12 Places to Inspire Your Inner Gardener Right Now

David Landsel, April 13, 2016
Fares from Washington DC:

    If you're like millions of Americans at this time of year, you pass by your local garden center (or the garden center at your local superstore), note the presence of various blooming things and think to yourself, Oh, hey, that's nice, sure wish I knew the first thing about planting a garden and keeping flowers alive!

    Gardening isn't always easy, particularly if you're in parts of the country where water always seems to be scarce, or you find yourself living in one of those unlucky quadrants where summer sometimes feels like an intermission between lengthy periods of winter. But, as with anything good, the effort is so worth it. All you need is a little inspiration and these twelve spots will have you psyched up in no time.  

    1. Explore Tuscany...without leaving Milwaukee

    A 16th century Tuscan garden – on Lake Michigan? That’s what landscape architect Rose Standish Nichols had in mind while designing the grounds at Villa Terrace, one of Milwaukee’s most stately homes. Even after allowing for the local climate – a touch more extreme than Central Italy, of course – the gardens can be truly transporting as late spring moves into summer. The home is now an elegant little museum, celebrating the decorative arts. ( villaterracemuseum.org)

    2. Walk among the wildflowers in Central Texas

    Just a short drive from the bustle of central Austin, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a Texas-sized tribute to the First Lady and one of her greatest passions. The gardens here showcase native plants of the Texas Hill Country, both in appealing, formal gardens and along winding, scenic trails. ( wildflower.org)

    3. Admire one of the country's oldest Japanese gardens

    The Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle isn’t exactly on the tourist trail, but it holds one of the Emerald City’s most likeable little treasures, the 20-acre Kubota Garden. Planted in the 1920s by a Japanese-American family, it survived years of abandonment when its architects were placed into internment camps during World War II. Later rebuilt and expanded, the Kubota clan maintained the site for decades afterwards, eventually handing it over to the city. ( kubotagarden.org)

    4. Get a taste of island life – way up north

    Summer in Michigan isn’t complete until you’ve at least strolled around the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. A walk on the car-free, 3.8 miles-square island itself is impressive enough, but the formal gardens and woodlands belonging to the iconic resort are definitely the highlight, featuring more than 150 types of flowers, not to mention stands of noble trees and shrubs that have stood for more than a century now. ( grandhotel.com)

    5. Smell the roses at the beach, in Alabama

    Located along a lazy river just before it winds around its last bend and into Mobile Bay, Bellingrath Gardens has been a fixture on Alabama’s tropical Gulf Coast since the dark days of the Great Depression, when the Bellingrath family decided to open the gardens at their fishing camp for a springtime public viewing. An overwhelming response led to the growth of the site visitors enjoy today; anyone interested in planting their own rose garden will find the one here more than a little impressive. ( bellingrath.org)

    6. Plan ahead (for when you make those millions)

    One of the most impressive estates on Philadelphia’s moneyed Main Line is the site of one of the country’s more critically-acclaimed private gardens. Built nearly 100 years ago by pharmaceutical kingpin Adolph Rosengarten, Chanticleer manages to pack a marvelous mix of formal displays on to a bucolic landscape bordered a burbling creek. ( chanticleergarden.org)

    7. Wander through the urban prairie

    Looking to plant a prairie garden? Chicago’s hiding-in-plain-sight Northerly Island is where you want to go. The 91-acre former Meigs Field, out on Lake Michigan, has been rather dramatically reimagined, planted with native grasses and wildflowers that should soon be coming into their own – anyone with more Midwestern backyard than they know what to do with will undoubtedly head home with some new ideas. Simple, as you’ll see here, can at times be extraordinary. ( chicagoparkdistrict.com)

    8. Get high – and get inspired – in Colorado

    From alpine garden to dramatic tropical conservatory, the 23-acre Denver Botanic Garden shows impressive range; not only is it a civilized respite from city life, some of its gardens double as scenic teaching tools for anyone keen on gardening in the many moisture-scarce sections of the west, whether you’re high up in the Rockies or deep down in the desert. ( botanicgardens.org)

    9. Break into Charleston's best gardens – without breaking the law

    Ever wanted to hop the fence into one of Charleston’s many extravagant private gardens? If you wait until the annual Behind the Garden Gate event on May 28 and June 4 - the Charleston Horticultural Society and the city's annual Spoleto Festival join forces to organize this as part of the Garden Conservancy's nationwide Open Days program – you can do it without being arrested. ( spoletousa.org)

    10. Stay includes complimentary garden of your dreams

    For a glimpse of the gardens at the coastal home you've always wanted, book in at the historic Fairbanks House on Florida’s Amelia Island. Located in the quaint town of Fernandina Beach, the inn’s 1885 Italianate villa is the centerpiece in one of the island’s most appealing gardens, featuring modest but sightly arrangements of native plants and shrubbery and a practical but handsome herb garden. ( fairbankshouse.com)

    11. Meet the natives – plants, that is – in the Ozarks' biggest little city

    Upon opening in 2011, the Crystal Bridges Art Museum single-handedly rebranded the town of Bentonville, Ark. – birthplace of Walmart – as one of the region’s most worthy cultural destinations. Many museumgoers, however, overlook Crystal Bridges’ neighbor, the notable Compton Gardens. Accessible from the museum via a pleasant trail, the 6.5-acre garden specializes in plants native to the Ozarks ( comptongardens.org)

    12. In Louisiana, spend a night in the past

    Dripping Spanish moss, fragrant magnolia blossoms, manicured lawns and appealing resort-style grounds set the stage for Louisiana-style romance at Nottoway Plantation, an almost castle-sized, Greek Revival mansion resting on a crooked elbow of the lower Mississippi, near Baton Rouge. In its historic heyday home to one of the region’s most important families, today it’s a relaxed hotel – a little faded, but rich in character. ( nottoway.com)