Katie’s Favorite Gardens

As the sun begins to creep back up into the sky, and the buds are just starting to bloom all around me at home in Western New York, I am reminded of some of the great gardens and outdoor spaces we’ve visited during season one of Fringe Benefits. Now is the time to come out from hibernation, and enjoy a walk through the park, arboretum, or botanical garden! Here are a few of my recommendations:

Airlie Gardens

Airlie Gardens: Just outside of Wilmington, NC Airlie is a magical southern garden full of Azaleas and flowering trees. This is a great place for an easy stroll, as there are many benches and scenic spots – including some beautiful ponds and waterfront views – for quiet reflection. Airlie is best known for it’s 50,000 azaleas, with peak season now in the spring. The land was once the lavish estate of Pembroke Jones, a wealthy industrialist, and his family. His wife Sara created the gardens in 1901, and in the 1999 they came under the care of the county and opened to the public. The gardens provided inspiration for the art of Minnie Evans, a folk painter best known for her bright, colorful designs. She worked for the Jones family at Airlie as the gatekeeper, and the flowers inspired her signature works. There’s a memorial sculpture garden at Airlie in her honor. http://www.airliegardens.org

Cacti at Buffalo's glass conservatory
Cacti at Buffalo’s glass conservatory


Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens: Located just south of the city of Buffalo, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens provide a beautiful, lush respite all year long – despite the weather! The exotic plants ranging from cacti to tropical trees are housed in a large, three-domed glass structure. It was modeled after London’s Crystal Palace, the grand hall built for the London Exhbition in 1851. Today, less than a dozen such conservatories exist in the world, and only two with Buffalo’s tri-dome Victorian design. Allow a few hours to slowly take in all there in to see indoors, and then head out to South Park, the Frederick Law Olmstead-designed park in which the conservatory sits. Here, a large pond snakes through a wide variety of trees. http://www.buffalogardens.com


Saguaro Cactus
Saguaro Cactus

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Springtime is, in my opinion, the best time to visit the desert! The cacti are in bloom, and a tremendous variety of colors explode in the desert landscape. It is quite a sight! One of the best places to see it is at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, about 30 minutes outside of Tucson. This part botanical garden, part zoo, features plant and animal life native to the Sonoran Desert – an area of land stretching through southern Arizona, California, and Northern Mexico. Here at the museum, you can wander through 21 acres of golden desert, see wild cats, raptors and prairie dogs, and learn about intriguing cactus varieties. The Saguaro – that famous and iconic cactus image of a tall and proud plant with two “arms” – are native only to this area of the world. They can take up to 75 years to develop one “arm”, and expand and contract to store water. They are now a fully-protected species and can not be removed from properties. It’s really incredible seeing these beauties up close! https://www.desertmuseum.org

Bernheim Arboretum
Bernheim Arboretum

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest: Just outside of Louisville, KY, you’ll find this 14,000-acre forest preserve and arboretum. The land was donated as a gift to Kentucky by German immigrant Isaac Wolfe Bernheim in 1929. Today, almost 2,000 distinct species of trees and plants can be found here. Bernheim is divided into two regions; the Arboretum of formal plant collections, visitor’s center and cafe, and the natural, forest area, which is great for a longer hike. I recommend visiting both, and planning to spend the day. And while you’re out and about – you’ll notice the artwork. Large-scale sculpture pieces have been commissioned to complement the outdoor setting. It’s an impressive and beautiful place. http://www.bernheim.org

Highland Park in Spring
Highland Park in Spring

Highland Park: Located in Rochester, NY, this is another example of famed park designer Frederick Law Olmstead’s work. Here, in this natural expanse of 155 acres, you’ll find more than 1200 lilac shrubs (one of the largest collections in the world), 35 varieties of magnolias, a rock garden, azaleas, and a pansy bed of more than 10,000 plants! The park is also home to Warner Castle, a beautiful stone structure that looks, literally, like a castle – complete with a secret sunken garden. Coming up later in May, Highland Park hosts the annual Lilac Festival, to showcase the beautiful and sweet scent of those lilacs. This is one of my favorite places in the spring! http://www2.monroecounty.gov/parks-highland.php




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