Deep in the Bronx, there’s a place where the incessant hum of New York City disappears. A river flows along the edge of an old-growth forest, where songbirds serenade in the canopy of massive maples, oaks, and chestnuts that have stood unmoved since the American Revolution.
Sound like an urban myth? This place does exist, cloistered within the New York Botanical Garden. The allure of this 250-acre tract is undeniable, but for Brian Sullivan, the institution’s vice president of landscape, outdoor collections, and gardens, its beauty is more than skin deep.
“We want to connect people with plants,” Sullivan says. “Public gardens are uniquely poised to be an advocate for the plant kingdom.”
America’s most beautiful gardens share this ability to deepen visitors’ understanding and appreciation of the natural world.
Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix reveals the diversity of wildlife adapted to its harsh, arid climate, from a Technicolor array of Mexican poppies and desert lupine to otherworldly stands of cactus. Hawaii’s lush Limahuli Garden and Preserve protects endangered native flowers like the delicate, scarlet-hued hibiscus, as well as rare varieties of plants (taro, sweet potato) vital to early Hawaiians.
And at institutions like Chicago Botanic Garden and Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, vast collections of bonsai and orchids delight visitors, while researchers make advances in the fields of plant science and conservation.
Still, it’s the innate beauty of these gardens that keeps people coming back season after season—for in any great garden, true discovery requires patience.
“There are so many layers, you don’t see it all right away,” Sullivan says. “A garden reveals itself when you’re ready.”