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10 beautiful botanical gardens to explore

Diverse themed areas at the Missouri Botanical Garden include the Boxwood Garden. Photo by Nathan Wambold/Missouri Botanical Garden

Botanical gardens of all sizes, whether in urban centers or more rural areas, offer visitors serene sanctuaries brimming with sensory delights.

These verdant landscapes not only captivate the botanically inclined, but they also offer opportunities for the entire family to hike, glimpse wildlife, learn about art or history, or be immersed in conservation efforts and native plant life. These 10 botanical gardens in the Midwest and South are sure to pique your interest.

 1. Jungle Gardens

Avery Island, Louisiana

Chinese temple

A Chinese temple graces the lush landscape at Jungle Gardens. Photo courtesy Louisiana Office of Tourism

Semitropical gardens blanket 170 acres of Avery Island, which is renowned for producing Tabasco sauce. Nonetheless, these gardens are the island’s most dazzling feature. The collection of bamboo—some bearing colorful stripes, others reaching more than 50 feet tall—is especially impressive, as is a giant, 300-some-year-old Buddha statue nestled in a serene Chinese garden.

Flocks of egrets resting on wooden overwater platforms

Glimpse snowy white egrets in Bird City at Jungle Gardens. Photo courtesy Louisiana Office of Tourism

Don’t miss ambling along the Woodland Trail for its picturesque display of hundreds of camellias. Bird-watchers are infatuated with these gardens to possibly see snowy egrets, great blue herons, and other water and wading birds. Adult combo tickets are $15.50 and include admission to the gardens and the Tabasco factory and museum tour.

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2. New Orleans Botanical Garden

New Orleans

Statue of people sitting on metal benches

Discover statuary as you wander through New Orleans Botanical Garden in New Orleans City Park. Photo courtesy City Park Conservancy

What began as a simple rose garden in the 1930s was reimagined over time into the New Orleans Botanical Garden. This 10-acre oasis in New Orleans City Park now brims with thousands of plants from around the world. Roses still can be found in the popular Parterre Rose Garden with its brick paths and waterlily-laden reflecting pool.

New Orleans Botanical Garden's Conservatory of the Two Sisters

Explore a tropical rain forest in the New Orleans Botanical Garden's Conservatory of the Two Sisters. Photo courtesy City Park Conservancy

The Conservatory of the Two Sisters is home to a tropical rain forest dripping with flora from warm regions of the world, as well as a section dedicated to prehistoric plant life.

Art lovers will enjoy the garden’s sculptures. Renowned Mexican-American artist Enrique Alferez created most of these works using limestone, cast iron, and other materials. Adults, $12; free admission on Wednesdays for Louisiana residents with valid ID.

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3. The Crosby Arboretum

Picayune, Mississippi

Pinecote Pavilion

While exploring 3 miles of trails at the Crosby Arboretum, visit the stunning Pinecote Pavilion. Photo courtesy The Crosby Arboretum

As you stroll along 3 miles of trails through The Crosby Arboretum’s grounds, you’ll come away with an appreciation for the Gulf Coast’s landscape. At its heart, the 104-acre Native Plant Center preserves plants indigenous to the Pearl River Drainage Basin ecosystem and displays an array of habitats.

As you explore, stop into the award-winning Pinecote Pavilion, a cathedral-like open-air gathering place designed by famed architect E. Fay Jones.

Wander around wetlands, across a boardwalk where you’ll spot pitcher plants and other carnivorous flora that thrive in a bog, and along an Ethnobotany Trail that offers insights into how plants are used for tools and medicine. A short loop trail circles a savanna area that resembles what early European settlers would have found here. Adults, $5.

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4. Garvan Woodland Gardens

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Couple admiring the view from the Garvan Woodlands Gardens modern treehouse

A modern treehouse rises above the Garvan Woodlands Gardens' landscape. Photo courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism (ADPHT)

Spread along the banks of Lake Hamilton, Garvan Woodland Gardens aims to preserve and protect part of the Ouachita Mountains’ natural environment. Encompassing some 200 acres, the site is home to the Garden of the Pine Wind, regarded as one of the country’s loveliest Asian gardens. Numerous ornamentals dot this 4-acre landscape, including Oriental dogwoods and Asian maples.

A signature element of the garden, the Bridge of the Full Moon’s circular underpass takes inspiration from bridges found in China.

Bridge of the Full Moon

The signature Bridge of the Full Moon at Garvan Woodland Gardens. Photo courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism (ADPHT)

The Evans Children’s Adventure Garden especially captivates families. Among its highlights is a multi-level modernist tree house tucked in the forest canopy for a bird’s-eye view of the natural landscape. Adults, $22.

You may also like: A guide to visiting Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas

5. Botanical Garden of the Ozarks

Fayetteville, Arkansas

Visitors to the 42-acre Botanical Garden of the Ozarks will find plenty of inspiration for landscaping their homes. The stream, pools, cascades, and lichen-draped rocks in the Rock and Water Garden replicate what you’d find in the Ozarks. In the Butterfly House, native spicebush, swallowtails, and monarchs flit about. There you’ll learn what plants attract these winged creatures.

Woman and 2 children walking through the Sensory Garden

The Sensory Garden at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks appeals to all 5 senses. Photo courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism (ADPHT)

Plants such as catmint (the crushed leaves smell like sage) and fuzzy-leafed lamb’s ears awaken your senses in the aptly named Sensory Garden. You’ll find respite even in the heat of the summer. Cool off under magnificent umbrella magnolias and other trees in the Shade Garden, as well as along the running creek in the Ozark Native Garden where witch hazel and Illinois bundle flowers grow. Adults, $10.

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6. Missouri Botanical Garden

St. Louis

Japanese Garden

Stroll over the water via bridges and walkways in the Japanese Garden. Photo by Kent Burgess/Missouri Botanical Garden

Several themed gardens make the Missouri Botanical Garden a must visit. The 14-acre Japanese Garden is dreamy in the spring, when dozens of cherry and plum trees display their delicate pink and white blossoms. It encircles an expansive lake you can enjoy from striking bridges and walkways.


The Missouri Botanical Garden's Climatron is home to a world of tropical plants. Photo by Kent Burgess/Missouri Botanical Garden

Wander amid tropical rain forest plants in the Climatron, an award-winning glass dome that serves as the 79-acre site’s signature structure. The secluded Carver Garden honors agricultural scientist and inventor George Washington Carver with a life-size bronze near a reflecting pool.

Other notable features include a museum, a restaurant, and the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, where you can gather tips to turn your thumb green. Adults, $14; entry for St. Louis residents is $6 with proof of residency.

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7. Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

Overland Park, Kansas

Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

Amid the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens' 300 acres, discover meticulous gardens, trails, open prairies, and a lake. Photo courtesy City of Overland Park, Kansas

Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens delights lovers of wildflowers, from native columbine to jack-in-the-pulpit. Discover a host of colorful blooms along almost 6 miles of trails wending through 300 acres. Traversing open prairie and forested hills, the paths skirt Wolf Creek, limestone bluffs, and groves of oak and hickory.

Monet Garden

A palette of soft colors decorate the Monet Garden. Photo courtesy City of Overland Park, Kansas

Birders strolling the half-mile Cottonwood Trail may spy red-winged blackbirds amid the avian assortment. Rest—and maybe spot any of 10 turtle species—beside Margaret’s Pond. The 1-acre Monet Garden brims with a cornucopia of colors, much like the paintings the French artist created in Giverny. Adults, $3.

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 8. Mizzou Botanic Garden

Columbia, Missouri

University of Missouri Columbia

Most of the University of Missouri Columbia campus is classified as a botanical garden. Photo by Hanna Caldwell

With nearly all of the University of Missouri (MU) campus designated a botanical garden, you’ll have plenty of horticultural wonders to discover. As part of the Mizzou Botanic Garden, 3 Tree Trails meander amid the school’s buildings and showcase the many tree species that populate the mid-Missouri campus. Among the examples native to the state are sour gum, pawpaw, and hackberry.

In all, 18 Gardens of Interest showcase such blooms as phlox, coneflowers, irises, and lilies.

Don’t miss the Beetle Bailey Garden where switchgrass, red day lilies, and other plants decorate a space occupied by a statue of Bailey, a cartoon character created by Mort Walker. A 1948 MU graduate, Walker frequented a popular student hangout known as The Shack, and the garden also honors that nearby bar that burned down in 1988. Garden admission is free.

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9. Azalea Path Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

Hazleton, Indiana

Azalea Path Arboretum & Botanical Gardens waterfall

Enjoy the sight of thousands of azaleas and cascading water at Azalea Path Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. Photo courtesy Gibson County Visitors & Tourism, Inc.

Admire thousands of azaleas—one of the Midwest’s largest such collections—on display in the 35-acre Azalea Path Arboretum & Botanical Gardens in southwest Indiana. This garden is open only in April and May, when the more than 300 azalea varieties blossom. Numerous benches are scattered along the meandering paths, including one beside a lake that reflects the vibrant azalea hues in its still waters.

Your senses also will be tantalized by the sight of lilacs, dogwoods, and unusual trees like Japanese umbrella pines. The sound of cascading water and birdsongs from wrens, turtle doves, and others provide a soundtrack for your visit. Plus, notice some once-damaged trees transformed into figurative sculptures by artistic chain saw carving. Admission, $5.

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10. Gardens at SIUE

Edwardsville, Illinois

Gardens at SIUE The Lantern

The Lantern, an Asian-inspired wooden pagoda, overlooks a lake at the Gardens at SIUE. Photo by Howard Ash/SIUE Campus Photographer

A living laboratory on the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus, the Gardens at SIUE features 36 acres of display areas focused on specific, and sometimes unexpected, themes. A half-mile paved loop links the gardens, including a restored natural prairie coated with purple coneflower and myriad other colorful native plants that once blanketed large sections of Illinois.

Marvel at the kinetic works set in motion by the wind in the Hardy Family Wind Forest. The spinning double helix resembles the genetic structure of DNA.

Linger in a pine grove at The Lantern. This serene Asian-influenced wooden pagoda glows at night thanks to LED-generated lights built into the structure. And rosemary, iris, and lavender—a few of the plants mentioned in William Shakespeare’s works—grow in a garden dedicated to the prolific playwright. Admission is free.

Jeanine Barone is a freelance writer from New York.

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