National Plan Vacation Day–Include A Botanical Garden!

It’s National Plan Vacation Day! In recognition of a gardener’s favorite vacation site–the botanical garden–we’re running this article that appeared in the December 2017 Master Gardener newsletter Roots & Shoots from Master Gardener Connie Lowndes. Enjoy!

Horticulture Traveling on a Dime: Nebraska Statewide Arboretum Pass

by Connie Lowndes, Master Gardener

We love our Nebraska Statewide Arboretum membership ( We heartily agree with the Arboretum’s mission to demonstrate and support regionally appropriate landscape adaptability and sustainability. We enjoy the newsletters and publications, the fabulous Spring Affair plant sale, opportuni­ties to buy unusual plants, and discounts on plants, programs and workshops. Who doesn’t love a discount?!

But our very favorite benefit of membership is the Recipro­cal Admissions Program through the American Horticultural Society. Over 300 North American botanical centers and arboreta are affiliated, including the NSA. Most offer free or discounted admission, gift shop discounts and/or parking privileges to reciprocal members.

We love to travel, and my husband is willing to indulge my garden obsession. Whenever we plan a trip, we consult the reciprocal Admissions Program Guide to see what botanic centers we can work into the route.

Some of our recent favorites:

Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO

It had been years since I had been there, so I was thrilled to visit this summer. I loved the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. The demonstration area was enormous, with sec­tions of pollinator plants, vegetables, fruits, succession plant­ing, fragrance and prairie plantings. A “tree stump garden” was very interesting-apparently very popular in the United Kingdom. The shady garden was strewn with tree stumps (roots attached) that had been dug up and repurposed. The unusual twists and knots added a different dimension to the landscape.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum near Chaska, MN

Our first visit was in the spring—a perfect time to see the azaleas and peonies. I also enjoyed the dwarf conifer col­lection.

Cheekwood near Nashville, TN

This lovely gem of a garden was the home of Leslie and Mabel Cheek, founded in the 1920s. Cheekwood was converted to a botanical and art center in 1960, encompassing about 55 acres. This is a beautiful rural estate with mature trees, shrubs and many “niche” garden spots. The day we visited, there were five weddings scheduled!

Denver Botanic Gardens

Established in 1951, this garden demonstrates xeriscape landscaping at its best. I grew up in west central Nebraska, so we visited the DBG several times when I was growing up. I remember not being very impressed as a kid. Wow! That view changed last summer when we toured. The perennial borders were amazing. My favorite were the Giverny (France, Monet’s home) inspired lily ponds.

Tohono Chul Park in Tucson, AZ

Like the Cheekwood gardens, Tohono Chul Park was a private residence. Richard and Jean Wilson bought property in 1966 near Tucson AZ. They added acreage over the years, eventually amassing 49 acres of prime real estate. They refused many offers from developers. They wanted “…some­thing natural in the middle of all the surrounding develop­ment so that people could come easily for a few hours, get out of the traffic and learn something at the same time…”. I learned a lot about native desert plants and wildlife, and the adaptations that allow them to survive such a harsh climate.

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

My second favorite garden on the planet (so far!). We visit regularly. The plants are so unusual, live in such a harsh climate, yet are beautiful — attractive to pollinators, too. I love to see the hummingbirds flitting around the plants. We have seen two incredible exhibitions there at no extra cost to reciprocal members: a Chihuly glass display that mimicked the succulents and cacti, and a large scale lighting installation (covering acres) made of fiber optic cable and bulbs by Bruce Munro. If you have never visited, I highly recommend the DBG.

If you are looking for a gift for yourself or someone else, I recommend a Nebraska Statewide Arboretum membership. Prices start at $55. Just think of the places you can go!

For more information, go to the following websites:

Missouri Botanical Garden at

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum at

Denver Botanic Gardens at

Tohono Chul Park at

Desert Botanical Gardens at

Kathleen Cue
Horticulture Educator at Nebraska Extension
Kathleen serves as the Horticulture Educator for Nebraska Extension in Dodge County. She educates people on making smart plant choices to reduce use of fertilizers and pesticides in their landscape which has a positive impact on air, water, soil and environmental quality, property values and people’s pocketbooks.

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