Have you ever been to a botanic garden? If not, it’s time to find one in your neck of the woods. You may be lucky enough to have one in your city or town, or you may want to visit one the next time you’re on vacation. Trust us, this is a field trip that’s equally entertaining for both adults and kiddos.
If you have the slightest interest in gardening, the beautifully landscaped botanic gardens will provide acres of inspiration. This inspiration doesn’t end at landscaping your backyard, but it may start there.
- backyard : If you’re visiting a garden near your home, you should plan to walk away filled with inspiring ideas, most of them just right for your home’s climate!… I say “most” because there are professionals working at the gardens whose job it is to pamper some plants, BUT if the garden’s worth its salt, then it will have some areas landscaped with native plants and many others landscaped with non-native low(er) maintenance plants that do extremely well in your area. It’s always worth striking up a conversation with the gardeners, especially if you see something that you really like.
- containers : Walking through the gardens you will see many pots and containers filled with plants, which is always great for planning pairings to go in your own pots.
- water gardens : Many botanic gardens have water spaces, usually small ponds, that are filled with a variety of plants and some fish.
- houseplants : yes, houseplants! The gardens often have a variety of greenhouses, think of the plants in there as inspiration for your own house. Of course, you always have to get the climate right, but if you see plants growing indoors in the gardens, then they may be something that would grow well in your house.
Take your kids! At first glance, this may not seem like a place for children, but think of the gardens as a big, beautiful park. My kids love running around outside. They love, following paths. They notice beautiful flowers, insects, and birds… all things that they’ll see on their visit.
- provide boundaries : I find it easiest to establish a few simple rules when taking my boys to a public space like this. In the case of a botanic garden, I tell them “no going into the flower beds, stay on the paths and grassy areas, and be within sight”. If they follow those rules, then they can run along the paths, enjoy the beautiful environment, and have a good & carefree time.
- find the kid spaces : The Denver Botanic Garden has a dedicated children’s garden. It’s a space with more winding paths, educational components, and more freedoms than the formal gardens. Signage in the children’s garden encourages them to do things that we wouldn’t in the formal garden, for example, touching the plants to feel their different textures. I purposefully didn’t take them to the children’s garden until the end of our visit, because it’s so much fun that I knew it’d be hard to tear them away.
Many gardening books discuss three distinct seasons for flower blooming : spring, summer, and fall. The earliest of spring bloomers may be completely gone from the garden. Some of the plants that bloomed early and during the summer may be fading now, and showing off brilliant fall colors. Some are still holding onto their summer blooms, and others may have just started to flower.
It may seem odd to suggest visiting your local gardens in the fall, but it’s not! There’s so much fall activity in a garden. And beyond the plants, there is often an abundance of animal activity, particularly insect and bird.
I made it a point to go to the Denver Botanic Gardens when we did because the Alexander Calder exhibit was coming to an end. Calder has such a rich body of work, and I was excited to see some of the sculptures that I hadn’t seen at other exhibits and museums (coming from Philly, it’s in our nature to be Calder fanatics!).
Gardens may have some permanent art, and it’s a common practice for them to host temporary art exhibits. Sometimes these are outdoor affairs with sculptures placed throughout the gardens, other times the art is hung indoors. Either way, it’s a beautiful experience to see the (often large scale) art while walking through the gardens.
If you’re in the NYC area, the Chihuly Exhibition is just coming to an end. I’m so bummed that I missed its time at the Denver Gardens. Go, for me.
- document your visit : If you’re planning on taking photographs of the gardens, review Sarah’s Landscape Photography Tips.
- make wildlife observations : While walking through the gardens, take photographs of the insects and birds that you see, and upload your observations to iNaturalist! This can be a great “eye spy” game for kids.
- avoid the crowds : As you can tell from these photos, the gardens were particularly empty on the day that we visited. It was a Tuesday in late September. When possible, we often try to avoid the crowds, and I think that it always makes our visits extra special. We always get a great view, we can go as slow or as fast as we want, and the boys are given a bit more freedom because it’s easier for me to keep an eye on them. It’s such a small detail, but it’s one that makes our visits that much more memorable.
I hope you’ll find a botanic garden near you and go for a visit!