America’s Most Fascinating Public Gardens

Original Post:

by Robert Macias, Posted Apr 19th 2011 12:04PM

With daffodils and lilacs in bloom, we’re dreaming about visiting some of the prettiest public gardens in the country.

In compiling this list of some of America’s best public gardens, we considered not only beauty but also factors such as outrageousness, scrappiness and willingness to try something completely different. Read on…

public-gardensCourtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden

Missouri Botanical Garden

4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri; 314-577-5100
Founded in 1859, Missouri Botanical Garden is the oldest continuously operated botanical garden in the U.S. “We’re widely considered one of the top three botanical gardens in the world, noted for our expansive science and conservation efforts around the globe and for our stunning horticultural displays,” says Karen Hagenow, the garden’s public information officer. Don’t miss the Climatron conservatory, a 50-year-old geodesic dome that houses a tropical rainforest.
Spring blooms: 41,000 tulips representing 100 varieties; 2,640 daffodil bulbs representing 72 varieties; 12,000 corms and 7 varieties of crocus; and 1,850 bulbs and 17 varieties of hyacinth.

public-gardensCourtesy of Kahanu Garden

Kahanu Garden: See the Pregnant Banana Tree

650 Ula Ino Road, Hana, Maui, Hawaii; 808-248-8912
A remote treasure located on the eastern shore of Maui, Kahanu Garden features plants that have historical and cultural ties to the indigenous peoples of the region. They have the world’s largest collection of breadfruit trees, which produces a grapefruit-size fruit that remains a staple food in many tropical regions.

Best of all, the garden is also home to one of Hawaii’s last remaining native Pandanus forests. The odd-looking Pandanus tree is supported by thick, above-ground roots. Other interesting sights in spring include blooming passion fruit plants, baobab trees and leopard trees. “We specialize in what we call canoe plants, or plants that were brought to the island by our ancestors in canoes. These include sugar cane, sweet potato and banana,” says Kamaui Aiona, director of Kahanu Garden. What’s the most bizarre plant? Instead of growing bananas on its branches, the pregnant banana stores them within its trunk, creating a distinct bulge around harvest time.
Spring blooms: Many people are surprised by the huge variety of sugar cane species, says Aiona, some with striking bark colors and stripes. “The garden explains our story as a people. These are plants that were used not only for food but also for textiles and construction,” says Aiona.

public-gardensCourtesy of Wave Hill

Wave Hill: The Unexpected Urban Oasis
West 249th Street and Independence Avenue (front gate), Bronx, New York; 718-549-3200
Scott Canning, director of horticulture at Wave Hill, doesn’t like too many labels. He takes the former private estate’s Victorian heritage seriously and wants to maintain a certain aesthetic throughout the grounds. While many gardens slap an informational label on anything and everything, Canning places subtle labels only on items of seasonal interest. That way, you can get information about what’s in bloom right now without feeling like you’re walking through an encyclopedia. Year-round, Wave Hill offers surprisingly intimate nooks that will make you forget you’re in the Bronx. The casual wanderer will also be treated to serendipitous views as walkways open up to the Hudson River. Says longtime garden volunteer Laura Green of Wave Hill’s 28 acres, “It’s small, scrappy and absolutely beautiful. There’s a level of design that’s simply breathtaking.”
Spring blooms: For April, Canning recommends making the Paisley Bed near the visitor’s center your first stop; it’s bursting with colorful tulips. In May, the same area will be used to showcase easy-to-grow annuals.

public-gardensCourtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
10901 Old Cutler Road Coral Gables, Florida; 305-667-1651
A repository of rare tropical plants and fruit trees from around the world, Fairchild takes full advantage of its hot, humid Florida spot. Fairchild tries to strike a balance between its role as a tourist attraction and its function as a community gathering place for area residents, according to Kimberly Bobson, the garden’s communications coordinator. “From our variety of festivals throughout the year, to our family-friendly events, plant sales and lectures, to even hosting days to bring your dog, we make sure there is something enjoyable for everyone in our large local and not-so-local community,” she says.
Spring blooms: April and May bloomers include Philippine violet, epiphytic orchids, red silk cotton tree, sweet almond bush and monkey’s brush. For those with an eye for the outlandish, don’t miss the jackfruit tree. Its fruit can weigh up to 40 pounds, it’s covered with spiky green skin, and the insides smell like Juicy Fruit gum.

public-gardensCourtesy of Bloedel Reserve

Bloedel Reserve

7571 NE Dolphin Drive, Bainbridge Island, Washington State; 206-842-7631
As you walk into Bloedel Reserve, you won’t see any massive meadows of flowers. That’s intentional, according to Andy Navage, director of horticulture. “You’re slowly brought into the experience,” he says. Navage considers the entryway, which features plants native to the Pacific Northwest, “an unwinding area, to help you slow your thought patterns down.” Dwight Shappell, an air force veteran who has volunteered at the reserve for 14 years, didn’t hesitate when asked about his favorite areas. It’s hard to beat the complete solitude of the moss garden, he says. Beneath a dense canopy of Angelica trees, the living green carpet of moss envelops everything and absorbs nature’s cacophony, inviting quiet contemplation. He also likes the reflection pool, which is surrounded on three sides by manicured, 12-foot-high shrubbery. While sitting on the solitary bench, you can see towering hemlocks reflected in the water. “And you don’t have to walk through a gift shop on your way out,” says Shappell.
Spring blooms: Rhododendrons, orchids and wildflowers.

public-gardensCourtesy of Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
18220 North Highway One, Fort Bragg, California; 707-964-4352
If you like to view colorful flora against a backdrop of blue ocean, Mendocino Coast is the place for you. Linda Brown, a volunteer at Mendocino for 20 years, encourages non-gardeners to visit simply for the stress relief. “Public gardens offer so much to the horticulturally-impaired visitor. A walk through our gardens is a great way to slow down, calm down and take advantage of just being here now,” she says. Brown says visitors enjoy walking through arbors of rhododendrons in the spring, crossing over the little creeks and then coming upon the vast Pacific Ocean. “It has a way of getting one in tune with life and how spectacular it is,” she says. “It’s good exercise, you can bring your dog, a picnic, or just sit on a bench and zone out.”
Spring blooms: In April, you can view blooming rhododendrons, camellias, daffodils, magnolias and Pacific Coast iris. Many of the trails are covered in rhododendron petals, dropped by hybrid plants growing overhead. And if you’re lucky, you might see a migrating whale. It’s also a hot spot for spring birdwatching. Ospreys, hawks, sandpipers and plovers routinely patrol the coastline.

public-gardensCourtesy of Blithewold

101 Ferry Road (Rt. 114), Bristol, Rhode Island; 401-253-2707
Every spring about 50,000 daffodils bloom on the property. “Most are in a woodland area we call the Bosquet and it’s a pretty spectacular sight,” says Kristin Green, Blithewold’s interpretive horticulturist. Woodland wildflowers like may apple and trout lily are starting to bloom also. Situated on the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay, Blithewold was the home of Augustus Van Wickle, who built the original mansion in 1896. The house burned down in 1906 and was replaced by an even grander mansion.
What’s on show: “Our claim to fame, plant-wise, is the tallest giant sequoia east of the Rockies,” says Green.

public-gardensCourtesy of Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA ; 610-388-1000
What started as a humble arboretum in the 1700s has evolved into one of the most extravagant gardens in the world. Industrialist Pierre du Pont bought the property in 1906 to preserve the trees, and he later used his immense wealth to create a horticultural showplace. The 195,668-square-foot conservatory, built in 1919, houses 20 indoor gardens and 5,500 types of plants.
Spring Blooms: Kaufmann tulip, trumpet daffodil, white pearl hyacinth and Lenten-rose.

public-gardensCourtesy of Moody Gardens

Moody Gardens

One Hope Boulevard, Galveston, TX; 800-582-4673
After extensive renovations, Moody Gardens’ 40,000-square-foot Rainforest Pyramid reopened last spring. The conservatory houses over 1,000 species of exotic tropical plants from rainforest regions of Africa, the Americas and Asia. Unlike traditional botanical gardens, this is a family-oriented tourist attraction, complete with a 3-D theater, butterfly gardens, a white-sand beach and a water park. “We’re seeing a lot more public gardens installing butterfly gardens on their grounds,” says Donita Brannon, Moody Garden’s horticultural exhibits manager. ” Everyone loves to see colorful butterflies flitting among fragrant flowers. And they are very educational, to boot.” Moody Gardens has had a butterfly garden for several years and it attracts butterflies to the grounds all year long.
Spring Blooms: In addition to orchids, violets and bromeliads, you’ll also encounter macaws, an anaconda, turtles and fish inside the 10-story glass pyramid.

public-gardensCourtesy of McKee Botanical Garden

McKee Botanical Garden’s Waterlily Garden

350 U.S. Highway 1, Vero Beach, FL; 772-794-0601
“McKee is not an extremely manicured garden; we’ve let its natural growth dictate the design,” says Christine Hobart, the garden’s executive director. A mile of waterways wind next to and under the botanical garden’s trails. “The sound of falling water might lead you into a secluded meditation area, or a turn might be crafted to suddenly showcase a burst of colorful waterlilies,” says Hobart. Established in 1929 as McKee Jungle Gardens, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Spring Blooms: Waterlilies are the star of the show in the springtime at McKee Botanical Garden. “We have more than 75 species and 200 individual plants that fill our ponds and waterways with vibrant colors,” says Hobart. Other spring bloomers include pineapple, plumbago and bromeliads.

Robert Macias contributed to using To find out how you can contribute, go to

Here’s more great gardening content from ShelterPop:
Grow Your Own Lunch
Replicate the White House Garden
Time to Grow Up: Arbor Gardens
Say Yes to Fake Plants


About Coldwell Banker Action Realty
Coldwell Banker Action Realty is a full-service real estate firm focusing on Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties in the Tampa Bay area. We stress professionalism, integrity, and excellence in customer service. We would be pleased to assist you with purchasing or selling a property, renting a home, or marketing and managing your investment property.

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