Plans Canceled? Take a Virtual Stroll Through Some of the Nation's Best Botanical Gardens
Over the last two weeks, most of us have had to change our routines; many people are working from home, canceled vacations (I'm still bummed about missing my Arizona getaway), and are actively practicing social distancing. But while you’re stuck indoors, there’s still plenty to do; many museums are offering virtual tours, aquariums and zoos are setting up live streams of their animals, and for those craving lush greenery and blooms, botanical centers are thinking up ways to let us tour their gardens without leaving home. Some already have virtual tour options on their websites, while many others have been sharing extra photos and videos on social media to make it feel like you’re walking through their garden.
Here are some of the best virtual garden tours you can take without leaving home. I’ve already had a lot of fun exploring, especially taking in all the details of the aquatic garden in the Buffalo and Erie County Botanic Gardens. And for even more photos and videos, check out the #ourgardensyourhome tag on Instagram and Twitter; it was started less than a week ago as a way for botanical gardens to share photos and videos while many of their visitors are stuck at home.
Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
If you want the same feeling of strolling through a botanical garden, make sure you check out the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens’ virtual tour. Explore incredibly detailed 360° views of the gardens at your own pace by clicking through a 3D rendering of the space, including the 67-foot-tall glass dome that houses palm and tropical fruit trees. There’s a floorplan available to view if you want to see a specific room, but I had a lot of fun just following the pathways and enjoying what I could discover (exactly as I would if I was perusing the garden in person). In just a few minutes, I saw dozens of enormous tropical plants, a huge rock wall and waterfall, and rows upon rows of succulents, plants that can be used for medicinal purposes, and an incredible collection of houseplants (including one of the biggest staghorn fern displays I’ve ever seen).
U.S. Botanic Garden
The conservatory might be closed to the public right now, but you can still walk through the U.S. Botanic Garden’s outdoor grounds and landscapes. And if you’re not in Washington, D.C., just explore them from home with almost the same level of detail. It's currently celebrating its 200th anniversary and is the oldest continuously operating public garden in the country. Using Google Maps, follow the pathways and sidewalks to discover different plants and areas of the outdoor gardens. In the time I spent exploring, I “walked” under an archway and caught a gorgeous view of the U.S. Capitol Building in the distance, and followed the map to end up at the First Ladies Water Garden (which ended up being one of my favorite spots!). And if you want to check out the conservatory, there’s also a video tour of their 2020 orchid show available, and the garden is hosting virtual yoga on Saturdays..
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
One of the best ways to learn about new plants while you’re stuck at home is to check out Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s online tours. In 2019, it was voted #4 on the list of the best botanical gardens in the country by USA Today readers. Clicking on one of the featured plants brings up multiple images to scroll through, including close-ups of the flowers, plus info like the scientific name, its location in the garden, and other fun facts, like when some plants reach peak bloom. There’s also an audio tour you can take online that has wider photos of different areas of the garden, and audio clips that give you information about each section (my personal favorite: the photos of the Fountain Garden and the Cherry Tree Walk!).
Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants
Sadly, this year’s Theodore Payne Foundation 2020 Garden Tour in the Los Angeles region was canceled due to the new coronavirus. But instead of forgoing the tour entirely, the foundation is moving it online for everyone to enjoy. On March 28 and 29, follow along on their Facebook and Instagram accounts for photo galleries and livestreams to learn about native plants, garden design, and wildlife habitats. The virtual tour will be open to everyone free of charge, but if you want to support the Theodore Payne Foundation (especially while their nursery is closed to the public), you can still buy a ticket for $35 for nonmembers, or donate directly to the foundation on their website.
Denver Botanic Garden
The virtual expeditions on Denver Botanic Garden’s website are also informational for learning more about individual plants. The gardens sit on 24 acres and include plants from all over the world. Their website has options for following a staff-created tour, such as Outdoor Blooms and Fruit, the Conservatory Palm Collection, or Drought-Tolerant Plants, or creating your own. Search by common name, scientific name, specific characteristics to bring up a variety of plants, then add them to your personalized tour. Each entry brings up photos and information about the plant, so it’s a fun way to explore and also get a jump on planning your own garden!
Just a few minutes of virtually wandering through each garden was a relaxing moment of zen for me; it's easy to explore each one and let the views of flowers and foliage distract you. If you haven’t already, I also highly recommend following these gardens on Instagram and other social media (a few of my other personal favorites including the Chicago Botanic Garden, Phipps Conservatory, and Desert Botanical Garden). Even if they’re closed to the public right now, many are still posting behind-the-scenes photos and videos of their plants to boost spirits while we’re social distancing. They can also give you some extra inspiration for your own spring garden; maybe you'll stumble across something new, like a variety of roses or hydrangeas you've never planted before, and decide to try it out this year.