This is Part 1 of a 5-part series.
Instead of pulling over to see the world’s 3rd biggest ball of yarn during your vacation, try something a little more worthwhile. This could be your only vacation of the year, so “fill your eyes with wonder” as the travel bloggers say and visit some unforgettable places. All over the U.S., there are publicly and privately funded, breathtaking gardens that can redefine your definition of horticulture. From pristine botanical memorials to fascinating plant sculptures, you will find your imagination running wild with your own backyard botanical ideas.
Plus, these gardens are prime for great pictures that are guaranteed to make your Instagram pop and may even inspire you to start a succulent garden, raised garden, or ‘living’ sculpture garden of your own! So, if you are journeying through the southeastern U.S., carve out some time to visit one or more of these amazing garden experiences.
1. Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Additional Provisions: concerts, auctions, adult classes, and private rentals.
Located in Atlanta’s Midtown next to the very active Piedmont park, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens brings some vibrant plant art to the hustle and bustle of a big city. The garden offers a kids’ area, rock gardens, a conservatory, a canopy walk, and a famous plant sculpture exhibition. These “living” sculptures can get up to 26 feet tall, taking the shape of mermaids, peacocks, camels, and other exciting creatures.
Image: Eric Sonstroem [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
2. Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens
Additional Provisions: private events, workshops
Take some time during your tour of Georgia to visit this educational garden. Located 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia, these gardens reside at the Historic Bamboo Farm which is part of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences. Get ready to see a beautiful collection of palm varietals and get lost in their 4-acre Bamboo maze.
Image: Michael Rivera [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
1. Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg
Additional Provisions: weddings, workshops, guided tours
Located in scenic St. Petersburg next to the Tampa Bay, this garden is over 100 years old and boasts a collection of more than 50,000 plants. It includes beautiful pathways adorned with waterfalls and demonstration areas, offering a holistic botanical experience. They are also known for their workshops where you can learn about planting techniques or new horticultural research. For example, in the summer of 2018, they will host a rain garden and barrel workshop which teaches gardeners about collecting rain and distributing it within their gardens.
Image: Peter Tosh from Wikimedia Commons
2. Disney’s Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot
Additional Provisions: food demonstrations, outdoor kitchens, dining, events, tours, workshops
Held annually during in springtime, Disney’s Flower and Garden Festival is the most expensive on this list, but arguably provides the greatest amount of botanical wonder and more. From learning how-to, to outdoor garden concerts, to eating food picked directly from their gardens, it is one of the most renowned botanical experiences there is. Along with living sculptures featuring Anna and Elsa from Frozen and Bambi with his woodland critters, they feature a beautiful raised bed gardening exhibit. (Learn what raised bed gardening is here) Featured within them are plants from over 11 countries, and educational placards adorn each explaining how to take care of them and how the raised beds assist in their transition to a tropical climate.
Image: Jennifer Lynn [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
1. Huntsville Botanical Garden
Additional Provisions: weddings, workshops, guided tours
If you want to walk a beautiful nature trail, enjoy specialty gardens, experience the nation’s largest open-air butterfly house, and feel the tranquility of an aquatic garden, then make your way to the Huntsville Botanical Garden in Alabama. They are a non-profit garden dedicated to providing experiences that will delight adults and children. One of their most notable offerings is the Demonstration Vegetable Garden where visitors can learn about the practical styles of gardening such as row-gardening and square foot-gardening.
Image: Scott (originally posted to Flickr as 105) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
2. Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens Birmingham
Additional Provisions: weddings, events, art museum
Formerly a plantation, the Arlington Antebellum Home and Garden is now a beautiful 6-acre landscaped garden. It is part of the National Register of Historic Places, and features a restored garden room along with decorative art. The gardens highlight sharp lines and the beauty of landscaping, and the history behind the property is felt by every visitor.
Image: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
1. Biltmore House and Gardens
Additional Provisions: outdoor adventures, food and wine, architecture, tours, events
As highlighted on their official website, the Biltmore House and Gardens located in North Carolina suggests that you make this a 3-day visit instead of just stopping by. Their gardens have featured in Travel + Leisure’s Top Ten Botanical Gardens of the World, and the Biltmore property itself is a historical legacy. Among the sights included are: a Tennis Lawn, Shrub Garden, conservatory, Spring Garden, Azalea Garden, and Bass Pond. Once you are done observing their horticultural space, you can relax with a Rose Petal facial in the Biltmore Spa.
Image: No machine-readable author provided. Tom assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
2. The Elizabethan Gardens
Additional Provisions: weddings, events, tours, workshops
This 10.5 acre public garden, located in the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, features 500 different plants and flowers cared for by five dedicated professional horticulturalists. They change the displays seasonally to reflect the natural beauty of every season, and visitors can also view the Queen’s Rose Garden in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. Another site to behold is the live oak - estimated to have lived since 1585. The Elizabethan Gardens are most well known for their Camellia collection which is comprised of over 80 Camellia varietals. Everyone can enjoy the pristine beauty of these gardens, and avid horticulturalists can especially enjoy the hybrid Lilies.
Image: Captain-tucker [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
So, if travelling the southeast U.S. definitely add these amazing stops to your itinerary for some added tranquility and exploration.
Also, keep your eyes open for part 2 of this 5-part series as we explore the rest of the must-see gardens across the U.S.!