Botanical gardens are more than the sum of their flora. Originally cultivated with medicinal herbs in mind, classical botanical gardens soon hosted flowers and trees from around the world to study, educate, and offer an aesthetically-pleasing place for visitors. More recently, research gardens have expanded their missions to include conservation – meaning your entry fee is helping to maintain world biodiversity. "Most of these gardens are curated and displayed like museum objects in a way that paintings are displayed in an art museum," says Morris Arboretum's executive director Paul W. Meyer. "And these collections double as conservation repositories." We consulted Meyer and Katy Moss Warner, head of the American Horticultural Society, to find exemplary botanical gardens from around the world that are worth traveling to see.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (England)
Kew Gardens in southwest London is a worthwhile hotspot for tourists and garden enthusiasts alike. Its 300 acres are home to more than 30,000 species, a herbarium collection estimated at 7 million preserved plants, and a library with 750,000 volumes. Standouts include the five 250-year-old trees dubbed "Old Lions,"a treetop walkway, and several glasshouses recognized for their architecture as well as the plants inside. The crescent-shaped Davies Alpine House looks straight out of a sci-fi movie and in the spring months displays exotic bulbs, including the striking Chilean blue crocus (Tecophilaea cyanocrocus).
Renowned for its research and conservation efforts, Kew is home to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the largest network of gardens; and at Wakehurst Place in Sussex they run the Millennium Seed Bank whose goal is to conserve one fourth of the world’s plant species from wild sources by 2020. Garden enthusiasts should consider side trips to Kew's sister gardens and temperate woods at Wakehurst Place and the Royal Horticultural Society's Garden Wisley. [kew.org]
Credit: RBG Kew