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The 11 best botanical gardens in the United States

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Beat the heat in these urban paradises

The exterior of the conservatory building in the Missouri Botanical Garden. The building is dome shaped and the facade is glass. There is a shallow pool in the foreground.
Climatron, the geodesic dome conservatory at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Mary Lou Olson/Missouri Botanical Garden

Summer is in full swing, which means there’s no better time to play outdoors. But even diehard city lovers sometimes tire of the incessant urban annoyances in the summer months: the long commutes, the endless pavement, and the oppressive heat.

Luckily, nearly every major city in the United States features a botanical garden: a place dedicated to the cultivation and display of plants and nature. Step under the shady foliage of a local garden and your summer worries melt away, replaced with a plant-inspired serenity.

And these days, botanical gardens offer so much more than just plants. From evening concerts to sculpture gardens to international art exhibitions, botanical gardens are at the heart of city culture. Some even boast stunning fountain displays or children’s gardens that will entertain even the tiniest among us.

For all the design- and architecture-obsessed urbanites out there looking for something to do this summer, consider a botanical garden. We’ve rounded up 11 of the best, right here.

The exterior of the Flat Garden and Pavilion in the Portland Japanese Garden. The building has a grey roof. There are pink cherry blossoms in the foreground along with a courtyard with garden patches.
The Flat Garden and Pavilion of the Portland Japanese Garden.
Photo by Jonathan Ley, courtesy of the Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden

Located in Portland’s Washington Park, this 5.5-acre Japanese Garden features five different gardening styles: a strolling pond, tea garden, sand and stone garden, flat garden, and natural garden. It’s a serene and picturesque atmosphere, considered to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan.

The Lily Pool Terrace at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. In the foreground are lily pads with pink flowers on a shallow pool. In the background is a building with a tan facade and green roof.
The Lily Pool Terrace at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Photo by Antonio M. Rosario, courtesy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Founded in 1910 and located adjacent to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden features more than 10,000 kinds of plants from all over the world. The garden is open year-round and boasts an alluring indoor tropical garden that’s great for winter, but one of the more popular times to visit is the period during the spring when dozens of cherry blossoms bloom.

The exterior of the Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona. There are cacti in the foreground. There is a building structure in the background.
Cacti stand tall at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.
Courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden

It’s easy to discount arid destinations as unlikely places for botanical gardens, but Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden proves that deserts are alive and beautiful too. More than 50,000 plants are on display on 140 acres, and visitors can walk five different loops that showcase cacti, wildflowers, and even herbs. Don’t miss special events featuring music or a night of ballet, all set in the gardens.

The exterior of Longwood Gardens. There is a tan building structure with columns. Above the building are various fountains and an outdoor viewing area full of people.
The fountain garden at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
Photo by Melissa Romero

Longwood Gardens

Founded by industrialist Pierre du Pont, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is a bit like jetting away to Versailles for the weekend: Stunning fountains abound, the Orangery is divine, and perfectly symmetrical hedges leave you in awe.

But Longwood also boasts four-and-a-half acres of indoor gardens, a 10,010-pipe Longwood Organ, and a serene waterlily display. Don’t miss the illuminated fountain and fireworks performances each weekend during the summer; the fountains just underwent a $90 million renovation and the show is spectacular.

The exterior of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Photo by Don Williamson, courtesy of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. The building in the background is domed and its facade is glass. In the foreground is a pool with fountains surrounded by colorful flowers and plants.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

It’s hard to choose just one or two things to highlight about the 50-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, especially because this Richmond, Virginia, spot boasts more than a dozen themed gardens. The classical domed Conservatory—the only one of its kind in the mid-Atlantic—is downright Instagrammable, and we love everything from the children’s garden to the stunning rose garden.

A fountain in the United States Botanic Garden. In the foreground are pink flowers. There is a pool with fountains in the center surrounded by assorted plants, flowers, and shrubs.
A water feature at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.
Courtesy of the U.S. Botanic Garden

United States Botanic Garden

It’d be easy to include this garden in Washington, D.C., on history alone: Congress established it on the National Mall in 1820, making it one of the oldest in the country. But there’s also plenty to love on its own merit, like the 65,000-strong plant collection and the conservatory, where you’ll find indoor gardens focused on jungle and desert climates.

The exterior of the Japanese Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens. There is a pond surrounded by rocks and plants.
The Japanese Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens.
Shutterstock

Denver Botanic Gardens

This 24-acre oasis in Denver is one of the top attractions in the city, no matter the weather. Spring and summer are ideal times to visit the Japanese, waterlily, and ornamental gardens, while the Gardens of the West section shows how drought-tolerant and native plants thrive in a semi-arid environment. There is also an excellent children’s garden—complete with interactive stream—and top-notch concerts and events throughout the year.

The exterior of the Missouri Botanical Garden. The building is glass with a dome shape. There is a pool in the foreground surrounded by plants.
The iconic domed conservatory at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Mary Lou Olson/Missouri Botanical Garden

Missouri Botanical Garden

There’s much to love about the 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, from the 14-acre Japanese garden to one of the world’s largest collections of rare orchids. But one of the most compelling exhibits is Climatron, the first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory.

Open since 1960, the Climatron greenhouse has no columns from floor to ceiling and rises 70 feet in the center. The tropical rainforest theme boasts more than 2,800 plants and a river aquarium with exotic fish.

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. In the foreground is a rocky hill with wild flowers. In the distance is the ocean.
The ocean view at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden.
Courtesy of Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Set on 47 acres that lie between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg is one of the few botanical gardens located on the coast. This means that you get ocean views with your rhododendrons and dahlias, and the garden is also a great spot to see more than 160 species of birds.

An outdoor area at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. In the foreground is a fountain with a blue glass sculpture on the top. In the distance are various trees, plants, and flowers.
A Chihuly sculpture in a fountain at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Atlanta Botanical Garden

There’s something for everyone at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, an urban oasis located in the heart of Midtown. From edible plants to an award-winning children’s garden to a tropical conservatory, the Atlanta Botanical Garden boasts 30 acres that educate, inspire, and provide an easy respite from the city beyond. Don’t miss annual outdoor exhibits that invite internationally renowned artists to showcase their work in the gardens.

The Pumpkin Village at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. There are many assorted pumpkins on display. There is a house with pumpkins on its outer walls. Courtesy of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Everything is bigger in Texas, so it makes sense that the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden offers a lot. Seventeen specialty gardens give you plenty to choose from in the 66-acre space, and the Dallas Arboretum is especially known for their holiday-themed events. At their fall festival, for example, the gardens use 150,000 fall blooming plants and 90,000 pumpkins to create a Pumpkin Village that will impress any plant (or Halloween!) lover.