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North Hills Monthly

Visiting Botanical Gardens Great Way to Get Back to Nature

Apr 01, 2018 09:33AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Vallarta Botanical Garden

After a long and rainy winter, there’s nothing better than seeing dainty crocuses peeking out of the ground, or noticing how small buds are beginning to appear on the trees. Even if you’re not a gardener, it’s invigorating to see flowers and plants returning year after year, symbolizing that spring is finally on its way.

Even in tropical climates where blooms don’t disappear over the winter, there’s something wonderful about being surrounded by lush foliage and the perfume of hundreds of plants. This is why when I travel, I try to make a point of visiting an area’s arboretums or botanical gardens—not only is it interesting to see what grows in different areas, but it’s also a great way to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature and even get a little exercise.

When you visit the West Virginia Botanic Garden in Morgantown, WV, walking is part of the pleasure since the garden sits among 85 wooded acres and has five marked trails, each less than a mile. The trails loop into each other, so you can make your walk as long or as short as you'd like. Within the garden, you can see a wide variety of different plant species, and unlike some more formal gardens, you really feel like you’re getting out in nature as you wander through the alder groves or admire plants in the wetland meadow; it’s definitely wild, wonderful West Virginia at its best. There’s also a cool eco-sculpture of a red-tailed hawk made out of branches that’s worth a look; I happened upon a snake sunning underneath it while admiring it, so watch your step if you want to get up close. The garden is free and open to the public from dawn to dusk.

Speaking of nature’s more startling creatures, the North Carolina Botanical Garden has one of the best collections of carnivorous plants in the Southeast. In addition to sundews, butterworts and pitcher plants, they also have a number of Venus Flytraps, which are much, much smaller in real-life than what you’d expect after seeing Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. I guess it’s all relative if you’re an insect. One of my favorite areas was the Mercer Reeves Hubbard Herb Garden, where you not only get to see the plants in a natural setting but can read about all of the ailments that they cure. The garden is free and open to the public Tuesday-Sunday.

One of the things that I like about the Arboretum at Penn State, also known as the H.O. Smith Botanic Garden, is that it exists as a massive oasis in the middle of campus. Though 75,000 people live and work in the area, you’d never know it once you enter this serene space where you can stroll among a wide range of plants and flowers, ranging from a rose and fragrance garden to a tropical grove. I think my favorite space was the Zen-like Oasis Garden and Lotus Pool, though if you’re looking for something more lively, just follow the sound of laughter to the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden where kids are exploring nature up-close. The garden is open from dawn to dusk every day, and admission and parking are free.

While you’re in Pennsylvania, you should also visit Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, the 1,083-acre garden founded by Pierre S. du Pont. While this is a more expensive attraction at $23 per ticket, it’s well worth it to visit the stunning Orchid House, where roughly 300 orchids out of the 6,200 grown on the grounds are on display. There are exhibits for every interest, including a Bonsai display, and spring is the perfect time to visit to see more than 240,000 tulips in bloom during the month of April. The Italian Water Garden also opens in mid-April, so make sure to visit the website to reserve your timed ticket. And definitely take your phone; not only are there incredible photo ops, but you can follow an interactive map that shares highlights of each attraction.

Speaking of orchids, there are more orchids found in Jalisco, Mexico than in any other Mexican state, which is just one of the reasons why it’s worth it to visit Vallarta Botanical Garden, located about 30 minutes outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. While it’s hard to tear yourself away from the gorgeous beaches in this area, it’s definitely worth drying yourself off to spend a day at this 64-acre paradise, located 1,300 feet above sea level. There are numerous hiking trails that wind their way through hundreds of native plants, and when you get hot (and you will), you can wander down the hill to take a dip in a cool mountain stream. There is also a wonderful restaurant on-site, so you can rehydrate and re-energize before continuing your wanderings. You can take an inexpensive city bus to get to the gardens, and at only 200 pesos ($11) to get in, it’s well worth a visit. 

To learn more:

West Virginia Botanic Garden 

North Carolina Botanical Garden

Arboretum at Penn State (H.O. Smith Botanic Garden)

Longwood Gardens:

Vallarta Botanical Garden: