a kids section and much more. Formal gardens, plant collections and idea gardens abound. It is a 1,000-plus acre destination with 20 indoor and 20 outdoor gardens. There also are several other gardens to see in and around Philadelphia.

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and New York Botanical Gardens: New York City. Surrounded by the noise and bustle of this intimidating city (to this small town boy) are two peaceful and world-renowned botanical gardens that are well worth the journey into the inner city. Both have conservatories, theme gardens and acres of beautiful landscapes filled with interesting plants.

If you’re headed east along Interstate 20, be sure to visit Birmingham Botanical Gardens and The Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Both are large gardens with very nice conservatories, landscape displays and plant collections.

These are only samples of what awaits the traveler, whether heading north, east, west or south. And be sure to visit our own world-class Tyler Rose Garden right in our own backyard. Enjoy a public garden this summer.

Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is His blog is