Virginia Terry has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the Ohio State University and currently resides in Columbus working as a freelance horticultural consultant and floral designer.

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Take a Garden Tour Vacation
by Virginia Terry    

Entering the long corridor of spring blooming tulips, delphinium, columbine and snapdragons at Longwood Gardens is an exciting moment.

If you have a strong desire for traveling and a love of horticulture, you may want to consider visiting some premier gardens on your next trip. Our country has numerous exceptional horticultural gardens that are worth going out of your way to explore. I am going to highlight some of my favorites in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and hopefully you will have the chance to work these gems into your travels this year or in the near future.

Starting in the east, just about an hour north of New York City, outside the small Hudson River Valley town of Cold Springs, is Stonecrop Gardens. Stonecrop was originally the home of Anne and Frank Cabot, and in 1992 became a public garden directed by Caroline Burgess. Stonecrop is not just your typical garden. Here you will find plant collections that include unusual plants such as false anemone (Anemonopsis macrophylla), a rare clump-forming herbaceous perennial originating from Japan with “love at first site” nodding lavender blooms in August through late-September. The display gardens at Stonecrop cover 12 acres and have a diverse collection of gardens and plants including woodland and water gardens, a grass garden, raised alpine stone beds, cliff rock gardens, and an enclosed English-style wall garden. Not only do these gardens show what can be achieved by horticultural enthusiasts, but they also serve as an educational resource. I visited Stonecrop Gardens in the autumn and was thoroughly impressed, but I would recommend going at any time of the year. Spring, I have been told, is particularly stunning. Visit for more information.

Stonecrop Gardens (Photos by Robert Gray.)

Wave Hill in New York is a garden that I have not yet visited but it is definitely on my list of horticultural treasures. A public garden and cultural center in the Bronx overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades, Wave Hill is a 28-acre space that encompasses horticulture, education and the arts. Visiting the website of Wave Hill alone will quite possibly make your heart skip a beat (, so imagine what emotions an actual visit may evoke. The website allows you to click through photos of all four seasons of its 15 gardens. The collections are a phenomenal mix of unusual plants, designed in a creatively artistic manner. Plantsmanship and aesthetic sensibility are truly achieved in the gardens at Wave Hill, making Wave Hill a horticultural must see!

Wave Hill (Photos by David Berkowitz.)

If you are a garden enthusiast and haven’t been to Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, Penn., I suggest it is time! Located just outside of Philadelphia, Longwood Gardens is a world renowned, premier botanical garden founded by Pierre S. du Pontin the early 20th century. Longwood’s rich history is equally as fascinating as the gardens themselves. Anytime of the year is a great time to visit. Even during winter, which is when I visited, the conservatory is bursting with color and interest from an array of exotic plants while the outdoor gardens are filled with tons of winter interest. I also happened to visit again at the beginning of May and was blown away by the expansive display of 5-foot tall foxgloves and continuous beds of tulips, columbine and snapdragons in full bloom. The woodland garden was carpeted with the fragrant white flower spikes of foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) in full bloom. Due to the size and depth of Longwood Gardens, an individual, especially a plant lover, could spend multiple days at the gardens and still not see everything. It was truly a magical experience for both me and my 7-year-old nephew. Visit for more information.

Mass plantings of 6-foot tall foxgloves are just one of the many sites to enjoy in the spring at Longwood Gardens.

The color palette changes to warm colors with the use of columbine, tulips and snapdragons at Longwood.

A large naturalized area in the woodland garden at Longwood is in full bloom with foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia).

There is also fun for children at Longwood Gardens.

The topiary garden at Longwood adds a whimsical element to your visit.

Chanticleer is another amazing garden not too far from Longwood Gardens. It is a much smaller scale garden but equally impressive. Visit

Next on the list of essential gardens to visit is the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Ill., near Chicago. Again, there is so much to be said about this horticultural gem, so a paragraph does not do it justice. Forty years ago the garden opened and has matured into one of the world’s great living museums and conservation science centers. Situated on 385 acres just north of downtown Chicago, the 26 gardens and four natural areas are visited by about a million people each year. The garden is also renowned for its bonsai collection. Intensive plant collections, creative landscape design, and artful seasonal displays attract the plant enthusiast and keep them coming back again and again. I had my second visit to the CBG last June and was re-inspired in my love of horticulture.

While in downtown Chicago, visit Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden. This 5-acre rooftop garden pays homage to the city’s motto “Urbs in Horto” (City in a Garden). It is an urban oasis designed by many talented designers, with the perennial planting design by the influential Dutch garden designer, nurseryman and author Piet Oudolf. The premise of the garden is a focus on sustainability with the majority of the plants being native to North America and some even native to Illinois. My breath was taken away when I stepped foot into the space. Massive drifts of purple and blue Salvia sp., white plumes of knotweed (Persicaria polymorph), white blooming Baptisia sp., numerous varieties of Allium sp., and the towering foxtail lilies (Eremerus sp.) blooms all blended into a wonderful painting of natural beauty.

A formal garden at Chicago Botanic Garden contains wisteria in full bloom and tightly clipped boxwood hedges.

White flowering Baptisia sp. mixes well with Eryngium sp. and several different varieties of Salvia sp. in the Lurie Garden.

Finally, the Missouri Botanical Garden (MoBot), located in St. Louis, has a phenomenal horticultural collection, with emphasis on education and research. Any avid gardener that visits MoBot will find a day isn’t quite enough time to cover everything you would like to see. One of my favorite areas was the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, an 8-acre demonstration garden containing 23 distinct residential-scale gardens that showcase great ideas for gardening with perennials, shrubs, annuals and edibles. Another favorite garden area of mine was the horticultural therapy garden that is designed to be utilized especially by the elderly and those with disabilities. This type of garden has many sensory plants including plants of fragrance and plants with lots of texture for touching. Also, MoBot has many notable plant collections including magnolias, camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons, flowering cherries and orchids. Like the previously mentioned botanical gardens, there is something of interest throughout the entire year.

Blown glass balls float amongst water lilies and water-platters on a pond at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Within the demonstration gardens at MoBot is a hosta collection at the foot of an interesting architectural element.

There are many quiet, restful areas at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

This summer annual display at MoBot includes ornamental peppers with purple foliage (foreground).

This is not an exhaustive list of the many wonderful gardens on the East Coast and Midwest, but it is a sampling of some of my favorite gardens and some of the best known for excellence in horticultural practices and superb plant collections. I think you will be pleased when you visit any of these beautiful living art collections. Happy travels!

Photos courtesy of Virginia Terry unless otherwise noted.


Posted: 05/28/14   RSS | Print


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