Spring is kicking into high gear, bringing with it warmer weather and longer days, but even as some destinations slowly reopen for business, others are keeping stay-home mandates firmly in place. Stuck inside and craving a bit of natural beauty? Here are seven show-stopping botanic gardens you can tour from afar, from well-manicured English affairs to contemporary art-and-botany mash-ups in Brazil.
1. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, United States
Set amidst waterfalls and nature trails in a 40-acre valley on the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast, the nonprofit Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a verdant rainforest garden featuring more than 2000 species of tropical plants. Its stunning grounds may be temporarily off-limits, but a virtual tour takes you along the elevated trails – past rushing waterfalls, fast-moving streams, and crashing ocean waves – to get up close and personal with stately orchids and other vivid tropical blooms.
2. Kew Gardens, England
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew date to the mid-18th century, and in its 250-plus years of existence, it’s always welcomed visitors. The pandemic may have emptied its grounds, but that same ethos is still in place, thanks to an ongoing video series that invites the bio-curious to “roam the gardens from the comfort of your home.” Providing behind-the-scenes insights into how the gardens grow, from the arboretum nursery to the tropical greenhouses to the bees who keep it all pollinated, as well as walking tours of the site's various habitats and recaps of staff research expeditions to places like Mozambique and Colombia, the gardens’ YouTube channel has more than enough keep you immersed.
3. Keukenhof, Holland
Before the Dutch government extended its ban on public gatherings to June, Holland’s most photogenic spring park was aiming to celebrate its 71st season with a vibrant floral mosaic comprising seven million bulbs that would bloom from spring to fall. The garden may not have welcomed the public as planned on March 21, but all that hard work in the off-season isn’t going to waste. On what would’ve been opening day, Keukenhof announced it was taking the show online, and it's been regularly refreshing its YouTube channel ever since, offering personalized tours and sneak peeks from gardeners, designers, exhibitors, and other staffers.
4. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, South Africa
In South Africa, the botanical gardens administered by the South African National Biodiversity Institute remain open, including Kirstenbosch, a nature reserve that’s home to an array of critters like birds, foxes, otters, butterflies, and chirping frogs – not to mention thousands of species of indigenous plants. The garden is situated on the eastern side of Table Mountain, just 13 kilometers from Cape Town’s city center, but you don’t have to be a local to take in the sights. Google Street View will give you an overview of the garden’s 5.28 square kilometers, while the official site’s virtual tour breaks down the main attractions. (And if that doesn’t scratch the itch, you can always head to SANBI’s YouTube channel to see the organization’s other gardens.)
5. Maison et Jardins de Claude Monet, France
No one does lush greenery quite like the impressionists, and Monet’s gardens at Giverny are the foremost example of the genre, from the iconic lily pond, with its famous wisteria-covered Japanese bridge, to the symmetrical flower gardens. Take a 3D tour of the home and grounds where the painter spent the last four decades of his life and explore room by room, or hit play on a collection of videos showing off the gardens from multiple perspectives; there's also a brief overview from the UK’s Royal Academy of Arts that puts the artist’s life and work into context.
6. Desert Botanical Garden, United States
The word “garden” may call to mind lush greenery, but desert landscapes can be just as compelling as those in more temperate locales. The red rocks of Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden play host to a stunning array of desert plants – some 50,000 cacti, succulents, and wildflowers, with a focus on those native to the local Sonoran Desert – and nearly half a million people pass through annually to take it all in. Virtual guests can forgo the sunscreen and the crowds and point their browsers toward YouTube instead, where the garden’s staff share glimpses of spring blossoms, seasonal butterflies, site-specific installations, and more.
7. Inhotim Institute and Botanical Gardens, Brazil
The jardins botânicos of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro get lots of attention, but it’s a smaller market that boasts one of the country’s most intriguing garden set-ups. In Brumadinho, some 60 kilometers from Belo Horizonte, the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim is the world's largest open-air contemporary art museum, displaying more than 700 pieces from 200 artists in galleries, exhibits, and outdoor installations across the 140-hectare grounds. A hotbed of creativity, Inhotim also devotes substantial resources to botanical research and biodiversity preservation, and Google Arts & Culture takes an in-depth look, with four online exhibits and a street-level virtual tour.