This month begins the ninth year of A Traveling Gardener, wandering, wondering, noticing. . . and I want to thank all of my readers who have been encouraging, interested, and appreciative of my garden stories. I hope you have been inspired to visit more gardens when you travel. I went into my archives and found the first story of exploring the world through gardens. My enthusiasm has only increased as I travel to these wonderful places. I am sharing that original article with you and including update resources for finding gardens all over the world.
The first column:
I’ve found my favorite travel activity and I want to share it with you. Public gardens, parks, historic estates, and botanical collections in glass houses provide endless fascination and inspiration. As you wander garden paths, gaze up into the architecture of tree branches and sky, feet crunching on gravel paths, you reconnect with earth. 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, not animated or digitized, but real, feet on the ground, sights, smells, and surprises in natural settings. While it is traditional and fun to visit high spot locations when 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 is a Texas cow town and the Dallas Botanical Gardens quite another. Once you visit the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a stroll through Huntington Gardens gives you a sense of why California is such a favored place to live.
“America’s public gardens are extraordinary places,” says the American Horticultural Society’s two volume guide to America’s Public Gardens. 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.
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.
Why seek out a garden? 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.
In the Dallas Botanical Garden giant bronze frogs spray streams of water designed for children to splash about and run between. Squeals of surprise entertain everyone when the runner misjudges and is hit by the spray.
In gardens you connect 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, in Illinois acres of peonies open in glorious colors, in Mississippi, Crepe Myrtle trees of elegant, smooth, greenish-brown trunks rival Audrey Hepburn in a designer gown. Portland’s Japanese garden provides shades of green creating 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.
Seasonal changes help transition our pace internally if we give the out of doors a chance to work its magic. Gardens have their best days just like people and if your visit doesn’t correspond to the perfect moment there is still so much to see.
Many gardens provide enclosed spaces too. A conservatory, those enchanting glass houses create a microclimate with exotic blooms from around the world. Variety is increased by special exhibitions arranged by garden staff. Out in the garden sculptures of ceramic work, stone, and metals pop up among the plants while inside, exhibitions of photographs, paintings, and fibers are a bonus to your visit.
In Phoenix in summer, the Desert Botanical Garden offers the “garden after dark” to give visitors the view of night blooming cactus and croaking calls of bullfrogs.
No garden is alike or typical ranging from a botanical garden, a rose garden, a topiary garden, or 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.
Go wandering in a garden, find a spot to sit, experience stillness, and inhale the scent of flowers, soil, and moss. Step away from the rush; wear comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and a hat.
The American Horticultural Society http://www.ahs.org/gardening-programs/rap
If you belong to your local botanic garden, check to see if they participate in the AHS Reciprocal Membership program. If so, your membership will give you free entrance to over 300 gardens throughout North America. This includes such well known gardens as the New York Botanical, Missouri Botanical, Los Angeles, Chicago and many more.
I Love Gardens http://www.ilovegardens.com is a state by state guide of all gardens known within each state. You will find name, address, a brief description and link to garden website. This site also lists the gardens of Ireland.
The Garden Guide’s Garden Finder site is based in the United Kingdom and lists gardens from 66 countries around the world. It provides a remarkable finder feature which allows you to search for gardens in the vicinity of your destination. The site includes descriptions, reviews and garden web links to allow you to research the destination. http://www.gardenvisit.com/gardens
My Traveling Gardener website is also searchable by key words. Notice on the right side of my page is a search box. Search by garden name, state, or country to see if I have written about a garden you are hoping to visit.
Once you have your garden destination identified, another great resource is Google Maps. It locates the garden and offers images to show you what you might expect when you reach your destination.
If you aren’t ready to pack then you can travel courtesy of YouTube and the BBC2, Around the World in 80 Gardens with Monty Don. Read about that series here.
If watching video isn’t your first choice then pick up Vivian Swift’s newest book Gardens of Awe and Folly. A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening. This watercolor illustrated volume explores nine gardens from around the world. I have written a review you may read here.
A Kindle resource in Ebook is my book, A Traveling Gardener, A Collection of Essays and Photographs Celebrating Gardens Near and Far