Nature at its finest
By Mimi Slawoff
Botanical gardens offer an oasis from busy city life any time of year – not just spring. Themed gardens change with the seasons, showcasing new plants and blooms as well as family-friendly activities. Feed the ducks, ride a train, explore wooded trails and relax by a splashing fountain. A visit to a botanical garden is a sensory delight that even babes in strollers can enjoy.
These six gardens are especially conducive to families, offering children’s activities, programs and seasonal events.
Descanso Gardens, La Canada, CA
All aboard the Enchanted Railroad for a ride through a section of the gardens near the promenade. The 1/8th replica of a diesel train comfortably holds kids and adults. Kids must be at least 30-inches tall. Walking trails and paved paths meander through gardens filled with roses, camellias and lilacs, as well as a cozy oak forest where kids can run on grass or nap in the shade. Water features include ponds, a stream and a lake with ducks, turtles and fish. In summer, tea and cookies are served in the Japanese Garden.
Rio Grande Botanic Garden, Albuquerque, NM
Nestled among the lovely, themed 52-acre garden is a Children’s Fantasy Garden, where a huge friendly dragon greets families. In the giant, garden-themed play area, kids can ride ants, walk through carrots, play inside a pumpkin and listen to a buzzing bee. More kid-friendly park highlights include Butterfly Pavilion, a Japanese Garden, a model train exhibit and the 10-acre Heritage Farm, featuring an adobe house and animal barn home to horses, goats, pigs, sheep and chickens.
(MORE: Find a kid-friendly hotel near Rio Grande Botanic Gardens.)
San Antonio Botanical Garden, TX
Kids can plant seeds and watch their harvest grow in the Children’s Vegetable Garden in the 33-acre garden, which represents Texas’ three distinct regions — Hill Country, East Texas Pineywoods and South Texas. Visitors can also pick up water-saving tips for their homes and gardens. Families visiting during San Antonio’s annual Fiesta celebration can decorate a wagon or stroller and join the children’s parade. Kids dress up in colorful clothing, masks and leis and parade through the gardens.
(MORE: View a family trip plan: 3 days in San Antonio with kids.)
Sawtooth Botanical Garden, Ketchum, ID
Although small, this five-acre park packs a punch with Sagebrush, Lava Rock, Alpine, Montane and Riparian gardens representing the five biomes of south-central Idaho. A unique feature is the Children’s Garden, where kids learn how plants grow and where food comes from during outdoor classes and educational programs. There’s also a spray pool for splashing on warm summer days.
Desert Botanical Garden, Papago Park, AZ
While the garden doesn’t have a designated children’s area, the paved Desert Discovery Loop Trail offers opportunities for exploring the form, color and texture of various desert plants from around the world. But it’s the garden’s location in Papago Park that makes it a fun family outing. The park has trails, small lakes and picnic areas and is also home to the Phoenix Zoo.
Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, TN
Explore the private estate of the Cheek family (of Maxwell House coffee fame), now home to 55 acres of gardens, a sculpture trail and art museum. Family favorites include a treehouse, train exhibit, puppet shows, magic shows, concerts and seasonal events. Santa and reindeer visit during the Christmas season.
Mimi Slawoff, a Los Angeles-based journalist, contributed this to www.MiniTime.com.