As summer is fast approaching, one of our first and most enjoyable thoughts is about vacation. Where to go, when to go and for how long are all part of the plan in progress. As I think of places I have been, some of my favorites include beautiful gardens that I have experienced along the way.

Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia

Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia

Sometimes the garden itself was part of the reason for the choice of location, as it was when I visited Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. I had seen so many stunning photos of this magnificent place and couldn’t wait to see it in person. I was certainly not disappointed! I don’t think I have ever experienced a more beautiful, well-planned collection of flowers and plants.

Over 100 years ago Jennie Butchart transformed an exhausted limestone quarry into one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. She had tons and tons of topsoil brought in by horse and cart to line the abandoned quarry. That was just the beginning. Over the years, the gardens grew to include the Sunken Garden, the Italian Garden, the Japanese Garden and the Concert lawn just to name a few of the popular areas of the gardens. They even open the gardens at night for guests to enjoy spectacular lighting effects that give the gardens a totally unique perspective. A visit to Butchart Gardens was truly an unforgettable experience.

United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

If you are interested in flowers and plants, the United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., is another spectacular place to visit. With almost 450 acres of beautiful plants, flowers, shrubs and trees, the Arboretum offers interpretive gardens and exhibits of ornamental and landscape plants. One of the largest collections of the miniature masterpieces we know as Bonsai are found on these grounds.

On a much smaller scale, I came across this little treasure tucked away in Pinehurst, North Carolina, near my daughter and her family. Sandhills Community College has an absolutely lovely botanical garden designed and cared for by their students that is open to the public. I have visited this garden during the summer, winter, spring and fall, and have always found it to be mesmerizing. In addition to their collection of shrubs, flowers, plants and trees they have lovely statuary to accent the planting. Each time I go I discover something new.

Sandhills Community College iPinehurst, North Carolina

Sandhills Horticultural Gardens in Pinehurst, North Carolina

When I lived on Long Island in New York, there was a beautiful estate named Old Westbury Gardens in Old Westbury. The estate was originally owned by the Phipps family and was completed in 1906. Today, this magnificent 200-acre estate is open to the public with a lovely mansion house, formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, ponds and lakes.

The New York Botanical Gardens is right across the street from the famous Bronx Zoo. If you are visiting New York City, this garden is only a short train ride away from the heart of the city and well worth the adventure. The Hoyt Conservatory is my favorite part of this garden property. They have fantastic exhibits at different times of the year, and the orchid show each spring shouldn’t be missed.

Created by Pierre DuPont in the 19th century, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is absolutely spectacular. Famous for its seasonal displays, this garden is not to be missed and can be visited again and again, always offering something different. I have been there several times and would return any chance I get. As with the National Arboretum, I totally loved their water lily garden and their conservatories are worth a visit no matter what time of year you go.

Maybe it’s because I went there on my honeymoon, but Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is another one of my favorites. The Japanese Tea Garden is lovely where you feel like you might really be in Japan. The Conservatory is impressive and quite famous, with lovely gardens thriving everywhere.

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco

I have found beautiful gardens wherever I have been. Some are grand, a destination of their own, while others are smaller and tucked away, waiting to be discovered. Choose your favorite gardens and head in that direction, or go anywhere and look for local gardens wherever you might be — either way the experience will be memorable.

The love of plants and flowers is a powerful one and walking through these absolutely beautiful spaces whether large or small, planned or natural, old or new, will enhance your summer travel no matter where you go. The language of flowers is universal; so visit gardens in other countries when you travel outside of the United States. You don’t need to speak the local language to appreciate these fascinating gardens wherever you might be. Almost all these gardens host special events, educational programs, concerts and all sorts of things. Check out their websites to see what might interest you. And if you are not going very far, check out your local options, you may just come across a secret garden right in your own backyard.

What favorite gardens have you visited or hope to visit?