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America’s Best Botanical Gardens to Visit this Holiday Season

There’s nothing like the crisp sound of walking in fresh snow. Or enjoying an early morning snowfall while deer run through your background. There’s a lot of great scenery that comes with winter. But one of the worst parts of the season is how plant life vanishes. The trees are empty and barren. Flowers struggle, even indoors. There’s a reason it’s referred to as “the dead of winter,” after all. Fortunately, for those looking to reconnect with flora, America is full of wonderful and fascinating botanical gardens. In no particular order, here are some of the standouts.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

LEWIS GINTER BOTANICAL GARDEN (Richmond, VA)

For families with young kids, the major draw of the Lewis Ginter Gardens is the interactive children’s area. The main attraction is a giant tree house, which is universally accessible for little ones of all abilities. There’s also the Asian Valley garden, with zen gardens and a collection of Japanese maples.

Running November 23-January 7, visitors can enjoy the Dominion GardenFest of Lights Illumination, which uses one million lights. The garden is also decorated with hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, and a fire with s’mores and hot chocolate. According to the website, this year’s theme will “re-interpret well-known works of art in a spectrum of sparkling color, inviting guests to discover how sculpture, dance, music, and paintings are informed by the natural world.”

Atlanta Botanic Garden Reindog Parade

ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDEN (Atlanta, GA)

Orchid fans rejoice: the largest collection of the dainty flowers can be found in Atlanta year-round. There’s also a sizable rock garden, an outdoor kitchen, and a 600-foot-long canopy walk. During the holidays, they also host their annual Garden Lights, Holiday Nights exhibition, complete with a train show featuring a larger ride-on version for the kids to enjoy.

Besides the annual Garden Lights, Holiday Nights exhibition,  ABG hosts its ever-popular Reindog Parade. Only on this special occasion are dogs welcome in the gardens, showing off their holiday costumes. Your pooch can compete for the top prize or just show off their finery and pose for a photo with Santa.

New York Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show Photo Credit: Robert Benson Photography

NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN (NYC)

One of the few plants unaffected by the cold are conifers such as evergreens. If you wish to experience these beauties and enjoy a bit of exercise, the ornamental conifers of the NYBG are sure to please. For those who’d rather not be out in the cold, the Victorian-style conservatory has rotating exhibits year-round, including art displays.

From November 17th through January 21st, NYBG offers the Evergreen Express. This train ride takes kids through trails to learn about evergreen shrubs, then returns to the Discovery Center for more education. As guests warm up inside, they can make an evergreen “swag bundle” to take home as a holiday decoration.

DALLAS ARBORETUM AND BOTANICAL GARDENS (Dallas, TX)

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes their botanical gardens. The Children’s Garden features a 20-foot waterfall. The fall festival creates a pumpkin village, complete with cottages made of gourds and squashes. The trial gardens host an annual Plant Trials Field Day to celebrate new accomplishments in breeding and gardening.

For fans of the classic holiday story The Twelve Days of Christmas, there’s no better experience than the Arboretum’s Twelve Days of Christmas at Night. Beginning mid-December and running for (you guessed it) 12 nights, the gardens stay open late so guests can view light up displays depicting the song in exquisite detail. Other lights are strung throughout the garden to complete the magical atmosphere.

United States Botanic Garden

UNITED STATES BOTANIC GARDEN (Washington, DC)

Like the Smithsonian museums nearby, this hidden gem is free. And it is largely dwarfed by the larger institutes surrounding it. But that doesn’t leave the garden without merit. Established by Congress in 1820, one of the main attractions is a collection of ferns dating back to its founding. That’s in addition to the prehistoric ferns in the Garden Primeval.

Now through January 1, 2019, the Conservatory hosts Season’s Greetings: All Aboard! which showcases historic railroad stations across the country. They will also stay open late to host their holiday concert series. Tuesdays and Thursdays in December, groups like Dial 251 for Jazz and the Capital Hearings serenade you with new takes on holiday standards. Each concert, except the Capital Hearings, begins at 6 and ends at 8. There is limited seating, but each show is free!

Photo Credit: Chicago Botanic Garden

CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN (Glencoe, IL)

If you’re interested in bonsai, the Chicago Botanic Garden has 185 reasons to visit. It’s also utterly massive at over 400 acres of gardens, conservatories, and paths. The CBG is considered a living museum with special efforts being made to preserve endangered plant life. There’s even an island in the middle of a lake.

Learn how to make gingerbread with the Joyful Gingerbread class at the CBG. For an hour and a half, guests of all ages will bake their own gingerbread from scratch and decorate them however they please, while learning what plants go into the tasty treat. Who knows, you may become an expert gingerbread baker and want to enter the annual contest happening at our next botanical garden…

Photo Credit: Franklin Park Conservatory

FRANKLIN PARK CONSERVATORY AND BOTANICAL GARDENS (Columbus, OH)

While there are a few outdoor exhibits here, most of the plants in Franklin Park can be found indoors, making it ideal for winter visits. The Palm House hosts exotic and endangered palms for around the world, and the Chihuly Collection showcases the glassblowing work of Dale Chihuly. There’s also a food truck that uses ingredients grown on-site.

Running through January 2, 2019, Conservatory Aglow will place light installations throughout the conservatory and every year they host an Annual Gingerbread Competition. While most years have a theme, this year’s theme is the participant’s choice, meaning entrants (there are separate categories for professional and novice) are only limited by the visions dancing in their heads.  Every entry will be on display during the holiday season.

Missouri Botanical Garden

MISSOURI BOTANICAL GARDEN (St. Louis, MO)

A 14-acre Japanese garden is among the highlights of this garden, which also is home to events year-round. Guests also have the opportunity to explore founder Henry Shaw’s estate home, built in the 1850s. With 79 acres total, there’s no shortage of plants and places to discover. Of course, another spotlight is the ever-fascinating corpse flower with its yearly bloom and… intense smell.

From November 17th through January 1st, MBG is celebrating the holidays with Garden Glow. During this celebration, the gardens are lit up with over a million lights, creating stunning photo opportunities. Tickets to Garden Glow also include admission to the Gardenland Express Holiday Flower and Train Show.

Phipps Conservatory, Photo Credit: Paul G. Wiegman

PHIPPS CONSERVATORY AND BOTANICAL GARDENS (Pittsburgh, PA)

Phipps boasts having one of the greenest buildings in the world, with their Center for Sustainable Living meeting four green certifications. The Tropical Forest Conservatory features waterfalls, towering trees, and the sounds of the jungle. This year, the focus for the holiday train show also celebrates their 125th anniversary.

If seeing the lights in person isn’t enough, you can also purchase a pair of Holiday Hologram Glasses that, according to the Phipps website, use “holographic diffraction to reveal festive snowflakes while looking at…LED displays.” All lights used for the Holiday displays are energy-efficient LEDs, which secures Phipps a place on Santa’s “Nice” list year after year.

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