Off the Beaten Path: Five Lesser-Known Gardens

There’s really no better time to visit the great public gardens than spring into summer, but why not get off the horticultural highway and see a few lesser known gardens, too! Dotting the country are some truly remarkable places that you may not have heard of but that you need to see.

For advice on the best of these gardens, we turned to Charles A. Birnbaum of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF). This non-profit works to connect people to places, showcasing North America’s remarkably rich and diverse cultural landscape legacy.  Trust us, their exhaustive database will keep you busy for hours.

Here’s are five really special gardens Charles recommends you visit.

Stan Hywet Gardens, Akron, OH (above)

Okay, maybe not THAT “lesser-known”, but a must-see if anywhere in the vicinity. Eight historic gardens on 70 acres. Orchard, allee, lagoon, sunken, formal and cutting gardens, vistas, you name it, it’s probably here!

Innisfree Garden, Millbrook, NY

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Though often labeled among the top 10 gardens of the world, this remarkable place remains one of the great mostly undiscovered garden treasures of the Hudson Valley. Gardens and nature vignettes are set around a 40-acre glacial lake, ideal for a 90 minute stroll. You’ll see garden rooms created by massive boulders, the aged beauty of the stone stairs and arches, and the stirring sight of mists, the Air Stream and the Fountain Jet. It’s an expansive place, but manages to be intimate (and rich with steal-me ideas) all at once. More information here. 

Casa del Herrero, Montecito, CA

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A masterpiece (and hidden gem) set above the Pacific near Santa Barbara, CA. The sweeping gardens merge Moorish and Mediterranean influences with whitewashed stone walled open-air rooms, mesmerizing Moorish-style tiled fountains and glazed tiles framed by romantic archways. Citrus orchards, perennial borders, a dominant axial vista, and a cactus garden too, all enclosed by tall stands of eucalyptus intermixed with palm trees. If you’re already heading to Lotusland, this is less than 2 miles away! More information here.

Dunn Gardens, Seattle, WA

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While not as well-known as the nearby Bloedel Reserve, this garden presents the opportunity to see up close the work of the Olmsted Brothers who designed some of the most famous public and private gardens of the early 20th century. Taking advantage of the natural features of the land and the sweeping views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, there are paths through stands of old-growth trees, woodland gardens, as well as a fine collection of rhododendrons and plants native to the Pacific Northwest. More information here.

Naumkeag, Stockbridge, MA

Built for Ambassadoe Joseph Choate during the Gilded Age. Property of the Trustees of Reservations

If you’re heading to The Mount, Edith Warton’s famed Italianate digs in Lenox, MA, take a sidetrip (about 9 miles) to nearby Naumkeag. You’ll see firsthand those mesmerizing, iconic Blue Steps, a series of deep blue fountain pools, flanked by four flights of stairs and a grove of white birches. But it’s more than just that. Equally beautiful are the Afternoon Garden, Tree Peony Terrace, Rose Garden, Evergreen Garden, and Chinese Garden, designed over a 30 year span by some of region’s most famous landscape architects. More information here. 

Henry and Clara Ford Estate, Dearborn, MI

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Though the Fords were avid gardeners themselves, the actual grounds and gardens were designed by esteemed landscape architect Jens Jensen. Jensen played a prominent role in the creation of a uniquely North American design aesthetic, the Prairie Style, some of which can be seen in these impressive gardens that sit along the Rouge River. Jensen returned the farm to meadows and open fields, carving out a large pond, orchards, a hillside grotto, and formal gardens. Take time to walk the trails and breathe in the serenity. More information here. 

A few more?

Gaiety Hollow:  (Salem, OR) Former home of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, the first female landscape architects to own and operate their own firm in the Pacific Northwest. They designed over 250 landscapes and gardens in the region between 1929-1969. It’s a small, lovely, old-fashioned garden with great bones.

Mrs. Whaley’s Garden: (Charleston, SC) Emily Whaley’s romantic, flower-filled landscape is the quintessential Charleston garden.  110 feet long, the garden is divided into several different rooms. If you’re in town, make the pilgrimage.

Bedrock Gardens: (Lee, NH) A 20-acre garden located on a 35-acre property in Lee, New Hampshire, notable for its landscape design, its horticulture and its sculpture. Great plants in a really peaceful location. Worth the drive.

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