Bucket List Gardens | Desert Botanical Garden


This content originaly published in the Garden’s Summer 2019 Sonoran Quarterly.

If you are looking for a summer adventure this year and feel comfortable with travel, consider these bucket list botanical gardens the U.S. has to offer.

Best of all, as a Desert Botanical Garden member, you score free admission through the reciprocal admissions program to almost all of these locations. Now is the time to check these gardens off your list. Be sure to visit each Garden’s website to see their current safety measures before coordinating your visit.

The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens 

We know you love deserts and their plants, so this was a no-brainer for our list and just a quick 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The Huntington Library, art collections and botanical garden are known for many things, from a 15th century Gutenberg Bible to Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of The Blue Boy to a classical style Chinese Garden. Among all its treasures, one of the most famous is its collection of cactus and succulents. The Huntington’s 10-acre Desert Garden showcases more than 2,000 different species. Hundreds more reside in the Desert Garden Conservatory and nursery. The Desert Collections are the institution’s most important botanical research and conservation collection, containing a number of species that are now extinct. Click here to learn more.

Huntington Desert Garden

You came to Hawai’i for its stunning beaches, but it offers great botanical gardens too. Each is maintained with lush, indigenous flora, as well as exotic plants and trees from across the world. Located on O’ahu, Ho’omaluhia has a 32-acre lake, from which you can do catch-and-release fishing, framed by sprawling lawns, ideal for picnicking and relaxing. If time allows, there are three botanical gardens in O’ahu so check them out during your trip. Click here to learn more.

Ho'Omaluhia Botanical Gardens

A trip to the Big Apple offers endless options of things to do. If you are looking for a way to step away from the hustle and bustle of the city, New York Botanical Garden is just what you need. This 250-acre oasis located in the Bronx has more than 1 million plants in more than 50 gardens. Garden highlights include the historic, Victorian-style glass house, offering a world tour of 11 distinct plant habitats. Click here to learn more.

New York Botanical Garden

With 79 acres of gorgeous displays, the country’s oldest botanical garden is especially lovely in summer when so many beautiful flowers are blooming. Stop to smell the roses in one of their two exquisite rose gardens. Marvel at one of its several water lily pools, home to some of the largest variety of water lilies in the world. Explore the rainforest within the Climatron, or the Mediterranean atmosphere of the adjoining Temperate House. Stop in the Japanese Garden to take in some tranquility, or stroll through the Victorian District. Kids of all ages can have a blast in the Children’s Garden, which features splash pads, climbing areas, a cave, slide, steamboat and hands-on activities. Click here to learn more.

Missouri Botanical Garden

Sweet fragrances wafting in the warm breezes will remind you of dreams of paradise when you visit Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in  Miami. Walk under the exotic Vine Pergola with dozens of beautiful flowering vines, including ones with sky-blue or jade-green and even  candy-corn-hued flowers. Visit the Tropical Flowering Tree Arboretum to discover the allspice tree with quilted leaves smelling of the warm spice. Walk along the Lougheed Spiny Forest of Madagascar and find yourself in a land of bizarre and beautiful plants collected by Fairchild scientists from around the globe. Click here to learn more.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, features a 158-acre main campus, including Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory. The Victorian gardens showcase bronze sculptures by Edgar Degas and Auguste Rodin, a carnivorous plant house and a 1,900-seat outdoor amphitheater, featuring an eclectic mix of world-renowned musicians every summer. The internationally acclaimed Sculpture Park features a permanent collection, including works by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, Ai Weiwei and Jaume Plensa. Click here to learn more.

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

San Diego is a favorite vacation spot for Phoenicians, but how many of you have made a stop at the San Diego Botanic Garden? If not, this summer is your chance and a great stop for families with small children. San Diego Botanic Garden is a beautiful urban retreat nestled on 37-acres in the midst of Encinitas. Visitors enjoy restful vistas, flowering trees, majestic palms and the nation’s largest bamboo collection. Thanks to mild Southern California climate, 5,000 plant species from all over the world thrive here. Its diverse topography provides a wide variety of  microclimates, giving visitors the sensation of strolling through a tropical rainforest to hiking in the high desert. Four miles of trails wind through 29 themed gardens, including the acclaimed Hamilton Children’s Garden. Click here to learn more.

San Diego Botanic Garden

Denver Botanic Gardens’ living collections encompass specimens from the tropics to the tundra, showcasing a plant palette chosen to thrive in Colorado’s semi-arid climate. Each summer, the Gardens present an outdoor sculpture exhibition by renowned artists, including Dale Chihuly, Alexander Calder, Deborah Butterfield and Henry Moore. A summer concert series allows guests to experience live music from local, national and international artists in a beautiful setting surrounded by flowers and art. Click here to learn more.

Denver Botanic Garden

This Japanese Garden features a strolling pond, tea garden, sand and stone garden, flat garden and natural garden. The reasons for building this Japanese garden were twofold: providing the citizens of Portland with a garden of great beauty and serenity while forging a healing connection to Japan on the heels of World War II. At this time in U.S. history, Japanese gardens were founded across the country as a way to build cultural understanding. Needing no translation, visitors can experience firsthand Japanese ideals and values communicated simply through nature. Click here to learn more.

Portland Japanese Garden

Members of Desert Botanical Garden can use their membership to visit over 300 Gardens and Arboreta across the country. Here are a few more suggestions if your summer plans include a road trip to one of our neighboring states:

Red Butte Garden, Salt Lake City, Utah
Springs Preserve Botanical Garden, Las Vegas, Nevada
Santa Fe Botanical Garden, Santa Fe, New Mexico

For a full list of all participating Gardens, click here.