Gorgeous public-accessible gardens are abundant across the USA — diversions sumptuous with color and fragrance during full-bloom spring and summer seasons. Yet as cooler temps and wilder winds waft around the corner, you might assume that these venues deeply slumber through autumn and winter. But gear up for an insider’s travel tip: During chillier months, these botanical bonanzas continue to surprise, uplift spirits and grace days with visual verve — serving savor-worthy, earth-appreciating perspectives and pleasures. Be inspired and energized by nature’s beauty and bounty.
Here is a bouquet of favorites — highlighting both year-round goings-on and upcoming seasonal treats:
1 NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN
A treasured, 250-acre National Historic Landmark, New York Botanical Garden in New York City’s Bronx is a cultural touchstone for both residents of and visitors to the Big Apple. Yes, its century-long commitment (chartered in 1891) to scientific research, conservation, multidisciplinary exhibitions and educational programs is exemplary. But what yields perhaps the most memorable visitors’ yes-yes-yeses are easy-going, smile-encouraging meanderings through themed gardens. This winter, snuggle on snow-kissed walkways among ornamental conifers. Cozy up, too, in the lovely, Victorian-style, glasshouse Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, which bathes plant collections in tropical rainforest and desert climates, as well as harbors aquatic and carnivorous plants and palms from around the globe. Timely seasonal events: Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii (through October 28) unveils the famous artist’s rarely seen, riveting Central Pacific Ocean work. Spooky Garden (through October 31) fashions 100 larger-than-life scarecrows and nearly 1,000 carved gourds and pumpkins for frolicking fall fun. Relish autumn colors at their peak, too, during Fall Forest Weekends (November 3 – 4, 10 – 11). Canoe on the Bronx River and thrill to spot wildlife. Watch birds of prey demonstrations. Attend Shakespearean drama. Ramble the 50-acre Thain Family Forest and 3.5-acre Native Plant Garden. Check out the live-streaming NYBG Fall Color Cam: An online window that spotlights changing crimson, gold, magenta, orange, purple and red leafy scenes. In person, recharge on the new 90-minute Gram the Garden Tour, a private golf-cart ride to curated Instagram-best photo hotspots. And the annual Holiday Train Show (November 17 – January 21) zooms more than 25 G-scale model trains, trolleys and ferries that run on a half-mile of track past miniature replicas of key sites from all five boroughs of New York City (spy the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Station), the Hudson River Valley and other notable locations in New York State. All are crafted by founding visionary Paul Busse’s artistic team at Applied Imagination and constructed from natural materials, such as bark, fruit, fungus, pine cones, seeds, stems and twigs. This beloved, fantastical achievement includes more than 175 landmarks under the conservatory dome. For more fun travel ideas: NYC Go and I Love NY.
2 LONGWOOD GARDENS
With a fascinating property history that hails back more than 300 years to original owner William Penn (founder of the British North American colony that became the US State of Pennsylvania), Longwood Gardens today is an of-the-moment horticultural heaven heralding respect for yesteryear. After Penn, descendants of a Quaker farming family planted an arboretum on the land that by 1850 grew into one of the finest collections of trees in this new country. In 1906, Pierre S. du Pont (conservationist, engineer, designer, industrialist and philanthropist) purchased and pampered the grounds. Its carefully tended 1,083 acres have since then given life to 20 inviting indoor gardens, 20 outstanding outdoor gardens, panoramic meadows and dense woodlands bestowed with 11,000 types of plants. This gracious estate sports powerful water-world spectacles in three fountain gardens, as well as many singular fountains dotted throughout the property. Be awed by the dancing water performances (video, below) coordinated to rousing music (through October 28) — akin to poetry in motion. (Water is recycled.) An integral core strength of Longwood Gardens is its significant research, scientific discovery and education, working with experts worldwide. Timely seasonal events: Glorious Days…Glowing Nights: Autumn Colors (through November 18) shines attention on season-changing hues, meadow grasses and native asters. Child in hand? Dash to the pumpkin playground and Garden Railway, where scaled-down locomotives whoosh over nearly 400 feet of track veering among buildings built of natural materials, such as honeysuckle-vine handrails and magnolia-leaf roof tiles. Chrysanthemum Festival (October 25 – November 18) is the prime presentation of chrysanthemums in the USA. More than 17,000 mums are purposed to create columns, fans, orbs, pagodas, spirals and other eye-catching forms, including the colossal Thousand Bloom Mum, in which more than 1,000 flowers are balanced on one stem. Year-long at Longwood Gardens is first-rate concert programming. Its superb Silk Road performing arts series reflects the culture of the ancient trade route that linked East and West, which started in China, then passed through Asia, Europe and Africa. And holiday classics are harmonized by Christmas Strolling Musicians (November 23 – January 6). For more fun travel ideas: Kennett Square Tourism, Visit Philly and Visit Pennsylvania.
3 BILTMORE GARDENS AND GROUNDS
Surrounding North Carolina’s prestigious Biltmore House, designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, are the legendary Biltmore Gardens and Grounds, masterminded by Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s preeminent landscape architect. George Vanderbilt, grandson of renowned industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt, completed this 250-room, French Renaissance-style château in 1895 and reshaped the land near and far in remarkable ways, notably attuned to forest conservation — a legacy of environmental preservation and protection that continues to be honored. The largest privately owned home in the USA today, the Biltmore is open for public tours and events. Its main building interior and expansive grounds are awash in a generous palette of color. Detailed, dramatic gardens entice. The Rose Garden, during summer months, alone hosts more than 250 beguiling rose varieties. Hike the network of trails and paths, along the French Broad River, through woodland and meadows of Deer Park. Be drawn into the warm welcome, which feels particularly pleasant during winter’s chill, within the natural-light, pointed-glass-roof conservatory, where exotic and tropical plants and ferns flourish. For a days-long visit and an opportunity to seize autumn and winter’s distinct activities — from blanketed carriage-and-horse rides to snow sledding — stay overnight at an on-site year-round lodging. Among the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, indulge in harvest-themed dinners and Biltmore’s winery tastings, as well as cookie decoration and ornament embellishment lessons. Timely seasonal events: Christmas at Biltmore Daytime Celebration (November 3 – January 6) and Candlelight Christmas Evenings (November 3 – January 5) are filled with glad tidings. Watch the four seasons’ swirl al fresco at the Biltmore (video below). For more fun travel ideas: Explore Asheville and Visit North Carolina.
4 ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDEN
Although compact at 30 acres, the Atlanta Botanical Garden delivers huge horticultural highs. Adjacent to Piedmont Park, eye the heady Canopy Walk. During seasonable months, feel rejuvenated in gardens of cobra lilies, hardy palms, hydrangeas, roses, rare conifers and Japanese plants. Its Orangerie zeros in on intriguing tropical and sub-tropical species that have earned economic and medicinal importance. Emphasizing active play while learning, the Lou Glenn Children’s Garden earns stellar grades. In winter, steer to the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory and Center, which manages one of the major orchid collections in the USA. Timely seasonal events: Imaginary Worlds (through October 28) headlines gargantuan living plant sculptures, in the shape of camels, dragon, mermaid, peacock, phoenix and sleeping princess. Garden Lights, Holiday Nights: Nature’s Wonders synchronizes bold dancing-like illuminations positioned above Storza Woods (November 17 – January 6). And Orchid Daze (February 10 – April 8) reveals delicate blooms from Asia, Australia, Central America, Ecuador, Madagascar and Mexico. For more fun travel ideas: Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and Explore Georgia.
5 FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANIC GARDEN
The 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables — named after David Fairchild, one of history’s preeminent plant explorers — is a member of the Center for Plant Conservation, a consortium of botanic gardens dedicated to the preservation of endangered USA flora. Brilliant flowering vines and 700 species of arbor and shrubs attract visitors in the Tropical Flowering Tree Arboretum, where the scent of an allspice tree may remind you of Christmas cookies. The impact of its Simons Rainforest makes visitors aware of how much tropical habitats are threatened; they are considered to encompass at least half of all plant species on earth. Wings of the Tropics nurtures 40 different butterfly species in The Clinton Family Conservatory of the garden’s DiMare Science Village, which also encloses Hsiao Laboratories (Baddour DNA Lab, Imaging Lab, Micropropagation Lab, Vollmer Metamorphosis Lab), Tropical Plant Conservatory and Rare Plant House (a 16,500-square-foot conservatory extensively displaying 450 species of plants), The Edible Garden and Whitman Fruit Pavilion. Wander pathways to the wonders of breadfruit, kava kava, rare gingers, Seychelles stilt palms. Its Spiny Forest of Madagascar features pointed plants found in desert ranges of land off the Southeast Coast of Africa. Community and family outreach is paramount here, too, where visitors can enroll in hands-on classes about birding, photography, painting, calligraphy, cooking, chocolate-making and meditation. Timely seasonal events: Bird and Wildlife Weekend (October 27 – 28) and the lavish Orchid Festival (March 8 – 10). For more fun travel ideas: Visit Florida — Coral Gables and Coral Gables — Greater Miami and The Beaches.
6 CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN
With 385 landscaped acres on and around nine islands, 27 gardens and four natural regions, plus six miles of lake shoreline, the Chicago Botanic Garden in the Northern suburb of Glencoe, Illinois, is a gladdening getaway, exalting in its 40th anniversary. Join bee-keeping, birding, cooking, gardening, furniture building, painting, perfume making, photography, tai chi, wellness, wilderness survival and yoga classes. More than 1,500 such courses, workshops, programs and events occur annually. Its website is also a support for the public’s practical plant-keeping advice and creativity. A top-notch science and conservation research center, architectural haven and active community builder, Chicago Botanic Garden wows a hundredfold. Timely seasonal events: Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns is set aglow with more than 1,000 carved pumpkins (October 24 – 28). Fine Art of Fiber (November 2 – 4) stages more than 150 hand-made crafts and art pieces, such as artistic clothes, dolls, jewelry, knitwear, needlework, quilts and tapestry. Wonderland Express (November 23 – January 6) jumpstarts seasonal cheer via merry lights, decorated trees and wreaths, model trains and a Lilliputian landscape of Chicago landmarks. And the oh-so-pretty Asia in Bloom: Orchid Show (February 10 – March 25) brings warm-weather fantasies to the Windy City’s blustery days. For more fun travel ideas: Choose Chicago and Enjoy Illinois.
7 MINNESOTA LANDSCAPE ARBORETUM
Embracing 1,289 acres of sublime gardens, tree and shrub collections, prairie, woodlands and trails, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, near Minneapolis, is part of the Department of Horticultural Science in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota. That’s an official descriptive mouthful, indeed! These extensive grounds are deliciously remarkable, restful and restorative. There are 32 display and specialty gardens (among them: Chinese, iris, Japanese, herb, dahlia, ornamental grass, peony, rose and sensory), demonstration stations and more than 5,000 plant species and varieties. Its Meyer-Deats Conservatory brims with bromeliads, cacti, orchids and other tropical houseplants — a particularly desirable destination for wintertime visitors. Library shelves are stocked with 15,000 books about botany, children’s literature, horticulture, natural history, as well as research materials and nursery catalogs. The new Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center is abuzz — a hub of info about bees’ necessity for agriculture and humans. Timely seasonal events: Replete with merriment and music, Winter Lights kicks off holiday elation (November 23) with 16 amply-twinkled vignettes, followed by a 20-foot-tall live poinsettia tree (November 29). The Spring Flower Show (February 1 – March 3) arranges thousands of blossoms — daffodils, forsythia, hyacinths, tropical orchids — aimed to put a skip in your step, a lighter song in your heart. Inhale the sweet scented air! Further your spring fling at its traditional afternoon tea (clotted cream, scones, soup, finger sandwiches, truffles and dessert) served on vintage English china. For more fun travel ideas: Meet Minneapolis and Explore Minnesota.
8 MISSOURI BOTANICAL GARDEN
In St. Louis, 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden garners more than a dozen formal gardens, 4,800 trees and the Shoenberg Temperate House, where themed plant displays include a Moorish wall garden; a roster of consumer-economy plants, such as carob, cork oak, grapes, figs and olives; and a bog of carnivorous plants — butterworts, flytraps, pitcher plants and sundews — from Southeastern USA. Founded in 1859 and one of the USA’s oldest botanical institutions, MBG is also a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Stroll the Chinese Garden, English Woodland Garden, Ottoman Garden, Victorian District and the 14-acre Japanese Garden. The 1.3-million-cubic-foot Climatron Geodesic Dome Conservatory is dedicated to the diversity of tropical rain forests, sheltering more than 2,800 plants (including 1,400 tropical species). Seek out banana, cacao, coffee, orchids and the rare double coconut tree, which grows the biggest seed in the plant kingdom. Rock cliffs, waterfalls, a river-fish aquarium and a visitor bridge to best view the forest canopy all delight. Timely seasonal events: Tree Week Autumn Foliage (October 29 – November 4) spellbinds with a blaze of orange-red-gold glory. The 6,500 plants at Orchid Show (February 3 to March 25) excite guests. And Garden Glow (November 17 – January 1) erects more than a million holiday festive lights. For more fun travel ideas: Explore St. Louis and Visit Missouri.
9 DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS
Located in the Cheesman Park neighborhood of Denver, 24-acre Denver Botanic Gardens sports a conservatory, amphitheater and themed gardens. Among the most popular are Gardens of the West (Cactus and Succulent House, Conservation Garden — which pinpoints Colorado’s rare and threatened plants, Dwarf Conifer Collection and Sacred Earth — a tribute to plants essential to Native-Americans from the Four Corners Region) as well as Internationally Inspired Gardens (Shofu-en Japanese Garden, Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory and South African Plaza). True to its roots, DBG defines a Western identity, high altitude climate and unique geography, while also spiritedly integrating the greater horticultural world. Timely seasonal events: Get lost in (and then happily find your way out of the amazing 7-acre Corn Maze at Chatfield Farms (through October 28). Partake in Blossoms of Light, an annual fete (November 23 – January 1) during which interactive, animated light displays are sound-reactive. And get swept up in Winged Souls (October 20 – November 11) for an interesting look at the symbolisms of monarch butterflies and an iconic female figure called La Catrina. For more fun travel ideas: Denver — The Mile High City and Colorado Tourism.
10 ABQ BIOPARK BOTANICAL GARDEN
Along the Rio Grande, 36-acre ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden enthusiastically presents plants of the Southwest and other arid climes. Its Mediterranean Conservatory inventively brings together plants native to coastal ports that have hot dry summers and mild rainy winters, such as Europe’s Mediterranean, California, southwestern Australia, Chile and South Africa. Its Curandera Garden pinpoints centuries-old traditions of folk healers in New Mexico. Sasebo Japanese Garden (designed by landscape architect Toru Tanaka and named after one of Albuquerque’s four sister cities) — with a bell tower, koi pond, pagodas, stone lanterns, waterfall, wooden bridges and streams — emanates tranquility. Traditional Japanese plants enthrall; native New Mexican trees are pruned and sculpted in Japanese aesthetic. The Ceremonial Garden boasts arches and pillars dressed with clematis, climbing roses and wisteria. A Spanish-Moorish Garden is draped in lavender, pomegranates and rosemary. And a newly re-imagined Butterfly Pavilion hosts more than 40 different native pollinators, including non-stinging bees and fig beetles. Timely seasonal event: River of Lights (November 24 – December 30) is New Mexico’s largest walk-through illumination spectacular with more than 500 holiday structures. For more fun travel ideas: Visit Albuquerque and New Mexico True.
11 DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN
At the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, discover dreamy desert abundance that unfolds in gardens, galleries and trails. Along five thematic paths, more than 50,000 plants intrigue. Expect striking Sonoran Desert cinnamon-red buttes and mountain views, vibrant-hued flowers, towering cacti and a broad array of succulents. Browse mesquite bosque, semi-desert grassland and upland chaparral. Attend a concert, culinary demonstration, landscaping class, nature art course and wellness workshop. Or simply stop, slowly inhale and choose quiet moments of solo serenity. For nearly 80 years, this head-turning hang-out has promoted its passion for channeling the Arizona community and its visitors toward the transformative power of desert devotion. Timely seasonal events: Mighty Monarchs and the Plant Protectors (through November 18) examines and exults the king of butterflies and its helpful insect neighbors. Untamed: Wild Compositions by Frank Gonzales (through January 6) mounts fantasy-forward, detailed paintings. And Electric Desert (through May 12) transforms the nighttime desert-scape via light and music scored by Klip Collective, an experiential video company. For more fun travel ideas: Visit Phoenix and Visit Arizona.
12 SAN DIEGO BALBOA PARK GARDENS
Within magnificent, 1,200-acre Balboa Park, the Balboa Park Conservancy, Friends of Balboa Park and The City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department have championed greenery galore, deserving applause aplenty. On the National Register of Historic Places, Balboa Park nestles and nurtures Alcazar Garden, Australian Garden, Botanical Building and Lily Pond, California Native Plant Garden, Casa del Rey Moro Garden (House of the Moorish King, designed for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition as an ode to Ronda, Spain), Desert Garden, EthnoBotany Children’s Peace Garden, Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve, Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, Japanese Friendship Garden and Zoro Garden (a sunken stone grotto that attracts butterflies). These and other eco-marvels are set amidst a wealth of science, history, railroad, space and photography museums, as well as performing arts centers, art museums, galleries and artist studios. There is so much to embrace here — easily dozens of upbeat excursions can be unfurled — and yet it is also appealing to do just a little: Picnic beneath a century-old tree, gaze at fluttering butterflies, ooh-and-ahh over exotic African and Australian Protea plants. Timely seasonal events: December Nights — now in its 41st year and produced by the City of San Diego (December 7 and 8) — is a free festival (last year drawing more than 350,000 attendees), during which entertainers add musical magic to Balboa Park; its museums and international cuisine restaurants ramp up engagement. Lively, too, is Garden of Lights (December 1 – 23 and 26 – 30), sponsored by the County of San Diego, when 125,000 shimmering illuminations fashion a winter wonderland in sunny Southern California: holiday crafts, food trucks, marshmallow roasting and nutcracker boasting ensue. Live musical entertainment (replete with local jazz and blues bands), as well as horse-drawn wagon rides, hot mulled wine and snow for sledding (on select evenings) kick off holiday hoopla. For more fun travel ideas: San Diego Tourism and Visit California.
13 HAWAII TROPICAL BOTANICAL GARDEN
Described as “A Garden in a Valley on the Ocean,” this one-of-kind 40-acre paradise — on Hāmākua Coast 8.5 miles north of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii — is a living love letter to our 50th State’s eco-resources and to those who adore its enchantment. Artists, gardeners, nature enthusiasts and scientists worldwide travel to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, where more than 2,000 plant species thrive. Founded by Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse of San Francisco more than 30 years ago, after they vacationed in Hawaii and decided that the Big Island’s allure and lifestyle were so compelling that they did not want to leave. They were captivated by what Hawaiians call aina, meaning “spirit of the land.” Their California trucking business was sold. Then they devoted themselves to the hard work of tending an Edenic jungle, now open to visitors. It is rich with fertile black volcanic soil, gurgling streams, splashy waterfalls and verdant plants and trees. Gaze at the flora and fauna of Onomea Bay. Stretch your sights along the Palm Vista Trail, where more than 200 species of palm trees soar. You’ll soon be saying: Mahalo (thank you). For more fun travel ideas: Hilo and Go Hawaii.