It’s been nearly two weeks since we have seen blue sky and sun here. Temperatures have been so miserable that zero feels like a heat wave and to top it all off, our driveway becomes a death trap in snowy or icy weather so I am essentially housebound right now. With January not even half over yet, I can tell that this winter has the potential to be unbearably long.
When I experience a particularly bad bout of cabin fever, I have a couple of “go to” remedies. One is to pour over old copies of Horticulture magazine looking for new ideas and the other is to plan a weekend getaway to a nearby arboretum or botanical garden to satisfy my need for green.
The original definition and understanding of an arboretum is an area of land that is set aside for the planting, maintaining and study of trees, including specimens from around the world, endangered species and those native to the local area. According to the Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden of Rockford, Illinois, an arboretum is “an outdoor museum of trees.” Although most arboretums today do continue to champion the mission of protecting our world’s trees, many have expanded their focus to showcase a vast array of plant material and to educate the public on the critical role that nature, especially trees, plays in our lives. Almost all offer a variety of interesting and educational workshops ranging from plant propagation and landscape design to culinary skills and photography for people of all ages and expertise.
Strolling through the grounds of an arboretum does more than just relieves cabin fever. Of course it can provide homeowners a unique opportunity to see mature specimens of garden plants and to consider how those varieties will perform in their own landscapes. It can introduce new plant possibilities and suggest new combinations. It can showcase the delights of a winter garden. But more importantly a visit to an arboretum at any time of the year can help reconnect you with the healing power of nature.
The list below is a combination of some of my favorite mid-western botanical gardens – ones I can visit over and over – and some I have only read about but would love to see in person. All of them feature not only outstanding winter gardens but they also have exceptional conservatories. Most are within a five hour drive from Kansas City; all are worth a visit.
Chicago Botanic Garden – http://chicagobotanic.org
Be sure and visit the Malott Japanese Garden in winter. It is considered one of the nation’s best.
Garfield Park Conservatory – http://garfield-conservatory.org
There are eight different rooms to explore in this two acre conservatory.
Morton Arboretum – http://mortanarb.org
Morton is known for the extensive collection of plants from around the world. The Center for Tree Science is also located here.
Nicholas Conservatory and Garden – http://rockfordparkdistrict.org/ncg
If you are looking for a tropical paradise, this is it!
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Klehm Arboretum & Conservatory – http://klehm.org/
Klehm is adding a new children’s water exhibit to complement what it already an excellent area. Check online for the opening date.
Quad City Botanical Center – http://qcgardens.com
The tropical Sun Garden, open all year, is outstanding.
Des Moines Botanical Center – http://dmbotanicalgarden.com
Fascinating desert displays in the heart of downtown Des Moines.
Reiman Gardens – http://reimangardens.iastate.edu
An outstanding butterfly wing is a highlight to the University of Iowa campus.
Missouri Botanical Garden – http://mobot.org
Founded in 1859, this garden is a National Historic Landmark.
Lauritzen Gardens – http://lauritzengardens.org
Gorgeous combination of plants, sculptures and birds and butterflies.
Olbrich Botanical Garden – http://olbrich.org
One of the most exotic and fragrant conservatories in the nation. Free-flying birds add to the tropical atmosphere.
This short list does not begin to highlight all of the botanical gems in the Midwest. Please feel free to share your favorites with our readers. We’d love to hear from other parts of the country!