Landscaping Inspiration from Public Gardens

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates
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Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo by Carole Coates.

When my husband and I escaped our cold climate for a week in Florida’s panhandle in early February, one of our first stops was the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee. Since the Maclays made Florida their home from January to April, Mrs. Maclay insisted on being surrounded by plants that would bloom during that time. (Small fee.)

I came away with a new inspiration and the determination to landscape our property so we will have continuous color as many months as our climate will tolerate. That got me thinking.

I love to visit public gardens. Though those properties are planted on a grand scale, they are chock full of ideas we everyday humans can scale to our own needs. And garden features can be found in all sorts of places: zoos, college campuses, city and state parks, sculpture gardens, historic homes, and even cemeteries. We found a fascinating topiary garden open to the public in a small-town in South Carolina.

The Daniel Boone Native Gardens are not only in my back yard (so to speak); they feature flowers and trees that grow naturally in our local environment. What could be easier than selecting local, native plants to grace your landscape? (Small fee.)

My state has more than two dozen public gardens for me to wander, dream, and photograph to help me plan my own garden spaces. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens, on the grounds of Duke University in Durham, have so many features, it’s impossible to take them all in during one visit. That’s a good thing because each season brings its own charms. With an Asiatic arboretum, a carnivorous plant bog, a woodland garden, a moss garden, and nearly two dozen other sections, a garden aficionado is bound to find plenty of inspiration for a home landscape. (Free; small parking fee.)

Urban Gardens

Yet, at fifty-five acres, it’s small-time. The Bronx’s 250-acre New York Botanical Garden. It boasts eleven different plant habitats right in the heart of the city. (Fee) And the Chicago Botanic Garden clocks in at 400 acres. (Free; parking fee.)

New York’s Central Park is the iconic urban garden. A much smaller and newer urban garden would surely win the Sow’s-Ear-to-Silk-Purse award. (Free) Still under development, but operational since October, Louisville’s Waterfront Botanical Gardens are built atop a former landfill. (Free.)

You can find yet another fine urban garden example with Nova Scotia’s Halifax Public Gardens, the oldest Victorian garden in North America. If I worked in downtown Halifax, I’d spend every seasonable-weather lunch hour there. (Free.)

Halifax Public Gardens, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Themed Gardens

Does art inspire you as it did for the developers of Topiary Park in Columbus, Ohio? The garden’s sculptured greenery is a living reconstruction of Georges Seurat’s famous pointillist painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. (Free.)

Looking for an interactive children’s garden? Try Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, rated by the Travel Channel as one of America’s best public gardens. (Fee.)

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Another garden to make the Travel Channel’s cut is the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. A perfect palette for Southwesterners to draw from, it features only desert plants—50,000 of them! (Fee.)

If roses are your thing, you can’t beat the International Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. Literary gardeners will find inspiration in the park’s Shakespeare Garden. (Free.)

Balboa Park in San Diego has fifteen themed gardens, such as the Spanish-themed Alcazar Garden. (Free). Find authentic Asian horticulture in the Furman University Asia Garden in Greenville, South Carolina. (Free.)

Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego, California. Photo by Carole Coates.

Chocolate garden, anyone? Not to mention iris! Check out the Swan Lake Iris Gardens in Sumter, South Carolina. (Free.)

Quilting gardeners will be wowed by the quilt garden at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, also home to a world-renowned bonsai exhibition garden. (Free; parking fee.)

Quilt Garden, North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville, NC. Photo by Carole Coates.

And More

The United States Botanic Garden was part of George Washington’s vision for the young nation’s capital city. On the grounds of the Capitol, it is one of oldest botanic gardens in North America. (Free.)

I long to visit Longwood Gardens, 30 miles from Philadelphia near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. But I’ll be sure to take a good pair of walking shoes. At more than 1,000 acres of gardens, meadows, and woodlands, Longwood has everything from fern to Mediterranean to tropical to silver gardens. I want to see them all! (Fee.)

Time to get busy planning. How about you? Where do you take your garden inspiration?

Carole Coatesis a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, and modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog postshere. You can also find Carole atLiving On the Diagonalwhere she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.


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