Spring is in the air, and what better time than now to visit some of the most breathtaking botanical gardens in the United States? Proper botanic gardens, according to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, meet specific criteria distinct from those for public parks or pleasure gardens. Botanic gardens, by definition, must exhibit proper documentation of the living collections, have underlying scientific basis for research, and be open to the public for the purposes of display and education.
The BGCI has a database on more than 2,500 botanical gardens from around the world. North American is home to more than 350 of them. We’ve handpicked 11 botanical gardens from across the United States, from the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from the California coast to the United States Botanical Garden in the east.
Best Botanical Gardens in the U.S.
The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden is one of only 33 botanic gardens in the United States that is a member of the Center for Plant Conservation. This organization is a national coalition dedicated to conserving and restoring rare native plants of the USA. You can be sure to find unusual collections native to California across the 78 acres of land. The garden is an important part of the conservation efforts dedicated to the endangered species found along the California Central Coast and Channel Islands. The SBBG is also one of just 30 gardens accredited as a “living museum” by the American Alliance of Museums.
Address: Santa Barbara Botanic Garden 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara CA 93105
This garden is home to more than 21,000 plants, one-third of which are native to the area. Located in central Arizona, the Desert Botanic Garden was founded in 1937 by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society and built in 1939. This garden does a great job preserving rare, threatened, or endangered species. It’s home to unusual plants adapted to desert collections, and showcases Australian, Baja Californian, and South American plants.
Address: 1201 N. Galvin Parkway Phoenix, AZ 85008
Touring a botanic garden is a great way to see the state’s local flora and fauna. The Denver Botanic Gardens mostly has plants from Colorado and neighboring states, but also features North America’s largest collection of plants from cold temperate climates around the world. It also has the world’s first Xeriscape Demonstration Garden, now called Dryland Mesa, which uses a form of gardening that reduces reliance on irrigation water. The garden also features drought-tolerant plants from the West and Mediterranean areas.
Address: 1007 York Street Denver, CO 80206
The Idaho Botanical Garden was built on what used to be the state penitentiary for more than a century. The site used to be the Old Idaho State Penitentiary’s farm and nursery until 1973. After the penitentiary was shut down, the gardens were created in 1984 as a private nonprofit. This renovated space has trees planted by inmates in the 1960s in the Meditation Garden, plants native to the state in the Idaho Native Plant Garden, and over 21 species of peonies in the Peony Garden.
Address: 2355 Old Penitentiary Road Boise, Idaho 83712
One reason the Oregon Garden has such an amazing aerial view is because of the Water Garden, a maze-like area with paths and bridges. Its Signature Oak, one of Oregon’s Heritage Trees, also garners attention at an impressive 100 feet (30 m). The 400-year-old tree rests in the 25-acre native Oregon white oak grove. Another unusual feature is the Conifer Garden, one of the largest collections of dwarf and miniature conifers in the country. With over 20 specialty gardens, the Oregon Garden has grown into a tourist attraction and gathering place for the community since its creation in 1999.
Address: 879 W. Main St., Silverton, OR, 97381
The Atlanta Botanical Gardens has the largest orchid center in the United States. It’s full of thousands of orchids from different parts of the world. The Gardens hold an Orchid Daze exhibition each year, where visitors can see the orchid specimens from Asia, Australia, Central America, and even Madagascar. The orchids are showcased in a 16,000-square-foot space, with different sections such as the Orchid Atrium, the Tropical High Elevation House, and the Display House. There are other displays of flowers in bloom including daffodils and tulips, but the must-see is the Canopy Walk, a 45-feet high, 300-foot long elevated walkway that passes through some of Atlanta’s oldest hardwood trees.
Address: 1345 Piedmont Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30309
The Chicago Garden is one of the most visited public gardens in the United States, according to Chicagotraveler.com. More than one million people visited the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2014. The space is spread over 385 acres, and is uniquely located on and around nine islands. The garden is known for its Bonsai Collection and its Lenhardt Library, which houses one of the nation’s best collections of rare botanical books. The American Association of Museums has also credited this site as a “living museum.”
Address: 1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe, IL 60022
This botanical garden has a breathtakingly diverse array of displays and collections. It has a Japanese strolling garden, a geodesic dome conservatory, an Osage camp and Henry Shaw’s original 1850 home. This establishment was founded in 1859 and is one of the oldest botanical institutions in the United States. It’s a National Historic Landmark, included in the National Register of Historic Places, on the US government’s list of sites worthy of preservation. Must-sees include any of the four glass sculptures that remain of the Garden’s 2006 “Glass in the Garden” exhibit, as well as the butterfly house and greenhouse dome.
Address: Address: 4344 Shaw Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63110
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has over 900,000 visitors each year, and is considered one of New York’s most beautiful parks. Located in the Prospect Park neighborhood, the garden is a sanctuary within an urban landscape. The space includes three climate-themed plant pavilions, a cast-iron and glass aquatic plant house, and even an art gallery. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the design brainchild of landscape architect Harold Caparn, was left to grow organically over several decades. Caparn designed the rest of the grounds, including the Cranford Rose Garden and Magnolia Plaza.
Address: 990 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225
Leave it to New York to have almost one botanic garden per borough. The New York Botanical Garden, located in the Bronx, has been referred to as an “urban Eden.” This Garden has the largest indoor collection of New World palms. It also has banana trees, moth orchids, and 50-acres of forest. There are over one million plants in various collections, including a diverse array of tropical, temperate, and desert flora. As an added bonus, the New York Botanical Garden operates one of the world's largest plant research and conservation programs.
Address: 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10458
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is home to the American Orchid Society, a horticultural society devoted to the education, conservation, and research of orchids. It’s no wonder that orchids are a recurring part of a number of exhibits including the Tropical Plant Conservatory, Rare Plant House and the Richard H. Simons Rainforest. In addition to these fragrant flowers, the Garden has collections of rare tropical plants; a Tropical Fruit Pavilion that features the most exotic tropical fruit species only found in places like Borneo, the Amazon, Indonesia; and the Montgomery Palmetum, known as the most important documented palm collection on earth.
Address: 10901 Old Cutler Road Coral Gables, FL 33156
Another noteworthy botanic garden in the east coast is the United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. It is the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the USA, according to Vacationidea.com. It was established by the US Congress in 1820, and is located on the grounds of the United States Capitol. The Garden has more than 10,000 living specimens, some over 165 years old. The entirety of the United States Botanic Garden spans three different locations: the Conservatory, Bartholdi Park, and the Production Facility. If you want to be whisked away to a new environment, at least temporarily, the Conservatory has independent garden rooms that simulate unique habitats. You can visit “The Jungle,” “Hawaii,” or even the “desert” without taking a step outside of Washington, D.C.
Address: 100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden was first opened to the public in1984. Sometimes called the "Garden in a Valley on the Ocean, " it has over 2,000 plant species. It gets its name from the stunning combination of water and flora throughout the area. The Onomea Falls, a three-tiered waterfall that overlooks Boulder Creek and the lava tubes on Onomea Bay, is an impressive setting to observe different plants. Visitors who decide to take the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden Tour can meander through the tropical garden located amongst the waterfalls. They can also see the colorful flora in bloom at the Orchid Garden, or observe the Macaws in the Birdhouse and the Koi in Lily Lake.
Address: 27-717 Old Mamalahoa Hwy, Papaikou, HI 96781