America’s Best Botanical Gardens, Part 1: The West

In our new series, we look at the best botanical gardens in America. This gallery focuses on gardens in the West.

© The Huntington

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Photo by Adam Rodriguez

Desert Botanical Garden (Arizona)
On the list of cool places to have a botanical garden, the Sonora Desert is near the top. The natural appeal of the setting, combined with the fact that it is among the finest specialized gardens in the world, makes the Desert Botanical Garden special.This 145-acre garden boasts one of the biggest collections of desert plants anywhere. Dedicated to showcasing, researching, and conserving desert flora, the Garden displays over 50,000 plants, including 139 that are rare, endangered, and threatened. Many birds and butterflies also live here, making it alluring to nature lovers of all stripes. Five thematic trails highlight different aspects of the desert: Desert Discovery features international plants; Plants and People of the Sonoran shows how native plants are useful; Harriett K. Maxwell trail is dedicated to desert wildflowers; Steele Herb Garden exhibits desert herbs; and Sonoran Desert Nature emphasizes the relationship of plants and animals.

Courtesy Scott Dressel-Martin

Denver Botanic Gardens (Colorado)
The Denver Botanic Gardens strayed from the path of conventional gardens when it opened in the 50s. Instead of bringing in exotic plants, which people were beginning to realize could turn into devastating invasive species, it focused on native plants and environmental responsibility, making it among the first gardens in America to do so.Today, DBG has spread to three locations: Mount Goliath, Chatfield, and the original Denver location. All three offer unique and exciting possibilities. Mt. Goliath blends cultivated wildflowers with the natural appeal of the Rockies. Trails, wildlife, and more await at Chatfield. The central location is just 10 minutes from downtown Denver, making it highly accessible to urban gardeners. All are models of drought tolerance and climatically appropriate gardening.

Courtesy Red Butte Garden

Red Butte Garden (Utah)
At almost 100 acres, Red Butte Garden (RBG) is the largest botanical garden in the Intermountain West. It is appropriately named, as it sits at the mouth of Red Butte Canyon, and it’s steep mesas rise to create the most spectacular decorative rocks that one might ever find in a garden.RBG is a center for horticulture and learning. Some guests come for the advice, classes, and workshops, while others come simply for the sights. And there are plenty—floral and art exhibits, concerts, festivals, tons of trails and more. A great reason to visit RBG is the biannual plant sale, where guests can buy a diverse variety of native Utah plants.

© The Huntington

Huntington Botanical Gardens (California)
Due to the vision of financial entrepreneur Henry Huntington, Southern California is home to one of the best cultural centers in the country. His former estate (called The Huntington) houses an expansive collection of rare books, manuscripts and art. It attracts scholars from all over and provides educational programs to 12,000 students a year, but perhaps the greatest legacy of the railroad tycoon is the land on which his estate sits.Known as the Huntington Botanical Gardens, these grounds are a 200-acre wonderland of over 14,000 different plant species. The different thematic gardens, which range from Lily Ponds to Desert, create so many facets to this place that visitors experience something new every visit—even if they’ve come for years. Something is in bloom year-round in this warm-weather locale, which was originally a working ranch.

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  1. The Phoenix Botanical Garden is such an asset to the Valley. Love going and attending the many fine shows they host.


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