Though some plants’ colors may peak in the spring and summer months, botanical gardens are year-round destinations with plenty to see and enjoy throughout the fall and winter, from the textured beauty of indoor and outdoor exhibits to pumpkin festivals, harvest events and holiday light displays.
Here, we highlight a few of the country’s most impressive botanical gardens, where groups can enjoy a day immersed in garden splendor.
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
In Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens comprises more than 1,000 acres of gardens, woodlands and meadows, and groups can expect to see something new every time they visit.
“Some of the change is intentional, through our rotating displays and exhibits, and others are just part of the cycles of nature outdoors,” said Patricia Evans, Longwood’s director of communications. “It’s a combination that makes experiencing the gardens unique every time you come.”
Guests will want to make time to enjoy the four-acre indoor conservatory, one of the largest in the U.S., where despite what the weather may be doing outside, 20 indoor gardens ensure that “it’s a flower show every day of the year,” Evans said.
Each fall, the garden hosts the annual Chrysanthemum Festival, which features displays of all 13 classes of mums, many of them trained to grow in extraordinary forms and shapes. “It’s a hallmark of the Longwood experience,” Evans said.
For a touch of winter cheer, groups can enjoy A Longwood Christmas, set this year for November 22 through January 5; it features holiday displays of poinsettias, pinecones, snowflakes and more in the garden’s Grand Conservatory.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
With over 50 acres of gardens — including more than a dozen themed displays and trails, such as a children’s garden, a cherry tree walk, an edible display garden and more — there’s always beauty in bloom at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia.
Though certain areas of the garden may crest in color during spring and summer as perennials fill the grounds, there’s brilliance to behold in the fall and winter months as well.
“We have blooms even through the winter,” said Beth Monroe, the garden’s public relations and marketing director. “Working here, I’ve come to really appreciate the beauty of winter, with the different barks of the trees and the berries and seed pods — there are so many textures to enjoy.”
The garden’s 11,000-square-foot, domed conservatory boasts exotic plants from around the world, from orchids and cacti to palms and tropical specimens. Throughout the year, groups can enjoy special themed displays in the conservatory’s North Wing.
Lewis Ginter’s annual GardenFest of Lights, set this year for November 22 through January 6, is a visitor favorite; the festival features model trains, holiday botanical displays and more than 500,000 holiday lights.
“Our theme this year is Magic in the Air, and our designers incorporate the theme into how they use the lights throughout the gardens,” Monroe said.
Missouri Botanical Garden
On 79 acres in St. Louis, the Missouri Botanical Garden serves as a tranquil oasis in the midst of a large Midwestern city. Its 14-acre Japanese Garden is often cited as one of the best of its kind in the nation thanks to its intricately designed plantings, waterfalls, walkways and islands.
The garden’s Climatron conservatory, a unique geodesic dome first opened to the public in 1960, is home to “thousands of exotic plants, including some critically endangered species not publicly displayed anywhere else in the world,” said John Dedeke, the garden’s content managing editor.
The garden’s Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum, recently reopened following a $1.5 million restoration, allows visitors to enjoy botanical art and natural-history collections from its horticulture and research divisions. The Tower Grove House, home to garden founder Henry Shaw, is also open to visitors.
Outdoors, guests can stroll among more than 51,000 plants, as well as 4,800 trees, some of them dating back to the 19th century.
The garden’s annual Best of Missouri Market celebrates fall with more than 130 local arts and crafts vendors, live music, locally produced foods and even a pumpkin patch.
The winter months are also a great time to visit thanks to the annual Garden Glow event, set for November 23 through January 4, which covers the grounds in more than a million lights and also features a holiday flower and train show.
Cheekwood Estate and Gardens
Each year, more than 225,000 visitors explore the 55-acre botanical garden at Cheekwood Estate in Nashville, Tennessee, where 150,000 blooming bulbs greet guests in spring and a million holiday lights signal the onset of winter.
Whatever the season, guests will want to allow time to explore the stately Cheekwood Mansion, built in 1929 as the home of Leslie and Mabel Cheek. After a major renovation in 2017, many of the main-floor rooms were restored and outfitted with original or period-appropriate furnishings. Upstairs, two galleries host rotating art exhibits throughout the year.
Outside, the grounds boast 12 distinct gardens, among them the Japanese Garden and the Color Garden, which are “always crowd favorites,” said Caroline Jeronimus, Cheekwood’s communications manager.
Another guest favorite is the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail, which features large-scale sculptures hidden among diverse habitats along a wooded trail. “It’s so fun to walk through these wooded passes, and then you’ll stumble upon a sculpture, which are always so special to see,” Jeronimus said. The Sculpture Trail, now closed for renovations, will open in 2020 with improved lighting and paved pathways to increase accessibility.
Fall is one of the most popular seasons to visit thanks to Cheekwood Harvest, which features 5,000 mums in the gardens, a beer garden, a 12-foot-tall pumpkin house and pumpkins for sale.
As Christmas approaches, visitors can enjoy light displays throughout the grounds, as well as special holiday attractions such as reindeer, carolers and a large-scale poinsettia tree. “There’s something unique to enjoy on our grounds at any time of year,” Jeronimus said.
Desert Botanical Garden
One of the top visitor attractions in Arizona, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix greets more than 300,000 guests annually. Given its setting, the botanical garden specializes in cacti and other desert plants, but not just from the American Southwest.
“We have a full horticulture center with climate-controlled greenhouses so that we can accommodate desert plants from all around the world,” said Clare Hahne, the garden’s marketing communications manager. “We have one of the most complete collections of cacti in the world. Visitors will see plants from the Sonoran Desert as well as Australia, South America and Africa.”
Home to more than 50,000 plants, the Desert Botanical Garden actively works to conserve and protect endangered cacti, which — because of illegal poaching — are only slightly behind coral reefs on endangered lists, Hahne said.
Visitors can explore five nature paths that wind throughout the grounds, including the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail and the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail. Guests can also enjoy a 45-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the garden’s Hazel Hare Center for Plant Science, including its 5,300-square-foot greenhouse, as part of their general admission ticket. Private, guided tours of the grounds are also available to groups of 10 or more.
“When people come to visit, they’re enjoying a really beautiful place with wonderful exhibits, but they also know that their admission dollars are also helping this greater cause of preservation,” Hahne said.