7 of the Most Stunning Botanical Gardens in America
Updated: April 19, 2023
AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
Nicknamed “The Garden Isle,” the Hawaiian island of Kauai seems a likely place to find one of America’s prettiest gardens, which is indeed the case. Allerton Garden was once the private domain of a wealthy Chicago businessman but today is open to visitors who come to follow paths among varieties of palms, bamboos, fruit trees, heliconias and gingers. Perhaps the most famous specimens are Australian imports: huge Moreton Bay fig trees with massive buttress roots spreading in all directions like tentacles. Steven Spielberg filmed scenes from 1993’s “Jurassic Park” here.
Courtesy of Dallas Arboretum
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
All the gazebos, glades, grottos and sunken gardens at the AAA GEM® rated Dallas Arboretum have been carefully laid out to create photogenic vistas. The variety of landscapes is a visual treat, and several gardens make the most of their location on White Rock Lake. Arboretum highlights include the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden with 150 interactive exhibits and a skywalk leading up to an observation tower. And then there’s the charming Crape Myrtle Allée, a shaded lane beneath the spreading branches of crepe myrtles that’s one of the arboretum’s most photographed settings.
Courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
You might expect to see some cacti at the AAA GEM rated Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix’s Papago Park, and you’d be right. There are plenty of cacti here from all over the world and in a surprising variety of shapes and sizes. And it doesn’t stop there. The garden’s five themed trails loop through stands of mesquite and agave as well as beds of hardy wildflowers. Thousands of plants adapted to arid climates are on display, and the garden highlights not only the beauty but the usefulness of desert-loving plants that humans have been using for centuries to survive in harsh desert conditions.
Courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Coral Gables, Florida
Don’t try counting the palms at the AAA GEM Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables: There’s more than 1,000 of them representing species found across the globe. Some even have to be protected from the relatively mild Florida winters inside greenhouses, along with orchids and other tender and rare foliage. Exotic fruits, flowering vines and even butterflies and birds round out the garden’s offerings. Don’t miss the Simons Rainforest or the overlook terrace with its lovely vista of lakes and palm trees. And for an excellent selfie, seat yourself on a bench in the shade of a tropical tree next to a life-size statue of Everglades environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Courtesy of Longwood Gardens
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
Longwood Gardens was once the elegant estate of mega-rich industrialist Pierre S. du Pont, who had a soft spot for orchids and European-style fountains, both of which stand out at this AAA GEM attraction. Longwood also specializes in collecting azaleas, camellias, ferns, lilacs and waterlilies among several other types of plants. Pierce’s Woods spotlights trees native to the eastern United States, and the large bonsai collection has been expanding since the 1950s. Possessing one of America’s largest conservatories, Longwood offers lush greenery to snow-weary visitors in the dead of winter, and its Canopy Cathedral is the most impressive and fanciful of its three treehouses, all of which provide picturesque backdrops in any season.
Missouri Botanical Garden
St. Louis, Missouri
Roaming the meticulously landscaped grounds of this AAA GEM Missouri Botanical Garden, you might feel like you’ve entered a time warp. Established 150 years ago, the garden boasts a restored 1849 country house and a quaint Victorian District complete with red brick paths, a statue of the Roman goddess Juno and a replica 19th-century observatory. Stroll past the granite mausoleum of founder Henry Shaw, however, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a science-fiction movie as you behold a Space Age geodesic dome called the Climatron, which despite its name is not the leader of a robot army or a futuristic fusion reactor. It’s actually a climate-controlled greenhouse (Climatron, get it?) sheltering an assortment of tropical trees and flowering plants—a veritable rainforest under glass.
New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, New York
In a city crowded with famous landmarks, this AAA GEM New York Botanical Garden, manages to squeeze in one more: the stately Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a Victorian-style greenhouse packed with an artfully arranged collection of palms, water lilies, flowers and even meat-eating (though perfectly safe) plants. During the annual orchid show, thousands of delicate blooms fill the space with a riot of hothouse colors. And the Haupt Conservatory occupies just a small part of the garden’s 250 acres. Other don’t-miss attractions include the azalea garden, rose garden, herb garden, lilac collection and Everett Children’s Adventure Garden. Perhaps most interesting of all: the Thain Family Forest, a rare 50-acre swatch of old-growth woods that gives visitors a glimpse of what the area looked like before it was covered over in concrete, asphalt and brick.
AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
Frank Swanson is a AAA Travel Expert.