An Herb Lover’s Guide to Botanic Gardens

Beautiful gardens around the nation

| August/September 1999

  • Evergreen herbs and Lady Banksia roses greet visitors as they enter the Mercer Reeves Hubbard Herb Garden at the North Caro­lina Botanical Garden.
    Photograph by Rob Gardner
  • 'Pacific Giant' calendulas, lavender violas, light pink dianthus, and dame's rocket are among the many flowering herbs to be seen at the New York Botanical Garden.
    Photograph by Tori Butt
  • Pots of rosemary and scented geraniums are surrounded by boxwood (Buxus microphylla) parterres at the New York Botanical Garden.
    Photograph by Tori Butt
  • The Western Reserve Herb Society's garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden features more than 300 species, including boxwood, dianthus, English lavender, gray and green santolina, winter savory, and germander.
  • After a day of taking in some 300 varieties of herbs at the Denver Botanic Gardens, visitors can rest and relax in the Little Shady Garden.
  • The medicinal garden at the U.S. Arboretum features lion's-ear, rosemary, Oregon grape, corn mint, oats, crampbark, sweet Annie, eucalyptus, and Hercules'-club.
  • The knot garden at the U.S. Arboretum includes Thuja occidentalis 'Hetz Midget', Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star', Ilex crenata 'Piccolo', Artemisia 'Powis Castle', and Ilex cornuta 'Rotunda'. The knot is surrounded by Hedera helix 'Thorndale'.
  • Nicotiana, Russian sage, and coreopsis grace the Western Reserve Garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.
  • The bowknot garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens includes a Hawthorne lavalle tree, Taxus Hicksii evergreen, juniper ‘Calgary Carpet’, oregano, and sixteen different mints.
  • A Lady Banksia rose arbor provides a stunning backdrop to a raised brick bed of evergreen herbs at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.
    Photograph by Rob Gardner

 Whether herbs are old friends or a new person, public gardens offer a sublime setting for an educational summer stroll. Here are a few of our favorite spots:

U.S. National Aboretum

This may be the nation’s largest public garden, but that doesn’t mean the folks at the National Herb Garden (NHG) are resting on their laurels. The NHG was the brainchild of the Herb Society of America, which spent fifteen years between 1965 and 1980 raising funds and working with the government to create it. The 21/2-acre site is located at the U.S. National Arboretum, a 444-acre research and educational center operated by the U.S. ­Depart­ment of Agriculture in the northeast section of Washington, D.C. Our mission is to conduct research and to grow, display, and teach about useful plants,” explains NHG curator Jim Adams. “Herbs are a great way to do that.”

The NHG’s Entrance Garden is dominated by a 25-by-50-foot knot made up of dwarf evergreens—cultivars of ­arborvitae, spruce, and holly. Roses in existence before 1867 (when the first hybrid tea was introduced) form the basis of the Historic Rose Garden.

The Herb Garden comprises ten specialty gardens, including a Dioscorides Garden (herbs used by the Greek physician Dioscorides about a.d. 60), a dye garden, a colonial garden, a Native American garden, an industrial garden (plants that are sources of fuel, oil, pesticides, fibers, and other products for modern industry), an Oriental garden, a beverage garden, a culinary garden, a medicinal garden, and a fragrance garden. The garden’s collection of chile peppers (eighty cultivars), salvias (some seventy varieties), oreganos, thymes, and rosemaries is especially notable.

Adams calls the NHG “the best in the world. It’s a wonderful marriage of beauty and teaching tool.”

U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave., N.E., Washington, DC 20002; (202) 245-2726. Open daily except Christmas, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Zone 7.

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