Are botanical gardens on your radar? They’re beautiful, calming and often free.

Don’t you mean botanic garden?

Don’t be pedantic! That’s my job. They’re called both Botanic Gardens and Botanical Gardens.

Fine, you win on a technicality. Isn’t it just a bunch of plants?

Okay, yeah, technically. Botanical gardens are big collections of plants from around the world. The plants are labeled so people know what they are.

The Aga Khan garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden
The Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden shows there’s more than just plants.

You just like them because you’re addicted to Seek.

No! Playing the Pokemon Go of naturalism in a botanic garden would be cheating. (Even if it is so very tempting.)

You said botanic.

Yes, because both terms are acceptable. And either way you say it, they’re awesome.

Ugh, fine, OK. It’s your blog. So tell us why they’re awesome in 100 words or less.

Botanical gardens aren’t just rows of different plants. The plantings are arranged to be beautiful. They often have themed gardens, like Japanese or Chinese gardens, that can make you feel like you’re visiting another country without having to get on a plane. It’s a low-key way to get out in nature without the bug spray and boots needed for a hardcore hike. Many of them are very friendly toward the mobility challenged.

Cactuses and palm trees at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne
Cactuses and palm trees at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne

You’re winning me over. So they’re all free?

Oh, gosh, not all. Visiting the Huntington Gardens in Los Angeles or The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London definitely has a price tag. But you can easily spend an entire day wandering either garden, so you will get value for money. And if you’re at the Huntington Gardens you may even see a TV show being filmed! The Good Place filmed lots of scenes there.

Chinese Gardens at the Huntington Gardens. Photo shows a stone bridge reflected in a pond.
Chinese Gardens at The Huntington Gardens, Los Angeles. As seen in this scene (and many others) on The Good Place.

And I just…go there and hang out with some plants? That’s it?

Hey, don’t sneer at nature! A stroll in nature will reduce your stress, drop your blood pressure, and has documented cardiovascular benefits. If you don’t want to go canyoning, hiking up a mountain is beyond your physical abilities, or you can’t get out into the wild, a botanical garden can be a great alternative. And they aren’t just second-rate nature; they’re enjoyable in a way that is different from a miles-long hike.

Almost every garden has activities and features, too. Kew Gardens hosts concert in the park. You can take boat rides at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. At the Huntington Gardens in Los Angeles you can get high tea (huge value for money) or see Shakespeare’s First Folio. The Nantes Botanic Garden has sculptures and a plant playground. The Thabor Gardens in Rennes includes a miniature farm and a hedge maze. Each botanic garden is as unique as the city it’s located in.

Dragon sculpture at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens has giant sculptures like this one.

But it’s a summer-only thing, right?

That depends! In Edmonton, the University of Alberta Botanic Gardens close for the winter. But the Kaisaniemi Botanic Gardens in equally cold and snowy Helsinki are open year round. Their glasshouses can be a great place to warm up and pretend it’s summer for a little while. Check the website. You may be surprised!

How do I find them?

Search for “[city name] Botanic Gardens.” Even in places like Nantes or Edmonton, where the name of the gardens does not include the name of the city, it should be enough information to allow you to find the botanic gardens near you.