Wandering, Wondering, Noticing…

I’ve found my favorite travel activity and I want to share it with you.  I’m here to raise a cheer for nature, for plants and trees, flowers and bees, squirrels and butterflies.  Not in a zoo, not on a screen saver or in a mall but the real item with the sights, smells and surprises in a natural setting. Traveling that includes a visit to local gardens is traveling of the soul enriching kind.  If you want to get a feel for the locale and landscape   while doing good for your spirit, look for life in a garden.

While it is traditional and fun to visit high spot locations in traveling to new places they can be crowded, chaotic and stressful.  After a night on Beale street in Memphis, a walk through the Memphis Botanical garden gives you a feel for the veranda view of the South.  The Ft. Worth Stockyards in Texas imagines a cow town and the Dallas Botanical Gardens is quite a different Texas.  Once you visit the Rose Bowl in Pasadena a stroll through nearby Huntington gardens gives you have a sense of why California is such a favored place to live.  The National Parks are beautiful but a medium difficulty 9-mile hike won’t have many benches. Add in loose rocks, wild animals and extreme weather and connection with nature can be difficult to manage.

There is little encouragement from typical travel planning for you to propose a garden visit especially to teens and grade schoolers when amusement parks and beaches beckon but nature can nurture and until we are taught to notice what is right in front of our eyes we can miss glorious small beauty.  Gardens are easy places to learn to notice things.  As you wander garden paths, gazing up into the architecture of tree branches and sky, feet crunching on gravel paths you reconnect with earth.

Why seek out a garden?  “America’s Public Gardens are extraordinary places,” says the American Horticultural Society’s 2 vol. guide to America’s public gardens. Public Gardens, parks, historic estates, and botanical collections in glass house offer endless fascination and inspiration. Uncrowded, affordable, accessible and endlessly varied these spaces are destinations in themselves.  Incorporate them into a family road trip, a hurried business trip, or a spontaneous vacation and you have traveling in a quiet place, with beauty all around and after a brief visit it will allow you to continue your travels refreshed and inspired.

Nature is accessible in a garden. Curious three year olds can scamper about in relative safety.  Pre-teens can wander at their own speed, teens can hang back surveying the group hiding their interest as teens often need to do.  Grandma can find a spot to sit and survey a landscape in detail. The Garden keeps you close to many helpful services and provides a tamer environment.

Still there is much to discover, Little ones crouch close to the ground and find nuts, pretty rocks, beetles and bird feathers.    Preteens can feed the Koi in the ponds and cool off from fountain spray straying in the wind.  In the Dallas BG giant Bronze frogs spray streams of water designed for children to slip and run between.  Squeals of surprise entertain everyone when the runner misjudges and is hit by the spray.  A six foot king snake inky black and lying under a bridge in the sun can impress many a skeptical teen.

In gardens you get a connection to the green glories of the area as you step away from the asphalt, the concrete and the cash registers.  In the south Live Oak trees reach into the sky, during late spring in Illinois acres of peonies open in glorious colors, in Mississippi, Crepe Myrtle trees of smooth greenish brown elegant trunks rival Audrey Hepburn in a designer gown. Portland’s Japanese garden provides shades of green and creates a calm quiet space. Nature’s peacefulness gives you the song of leaves rustling, birdcalls and frogs in chorus.   In every location throughout this country gardens represent what area residents see, feel and hear in going about their days.

Gardens often develop from land of former grand estates.  Each owner influences the design and collection of plants in the garden.  The Robert Allerton Park in Illinois has a tree lined walk with 22 Chinese ceramic fu dogs on 5’ pedestals along the path. The Dallas Botanical includes the 22 acres of the Everett DeGoyer home, a man who loved gardens though physics was his professional success to such extent he is recognized by his peers as “the father of applied physics.”  His home now available for conferences and special events also includes a patio café that allows you to imagine the life that was lived here.  In St. Louis, Henry Shaw, former hardware entrepreneur, turned philanthropist and botanist by hobby forms the basis of the Missouri Botanical Garden.  The Oakhurst Gardens meander through the gardens of the Ball family homes in Muncie, IN.

In all of these grand places the homes of the period and the styles of the architecture add to the possibilities of discovery when wandering through a garden.

Gardens in themselves are greatly varied, a Botanical Garden, a rose garden, a topiary garden, a prairie walk in tall grasses with a pheasant running across your path.  Gazebos, pavilions, fountains, vistas, waterfalls, ponds, bridges and sacred spaces each garden has something unique.

Garden guides are available in many formats, print guides by region, AAA travel guides intersperse major gardens in among other attractions, and websites give details, directions and highlights.

Go wandering in a garden, find a spot to sit and experience stillness, inhale the smells of dirt, flowers and moss.  Step away from the rush; wear comfortable shoes, sunscreen and a hat.

Oh, if you must have a souvenir, there is usually a gift shop on the way out.

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