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Garden Tours with TAP

Botanical gardens and conservatories do more than promote horticulture; they offer sanctuary, showcase art and promote peace. Travel Alliance Partners (TAP) highlights gardens where travelers can indulge in more than the wafting scent of roses or the flicker of butterfly wings. Several TAP tours take travelers on garden tours where they can watch artists blow glass, meet a carillonneur and even stand in two countries at once.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Richmond, Virginia

The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Although it’s a relatively new garden compared with some others, the property’s history “is much older,” said Beth Monroe, public relations and marketing director.

With mature trees covering the 80-acre site and Ginter’s original 1894 Lakeside Wheel Club, now called the Bloemendaal House, being used for events and office space, “we have the feeling of being a much older estate,” she said.

A classical 64-foot dome tops the 11,000-square-foot, glass-walled conservatory, which houses both permanent and seasonal displays. Butterflies Live! is an annual butterfly exhibit where visitors can see “colorful and showy tropical butterflies,” and the gardens are draped in holiday lights during the Dominion GardenFest of Lights, which runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving until mid-January.

Visitor favorites include the Fountain Garden, which has a pluming water feature surrounded by colorful and vibrant flowers, and the Island Garden, which has a variety of carnivorous plants. The rose garden is another crowd favorite, with about 1,800 individual rosebushes that horticulturists specifically selected for their fragrance. Many modern rose species have been bred to be disease and pest resistant, and they have lost much of their fragrant scent in the process. Gardeners chose European varieties that retain their natural perfume, so “you smell it before you see it,” Monroe said.

Guided group tours are available, and the garden also offers group dining options, such as a lunch buffet or boxed lunches. The E. Claiborne Robins Visitors Center houses a cafe and gift shop and includes bus parking and a group entrance.


Longwood Gardens

Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

Longwood Gardens has more than 1,000 acres of gardens, woodland and meadows, four of which are “under glass,” said communications manager Patricia Evans.

The conservatory building houses about 20 gardens that feature plants from around the world. The Tropical Terrace highlights plants from the Amazon. The Cascade Garden features flora from South America. The Silver Garden has only gray- and silver-plumed foliage.

“I like to call it a walk around the world,” Evans said. “Guests should not miss the conservatory; it’s truly one of the grandest in the world.”

The conservatory is also home to what Longwood is best known for: its horticulture displays. Special exhibits, such as the Chrysanthemum Festival that opens in late October, focus on “raising horticulture to an art form,” Evans said.

“We emphasize the display of horticulture; we showcase ordinary plants in extraordinary ways,” she said.

Longwood also offers daily tours and talks that are free for guests, so many groups “just let their folks explore the gardens as they like,” Evans said. For example, gardeners are now giving daily talks about which of the garden’s water lilies bloom during the day, which ones bloom at night and which ones are edible.

“We engage our horticulturists to share their knowledge and expertise with the guests,” Evans said.

Outside, the 86-acre Meadow Garden opened in June. Although there has been a meadow garden on-site since the 1970s, a road that divided the property was recently moved, joining the two parcels and doubling the size of the meadow. Longwood added trails, bridges, boardwalks and pavilions, as well as interpretive placards, Evans said.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.