Pop art displayed among floral blooms, a royal garden cultivated for a king, and a Japanese-style sanctuary reimagined for the craggy coast of Maine. Consider seeking out these best botanical gardens rooted to Opal destinations for a much-needed breath of fresh air.
A Downtown Oasis of Flora…& Pop Art: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens [Sarasota, FL]
No, it’s not a mirage. Although, it certainly feels like one given that this 15-acre property – packed to the gills with tropical and subtropical plants – appears like a botanical oasis in the middle of downtown Sarasota. While most visitors rave about the Towering Bamboo Garden, the Children’s Rainforest Garden, the Koi Pond, and the Mangrove Bay Walk, if you’re traveling to the area between now and the end of June (2021), do not miss their latest Jean & Alfred Goldstein Exhibition Series. This annual series features different master works of art – like botanical-related pieces by Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, Andy Warhol, and Salvador Dali on loan from major art institutions around the world – woven into the spaces of the gardens. The current exhibition, titled “Roy Lichtenstein: Monet’s Garden Goes Pop,” is a floral tribute to the legendary pop artist, whose screen prints based on Monet’s world-famous paintings of water lilies and haystacks are a sight to behold among the already mesmerizing landscape.
One of America’s Oldest Cultivated Landscapes: King’s Garden [Ticonderoga, NY]
Located just under a 50-minute drive north of Bolton Landing, in Ticonderoga, sits a stately public garden – actually the largest in the Adirondack and Lake Champlain region and one of North America’s oldest gardens to date. Yet, it sometimes gets skipped over. That’s because most who visit the area are there to take in the neighboring legendary Fort Ticonderoga. But this six-acre garden, lined by beautiful brick walls and interwoven with pathways, is just as worthy – not just for its 32 colorful flower beds, historical herb garden, reflecting pool, and teahouse, but for its history as a place where everyone from the American to the French and the British planted flowers, herbs, and vegetables since the star-shaped fort’s inception in 1755. In fact, cultivating plants was such an important part of the duties of soldiers stationed here, at one time, the acreage dedicated to the gardens was larger than the fort itself.
Where to Stay The Sagamore Resort
A Floral Showcase of 10 Different Gardenscapes: Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens [Port St. Lucie, FL]
Centered around a lake with a fountain on 20 acres in the heart of Port St. Lucie (located a 22-minute drive from Jensen Beach), this city sanctuary is best known for the way it roles a plethora of different garden scenes and landscapes into one truly walkable wonder. We’re talking a total of 10 unique gardens for exploring, everything from a cactus and succulent garden to an exclusively orchid-only plot (featuring 100 different rare and exotic varieties) to a butterfly garden, packed with scores of butterfly-, bee-, and hummingbird-attracting plants that serve as a year-round haven for the winged creatures.
Where to Stay Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa
A Garden Built for the People by the People: Merryspring Nature Center [Camden-Rockport, ME]
It’s not unusual to see a fellow green thumb roll up their sleeves and drop to their knees mid-stroll through this 66-acre park to do a little firsthand dead-heading and weeding. In fact, visitors are also welcome to collect seeds, ask for cuttings, or purchase plots to manage themselves. Such was the vision of Mary Ellen Ross, a local horticulturist who had attained national recognition through her mail-order plant business, when she first founded this Camden-Rockport sanctuary in 1974. Today, with 500 members and thousands of visitors each year, we’d say she succeeded in creating a place where horticulture could be studied and enjoyed. But, it turns out that it isn’t just the locals who love the four miles of walking trails, the arboretum, herb garden, children’s garden, greenhouses, and more, but the white-tailed deer, barred owls, ruffed grouse, and a wide variety of butterflies and songbirds – all common wildlife spotted throughout the park – are just as big fans, too.
Where to Stay Samoset Resort
A Japanese Stroll Garden Represented in a Coastal Maine Setting: Asticou Azalea Garden [Northeast Harbor, ME]
Part of a trio of amazing estate gardens you can find on Mount Desert Island, this Northeast Harbor sanctuary may be small – at approximately 2.3 acres in size – but it’s intended to create the illusion of a space much larger for the way it causes patrons to constantly pause at the carefully placed benches throughout. Styled after a Japanese stroll garden with connecting pathways anchored by water features, it’s planted with a combination of azaleas (Maine’s own native azaleas and a unique purple variety from the mountains of Japan), rhododendrons, various conifers, and other Maine-hardy plants. A flowering cherry tree heralds the start of the season in mid-May, followed by the vibrant azaleas and rhododendrons in June and Japanese iris, smoke bush, and fragrant sweet azalea in July; concluding with the blooming water lilies in August before erupting into a blaze of fiery colors in fall.
A Jungle Haven of Plants You’d Encounter Only on Caribbean Islands: Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden [Key West, FL]
Things take on a bit of a “wild” vibe at this 15-acre haven of tropical and native plants, located on Stock Island at the edge of New Town. Not just because the garden itself is intentionally left unmanicured and trimmed, unlike most public botanical gardens, but because of the unique, rare, and out-of-this-world plant species you’ll come face to face with while strolling the labyrinth of boardwalks. Take, for example, the unusual specimen of the Cuban petticoat palm, which resembles a palm tree wearing, well, a feathered petticoat (Elton John would be jealous). But what might be even wilder is the freshwater pond, where a flotilla of resident turtles magically surface when they hear the sound of chimes being played by staff.