Courtesy The Huntington Library Art Collection and Botanical Gardens
Published May 01, 2014
Along with having rare and exotic plant specimens, extraordinary horticultural displays, and exhibits of familiar plants, many of the nation’s premier public and botanic gardens also have some of the country’s prominent historical figures rooted in their soil.
From George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at the United States Botanic Gardens to Henry E. Huntington, a public transportation visionary responsible for shaping southern California, at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, prominent citizens recognized the importance that plants and the knowledge of plants had on the American landscape.
What follows is a list of some of the best garden institutions that can be found from coast to coast. All of the facilities have special events and exhibits scheduled throughout the year, so be sure to visit their calendars of events online before planning your visits.
Bellingrath Gardens and Home
The area that is now Bellingrath Gardens and Home started out as a fishing camp in the early 1900s for Walter Bellingrath, the first Coca-Cola bottler in southern Alabama. As Bellingrath and his wife, Bessie, spent more and more time on Fowl River, the gardening enthusiasts had elaborate horticultural fixtures installed, which the couple opened to the public in 1934. They ultimately decided to build a permanent residence on the site, a stately 10,500-square-foot mansion designed by the innovative Mobile architect George Bigelow Rogers.
“The unique thing about Bellingrath is that the gardens were completely landscaped and open to the public before the home was built in 1935,” said Leslie Schraeder, director of marketing and public relations.
Until his death in 1955, Bellingrath was a familiar face at his gardens, often welcoming guests with a bottle of Coca-Cola. After his passing, the home, with all of its original collections, was also open to the public.
Today, the 65-acre estate has more than two miles of pathways that meander through seven formal gardens, among them the award-winning rose garden, a Bayou Boardwalk, an Asian-American garden, the Great Lawn with its 400-foot-long planting bed, and more than 250,000 azalea bushes around Mirror Lake.
Bellingrath organizers take advantage of nearly every calendar occasion, from Mother’s Day to Halloween to Christmas, with exhibits that include more than 3 million lights in installations created by Bellingrath staff to show off the unusual horticultural displays. Personalized tours with a display coordinator or horticulturalist can be arranged for groups in advance.
Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
San Marino, California
With three art galleries, more than 9 million items on deposit, and 207 acres of property, including 15 formal gardens, the Huntington is a southern California cultural gem that continues to grow. Twelve new facilities have opened in just the past decade.
The property was established nearly 100 years ago by Henry Huntington, a pioneer of early public transportation who contributed to population explosion in the Los Angeles area in the early 20th century. Huntington was the nephew of Collis P. Huntington, a railroad tycoon and one of the Big Four of Western railroading. Henry moved to California while working with his uncle at Central Pacific Railroad and the Southern Pacific Transportation Company. The younger Huntington helped develop many southern California communities to benefit his Pacific Electric Way, including Huntington Beach and San Marino, where his estate, with its libraries and gardens, is located.
Today, some of the facility’s most popular garden attractions are the 100-year-old desert garden and the Chinese and Japanese gardens.
“I don’t know if there’s anywhere else on the planet where you can visit a Chinese and Japanese garden side by side to compare and contrast them,” said Jane Sandmeier, group sales and tour manager at the Huntington.
Sandmeier also said that the Huntington has 150 docents dedicated to group tour programming and that there is a wide variety of tours from which to choose, including an overall estate tour as well as the popular Tea and Tour, which ends with English tea and nibbles in the Rose Garden Tea Room.