If there’s ever a season punctuated by flowers, it’s spring. After shaking off winter’s hold, nature has burst back into life with balmy weather, perfume clouds, and falling petals. Whether you’re interested in seeing the bulbs that have started peeking through the dirt, indulging in fruits and veggies that are straight from the vine, or getting up close and personal with exotic plants that can bite, there’s no better time to visit a botanical garden than springtime, even though many are open year-round, thanks to greenhouse magic.
From Atlanta’s thousands of orchids to Arizona’s cacti collections, these five botanical gardens are sure to give you spring fever—anytime of year.
The Desert Botanical Garden
In North America’s hottest desert, there’s a 140-acre oasis, where giant cacti, century plants—slow-growing succulents that bloom only once in their lifetimes—and milkweed erupt from cinnamon-red buttes. Here, among paved paths and numerous hiking trails, wildflowers pop up from the sand in a rainbow of colors, especially if there’s been a little bit of rain. Thousands of butterflies native to the Southwest bandy under a covered pavilion. During the spring, jazz, R&B, and classical music waft across The Desert Botanical Garden. There are also rotating exhibitions by artists like Larry Kornegay and Carolina Escobars that blend in so seamlessly with the Sonoran Desert, they look like they’ve just sprouted up on their own.
The Topiary Park
Molded from yew shrubs, 67 topiaries reaching 12 feet tall transform this seven-acre downtown park in Columbus, Ohio, into a living sculpture garden. The brainchild of local artist James T. Mason—who shaped the bronze frames and planted the associated greenery—and his then-wife Elaine, who served as the original topiarist, it includes traditional park features: sidewalks, benches, picnic tables, flower beds, and a man-made lake, where boat-shaped topiaries float beside water lilies.
The Topiary Park’s centerpiece, an interpretation of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, is a collection of men, women, children, and petsthat’s believed to be the only topiary version of a painting in existence. “The Topiary Park is a landscape of a painting of a landscape,” Mason says. “It plays upon the relationships between nature, art, and life.”
Atlanta Botanical Garden
At the Atlanta Botanical Garden, there’s a 12-foot-wide, 600-foot-long suspension bridge that floats among the branches of oaks, hickories, and poplars. Here, in the Storza Woods, 40 feet above a patchwork of azaleas, camellias, and trillium, pairs of red-tailed hawks perch on the lowest branches, waiting to snag squirrels and songbirds.
Nearby, in the Cascades Garden, a 25-foot Earth Goddess, whose floral locks turn into ice during the winter, strains water through her hand. At the Fuqua Orchid Center, 2,000 species of orchids from Asia, Madagascar, Ecuador, Australia, Central America, and Mexico—the largest collection of its kind in the country—blossom in a startling array of colors and shapes. The Atlanta Botanical Garden also boasts an Edible Garden and Outdoor Kitchen where Atlanta’s top chefs present cooking classes and the Garden Chef showcases seasonal recipes using colorful vegetables, from orange cauliflower in spring to purple beans and burgundy okra in the summer to a kaleidoscope of apples, pears, figs, blueberries, raspberries in the fall.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
San Francisco, California
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a 55-acre plant sanctuary, featuring both landscaped gardens and open spaces within the Golden Gate Park. Its mild Mediterranean climate coupled with its famous coastal fog provides the right conditions to grow and conserve plant from “biodiversity hotspots”, like Australia, Chile, and South Africa, that are rapidly losing ground and are in danger of extinction.
In early spring, the branches of 100 magnolia trees burst into a profusion of saucer-sized pink, white, and magenta flowers. Dinosaur food—a prehistoric-looking plant that has monster-sized leaves with teeth on their undersides, commonly thought of as Giant rhubarb—runs along the edge of the Ancient Garden. In the summer, pocket handkerchief trees, native to woodlands in central China, sprout red flowers that are framed by large white bracts, which dangle from the tree like large, white handkerchiefs. In the fall, Angel’s Trumpet blooms with dramatic, pendulous, fragrant flowers in a variety of colors, encouraging the activity of nectar-seeking birds and bees throughout the winter.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
A 66-acre floralparadise on the shores of White Rock Lake, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful and top display gardens in North America, attracting more than a million visitors from all 50 states, as well as 90 countries, each year. A 15-minute drive from downtown Dallas, this city landmark has 19 specialty gardens. Highlights include A Tasteful Place—a 3.5-acre garden teeming with fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, and herbs—and A Woman’s Place, where there’s a native Texas limestone bridge, a 140-foot hanging garden, and a wellspring surrounded by towering Dawn Redwoods. “A cousin to the California redwoods…[Dawn redwoods] they were thought to be extinct, but were found in a remote valley in California,” says Dave Forehand, vice president of gardens. “Pacific redwoods won’t grow here, but these are more adapted. They’re not as tall; they do get wide in diameter.”
Named the second most-breathtaking garden in the world by Architectural Digest, ranking high among the likes of gardens in Versailles and Rio de Janeiro, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden has rotating seasonal festivals four times per year. During Dallas Blooms in the spring, 500,000 spring-blooming bulbs burst through the soil. Summertime starts “Garden Gigs”, where you can bask in the magic of live music at twilight.During Autumn at the Arboretum, there’s the internationally acclaimed Pumpkin Village, featuring more than 90,000 pumpkins, squash, and gourds. The winter brings the 12 Days of Christmas, which features a dramatic 25-foot-tall glass gazebo filled with charming costumed characters and strung with 500,000 lights.