Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Travelling For

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The North American Garden Tourism Conference, held in Toronto from March 13 to 15, 2017, has announced the winners of the 2017 Garden Tourism Awards: the ‘Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Travelling For’. Garden Tourism Awards are presented to gardens that have distinguished themselves in the development and promotion of the garden experience as a tourism attraction.

“In the spirit of highlighting North America’s most dynamic garden experiences and in consultation with a North American jury, we are honored to announce the 2017 recipients of the ‘Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Travelling For’ Garden Tourism Awards,” said Michel Gauthier, Executive Director of the Canadian Garden Council and Chair of the North American Garden Tourism Conference.

2017 Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Travelling For

Here are the winners in alphabetical order. Unless otherwise stated, all gardens are open year-round.

Chicago Botanic Garden

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Chicago Botanic Garden. Source: atramos, Flickr

This large, 385-acre (156-hectare) garden in the Chicago suburbs is mainly built on 9 islands in a small lake and includes 27 demonstration gardens, including a water garden, a coniferous collection, greenhouses, a vegetable garden, and many others. Undoubtedly the most famous of its gardens is the Japanese garden.

Address: 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, Illinois. Free admission. Paid parking. For further information: www.chicagobotanic.org

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

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Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Photo: Damahevi, Wikimedia Commons

This walled Chinese garden of 0.3 acres (0.12 hectares), established in 1985 and 1986, is the first classical Chinese garden to be built outside China. A visit will show you a landscape garden dominated by rocks and fountains, bamboos and oriental plants, ponds and Chinese pavilions. It is located in the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Note that Secret Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems, published by National Geographic, considers this garden the best urban garden in the world!

Address: 578 Carrall Street, Vancouver, British Columbia. Paid admission. Information: vancouverchinesegarden.com

Hershey Gardens

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Children’s Garden, Hershey Garden. Photo: MamaGeek, en.wikpedia

This 23-acre (9.3 hectare) botanical garden and arboretum was offered to the town of Hershey (near Harrisburg, capital of the state of Pennsylvania) by the “Chocolate King”, Milton S. Hershey, in honor of his wife, Catherine. The garden is renowned for its vast rose garden including some 7,000 rosebushes of 275 varieties and its butterfly aviary. The Children’s Garden, with its 30 themed gardens where children can play at will, is very popular with families.

Address: 170 Hotel Road, Hershey, Pennsylvania. Paid admission. Information: www.hersheygardens.org

Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca

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Etnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca. Photo: Kaldari, Wikimedia Commons

This garden occupies 5.5 aces (2,3 hectares) behind Oaxaca’s Santo Domingo Church on the site of a former convent and is renowned for its vast collection of cacti and succulents native to the Mexican State of Oaxaca.

Address: Corner of Reforma and Constitution, Oaxaca, Mexico. Paid guided tour only (in Spanish, English or French). Information: jetnobot@prodigy.net.mx

Halifax Public Gardens

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Halifax Public Gardens. Photo: Laura LaRose, Flickr

Established in 1867, the Gardens remain today the best preserved Victorian public park in North America, since they have been essentially maintained as is over their entire 150-year history. There are lawns, ponds, streams, bridges, a music kiosk, numerous flower beds and spectacular trees in the 16-acre (6-hectare) gardens. They are open from April to November.

Address: 5665 Spring Garden Rd, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Free admission. Information: www.halifaxpublicgardens.ca/

Las Pozas

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Las Pozas. Photo: Rod Waddington, Wikimedia Commons

Created by eccentric British poet Edward James between 1949 and 1984, this garden mixes surrealist structures and gigantic sculptures with tropical plantations, all cut into a jungle dotted with waterfalls and rushing streams. Nearly abandoned for many years, the garden is now almost entirely restored.

Address: Camino Paseo Las Pozas, Barrio La Conchita, Xilitla, Mexico City. Paid admission. Information: xilitla.org

Long View House and Gardens

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Long View House and Gardens. Photo: Navin Rajagopalan, Flickr

This historic mansion is surrounded by 8 acres (3 hectares) of gardens. The mansion is unusual in that it offers 4 different facades, each with a garden in a very different style. The most famous garden is undoubtedly the Spanish court, with its ponds and fountains reminiscent of those of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Long View is considered the ultimate work of one of the first female landscape architects, Ellen Biddle Shipman.

Address: 7 Bamboo Road, New Orleans, Louisiana. Paid admission. Information: longuevue.com

Reford Gardens

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Reford Gardens. Photo: laidbackgardener.wordpress.com

This is a 20-acre (8-hectare) English-style garden of, established between 1926 and 1958 by Elsie Reford on the site of her family’s fishing camp. It includes some 3,000 species, including the famous Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betoniciflora), the garden’s emblem. It is also the site of the annual International Garden Festival, an exhibition of contemporary landscaping. The garden is open from June to October.

Address: 200 Route 132, Price, Quebec. Paid admission. Information: www.refordgardens.com

San Diego Botanic Garden

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San Diego Botanic Garden. Photo: Bovib, Wikimedia Commons

This 37-acre (15-hectare) botanical garden was formerly known as Quail Botanical Gardens. It includes more than 3,000 species and varieties of plants, including the largest collection of bamboo in the United States. There is a succulent garden, a rainforest, a Mediterranean garden and a garden dedicated to Californian native plants. The large conservatory currently under construction is due to open at the end of 2017.

Address: 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, California. Paid admission. Information: www.sdbgarden.org

Tucson Botanical Garden

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Tucson Botanical Garden. Photo: laidbackgardener.wordpress.com

This 5.5-acre (2-hectare) botanical garden includes 16 residentially-scaled urban gardens linked by a path. Thus you wander from discovery to discovery as you visit. There is a Zen garden, a prehistoric garden, a butterfly garden, a children’s garden and, above all, a garden of cacti and succulents designed to represent the nearby Sonoran Desert.

Address: 2150 N Alvernon Way, Tucson, Arizona. Paid admission. Information: www.tucsonbotanical.org


I’ve visited most of these gardens and the award is truly well-deserved: they are indeed worth travelling for. I hope you’ll get a chance to visit some of them, if not all of them, sometime soon!

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Let’s Bring Back A Forgotten Spring Beauty

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A carpet of Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’ in the Villa Bagatell gardens in Quebec City.

When I first moved to Quebec City 40 years ago, I was astounded by the vast carpets of white flowers that appeared each spring in its older estate gardens. After a bit of searching, I found out the plant’s name: Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’, a double version of the wood anemone. As time went on, most of the old estates were carved up into suburban lots, the soil was carted away and the flowers were lost. Still, there are a few estates that were preserved at least in part and where the “carpet of snow” effect is still very present, like Villa Bagatelle in the Quebec City suburb of Sillery (now a public garden). Reford Gardens, on the Lower St. Lawrence, also has some stunning wood anemones… although they bloom about two weeks later.

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Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’

I will confess I actually stole a few rhizomes from Villa Bagatelle… and I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty. After all, at the time, it had been abandoned for over 30 years, the fence had collapsed and there were no signs telling anyone to keep out. I didn’t even know that the tottering neoclassic building had a name! Every move I’ve made since then, I’ve planted a few rhizomes in my new garden, leaving behind me a trail of snowy white footprints to mark my passage.

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Anemone nemorosa ‘Robinsoniana’

But the wood anemone doesn’t just come in white (although good ol’ double white ‘Vestal’ is the only variety I’ve found in old gardens). There are pink, violet, blue or green forms, with single, semi-double, and double flowers, plus there are close relatives with yellow flowers (A. ranunculoides, in buttercup yellow with single or double flowers and A. x lipsiensis, a cross between A. nemorosa and A. ranunculoides, with lemon yellow flowers). I grow about 20 varieties around my place and they are just spectacular.

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Anemone ranunculoides

The wood anemone  is native to central and northern Europe. It’s a small plant only 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) high. Each bears a single stem, three deeply cut, dark green leaves and one upright-facing flower with yellow stamens. At least, they face upward on sunny days. In gray weather, they bend downward and remain closed.

The plant first forms a dense clump, but it gradually widens, thanks to its skinny wandering rhizomes, eventually forming vast colonies. The foliage is very attractive and persists for a while after flowering, producing a wonderful temporary ground cover. Temporary, because it disappears completely in summer.

The Perfect Woodland Flower

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Anemone nemorosa ‘Rosea’

As the common name suggests, the wood anemone is a forest plant. It typically grows under deciduous trees where it can get some sunshine in the spring. It remains totally nonplussed by “dry shade” (spaces full of tree roots that dry out in summer). If you grow it under conifers, make sure it’s in a spot that gets some spring sun.

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Anemone nemorosa ‘Blue Eyes’

It prefers soils rich in organic matter and fairly moist in spring, but will in fact grow in almost any soil. It is also indifferent to summer droughts because it is fully dormant at that season. And it is much hardier that it is usually given credit for. Most sources say it is hardy to USDA zone 5… but I live in USDA zone 3 (AgCan zone 4) and can assure you these plants are fully hardy here. After all, it they’ve been growing all on their own in abandoned gardens for a century or more (Quebec City’s estates date back to the mind 19th century), they’re hardy! Given that its native range extends into the boreal forests of Scandinavia, the wood anemone might well be even hardier that that.

When does the wood anemone bloom? Let’s just say “mid to late spring” and leave it at that. It will bloom whenever mid to late spring is locally. Here that is late May to mid June (it blooms for about 3 weeks, much longer than most bulbs), but for most people, it will flower much earlier than that: in April or even March.

Not Available in Your Local Garden Center

Garden centers rarely if ever offer wood anemones. Its awkward habit of going summer dormant means its pot will look empty for much of the season (how much would you spend on an apparently empty pot?), yet if they try to sell it dry as a bulb, the fine rhizomes look more like sections of dead stick than a proper bulb. I can recall the first time I ordered wood anemones by mail and my shock at how unimpressive they were. Scrawny little brown things: I was sure they were dead! Still, I planted the stubs and up they came the next spring… and every spring thereafter (wood anemones are absolutely permanent).

The result is that this great spring bulb is almost never offered locally and even most bulb catalogues won’t handle it. You need to go to specialist nurseries. I get mine from Fraser’s Thimble Farms, a Canadian company that ships to the US. British gardeners are much luckier: many of their nurseries offer the various cultivars. Order wood anemones in spring or summer for fall delivery… and get started on your collection of wood anemones without delay!