Advocates of the plant kingdom, gardens combine the best of art and nature. Garden tours not only give groups a chance to unwind, but also to unveil the learning botanists and horticulturalists in all of us.
At the following six oases, new discoveries await among foliage ranging from cherry blossoms to cacti and wildlife ranging from exotic butterflies to rare hummingbirds.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
An urban oasis preserving a collection of rare and elegant tropical plants, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a global leader in the study and conservation of plants. The site was originally the home of William and Marie Selby, who wanted it to be an escape from the busyness of the day-to-day grind. Today, groups can browse through nearly 15 acres with 12 buildings, seven being greenhouses, that overlook the Sarasota Bay.
“For groups visiting who are not familiar with tropical plants, a tour will introduce these different plants and share why they’re important in our area,” said Mischa Kirby, director of marketing and communications at the gardens. “We have bananas and pineapples growing along with many other tropical plants. The shade of the nearly 100-year-old banyan tree grove is especially popular.”
Groups can take a guided tour of three key areas: the glass house conservatory, the bayfront grounds and the Museum of Botany & the Arts. Groups may also encounter the vibrant Butterfly Garden, a popular stop among visitors.
Longue Vue House and Gardens
New Orleans, Louisiana
The historic estate boasts 8 acres of scenic gardens, a world-class house museum and an interactive Discovery Garden. Philanthropists Edgar and Edith Stern created Longue Vue House and Gardens from 1935–1942. The Sterns envisioned Longue Vue as a place for beauty, education and community.
“We hope that Longue Vue allows visitors to enjoy its beauty, but also to learn something new about themselves through exploration of the site and the Stern legacy,” said Marguerite Andrews, director of marketing and communications at Longue Vue. “It is our goal that they walk away refreshed and inspired.”
Longue Vue’s gardens hold a significant place in horticulture design history in the United States, all thanks to Ellen Biddle Shipman, “the dean of American women landscape architects.”
“Groups tend to be interested and energetic about their topic of choice and we love it when groups are excited to be here and take advantage of all that there is to learn,” Andrews said.
Group rates are offered for 20 or more guests, and tours must be booked at least two weeks in advance.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Charleston, South Carolina
Founded in 1676, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens has witnessed centuries of rich American history. It’s the oldest public tourist site in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
“I love to see the look of wonder and delight on the faces of our visitors when they see the beautiful moss-laden trees and the wonderful vistas at Magnolia,” said Sharon Newton, group sales manager at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.
Groups can choose up to five different tours of the plantation and gardens, with one being self-guided. Both the tram and house tours are the most popular among adult groups, Newton said. Group rates are offered for 15 or more visitors.
When meandering through the gardens, groups will encounter camellias, daffodils, azaleas and other varieties of seasonal flowers.
“Magnolia is a ‘romantic garden’, which was designed to look as if Mother Nature designed it, not man,” Newton said. “We hope our guests feel a sense of history here, as if they had stepped back in time — our garden opened to the public in the 1870s.”
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Fort Bragg, California
More than 160 species of birds can be spotted at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, where 47 acres of botanical bliss front the Pacific Ocean. And thanks to a mild marine climate, tours focus on blooms year-round.
Tours reveal the history of the land, as well as the gardens’ wildlife. Organizers also can coordinate group Mushroom Walks in winter; Rhododendron Walks in spring and early summer; Natural History & Collections Walks in spring through fall; and bird watching with the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society year-round.
“The gardens’ organic demonstration vegetable garden is probably my favorite spot to visit any time of year,” said Roxanne Perkins, marketing coordinator at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. “There is always something blooming and something delicious brewing below ground. It is especially fun to visit at around noon each Monday and Friday, when staff and volunteers are cleaning up the fresh produce we harvest twice weekly to donate to Fort Bragg Food Bank. We donate between 5,000 and 7,000 pounds per year.”
Discounts are available for groups of 12 or more. Docent-led tours must be reserved at least two weeks in advance.
Las Vegas, Nevada
The 8 lush acres of the Springs Preserve’s Botanical Garden are filled with native and desert-adapted plants that may cause visitors to reconsider their interpretation of desert landscaping. It’s also home to a seasonal butterfly habitat and a full-size, internationally awarded solar home exhibit called DesertSol.
“Springs Preserve has so much to offer that a guided tour is really the way to go for an in-depth experience, especially in the Botanical Garden,” said Dawn Barraclough, public relations representative at Springs Preserve.
Tours of the Botanical Garden are led by desert gardening experts — a master gardener or a member of horticultural staff. Groups learn how to design sustainable landscapes for their homes and extend living space into the outdoors.
“The Botanical Garden is a living representation of how resource awareness and conservation can be beautiful and functional,” Barraclough said. “With thought to design and environment, sustainable landscapes can be created where we can experience a new way of living in harmony with our natural environment.”
Portland Japanese Garden
Celebrated as one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan, the Portland Japanese Garden unveiled its $33.5 million Cultural Crossing expansion last year.
“Built upon the organization’s celebrated legacy, this step forward honors the beauty and tranquility of the five traditional gardens,” said Erica Heartquist, communication specialist at Portland Japanese Garden. “This makes room to welcome the hundreds of thousands of guests from around the world who flock to the garden to experience the essence of nature and spirit of peace.”
The centerpiece of the expansion is a Cultural Village, which offers visitors an immersive experience in traditional Japanese arts through activities, performances and demonstrations.
Led by volunteer guides, private tours walk groups through five different styles of Japanese gardens, spanning more than 800 years of history and landscape design.
The garden does not have motorcoach parking; groups are advised to contact Explore Washington Park to plan an alternative unloading and parking site.
Tour reservations must be made at least three weeks in advance and are available for groups between 10 and 30 people.
Article by Cortney Erndt and Kelsey Smith