My wife and I love to visit gardens. Wherever we live, we are regular visitors to nearby gardens, and whenever we travel, we visit any gardens within reach. Last year we were undecided on where to vacation so decided to select a vacation destination based on gardens in the vicinity. As we researched, we began to wish there was a source that could tell us whether or not a garden was worth basing a vacation around.
Now don’t get me wrong. I really believe every public garden is
valuable and worth visiting. From small, community gardens to large
research facilities, every garden serves a valuable function, but
that function varies widely from garden to garden. Some are small,
serve almost as living community centers, providing locals with a
place to gather, garden, and learn. Many are park-like, providing
places for recreation and relaxation, as well as informal
educational opportunities. Still others are research centers or
conservation centers, even combinations of all of the above. As
more and more of us live urban lives, separated from nature by
glass and concrete, gardens serve as a link to the natural world,
offering us opportunities to experience, enjoy and learn about the
plants that are so vital to us.
Gardens are so diverse in appearance and mission that it is
difficult to evaluate them. How do you compare the magnificently
unkempt landscape of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower
to the carefully
manicured estate at Filoli?
Or the forests of
Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve
to the sparse beauty of
the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum?
I’d like to tell you to visit them all because they are all
wonderful. But few of us have the resources to visit them all, so
need guidance to determine which we need to visit in person and
which can be enjoyed vicariously. By telling you what I think are
the strengths and weaknesses of each I’ve visited, maybe I can help
First, I should warn you that I do have my own strong opinions
about what is good and bad in gardens. I think a cornerstone of any
public garden is education so in general I favor good signage. Of
course there can be too much, but in general I’m for it. I’m also
strongly in favor of identification signage on plants. I know some
people think it detracts from the aesthetic, but learning the names
of things is the first step in education. You can’t teach someone
to cook without teaching them the names of the ingredients, and if
you took the labels off everything in your cupboard, it might be
more attractive but I don’t think it would improve your
I strongly dislike seeing dead or dying plants on display, unless
there is a clear reason for leaving it, or a sign explaining it.
I’ve heard people say “It’s okay to leave this dead plant because
it shows %#&$”. The problem is, what it’s showing is not clear
to most people, they only see a dead plant. I know manpower is in
short supply at most gardens and there may not be time or money to
take down the dead oak tree, but I’ve seen dead perennials, that
would have taken seconds to remove, remain in place for weeks. It
makes me think I’m paying more attention to the plants than the
I also have my own prejudices, likes and dislikes that are not as
rational as those above. For instance, I prefer open vistas to
dense woods; I prefer naturalistic gardens to formal gardens; I
prefer interesting form to beautiful flowers. However, I have loved
every garden I’ve ever been to, so my prejudices are not blinding.
I hope my comments will help you find gardens to visit, and will
foster a greater appreciation for those you do visit.
This site is a
travelogue of gardens we've visited. It includes photos and
At the bottom
of each page is a place for you to leave comments. Feel free to let
others know what you think of the garden or the review.
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