Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum
In 1920, Lloyd Smith, a Milwaukee steel magnate, built a beautiful home overlooking the shore of Lake Michigan. Today, that building is home to the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, and the gardens surrounding the building have been rescued from years of neglect.
“About 11 years ago, a group of people who wanted to bring the garden back decided to raise money, redesign it and bring it back to its original state,” said estate gardener Gail Jaeger Mosser. “They took out all the overgrown trees and weeds.
“There’s a stone water staircase, kind of like a waterfall, that was part of the original Smith home. They reworked the stone to repair it a little bit, and it’s back in operation now.”
The retooled garden sits on about an acre of land, down a hill from the Italian Renaissance villa. Gardeners have maintained some of the original features of the Smiths’ garden, such as white pines, ash and maple trees on the property, as well as some of the plants arranged alongside the water staircase.
The garden also features numerous varieties of roses, such as seafoam and carefree roses, as well as Annabelle hydrangeas and other colorful, modern plants.
A variety of trees surround the estate.
“On the north and south ends, bordering the neighboring lawns, we have arctic willows,” Mosser said. “They have a really soft movement in the breeze, and they kind of screen off our site. It makes it feel like you’re in your own private estate.”
Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
On the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Fla., the Cummer Museum of Art has a collection of historic American and European artwork. In addition to the art, the museum boasts beautiful riverfront gardens that were part of the original Cummer estate, which now houses the museum.
“We’re really a historic garden,” said curator Holly Keris. “Our gardens were started on the property in 1903, when the museum founders moved to Jacksonville and built their home here. At that time, there weren’t many people who had experience with Florida horticulture, so Nina Cummer decided to become her own expert.”
Today, the museum keeps the gardens as closely as possible to Cummer’s original designs. The original garden section is referred to as the English garden; in 1931, after a trip to Italy, Cummer created the Italian garden, which was loosely based on a garden at a villa near Florence.
Throughout the gardens, visitors will find numerous azalea plants —Cummer is thought to be one of the first people to bring azaleas to Florida — as well as roses, cypress trees and a sprawling live oak. The trees stand alongside ornamental features such as reflecting pools and lion statues.
The museum staff makes use of the garden for special events throughout the year, as well as interesting group experiences.
“We have art-making classes and activities available in the gardens,” Keris said. “We might do a painting class in the garden, for instance. Groups can do a garden workshop as part of their visit.”
In a destination best known for chocolate, resorts and a theme park, Hershey Gardens provides a beautiful respite for visitors.
“We really talk about Hershey Gardens as a hidden gem because a lot of times, Hershey Park is the biggest attraction,” said Sara Ensminger, public relations specialist at the gardens. “Mr. Hershey started the garden himself because he wanted to establish a rose garden for the community. Next year, we celebrate our 75th anniversary.”
What began as Milton Hershey’s three-acre rose garden has expanded into a 23-acre botanical garden that also features an arboretum. A Japanese section of the garden has a traditional koi pond, and the display garden blooms in April with nearly 45,000 tulips.
Other highlights include a rock garden, an herb garden and a seasonal butterfly house with nearly 400 butterflies inside.
Groups can visit the gardens at their leisure during a trip to Hershey or arrange for specially guided tours.
“We offer professionally guided tours, usually by our horticulture specialists,” Ensminger said. “They can be up to two hours long, and they can be tailored to the general guest or to the garden enthusiast who really wants to learn about something specific.”
Admission to Hershey Gardens is included for guests who stay at the company’s resort, lodge and hotel properties.
San Marino, Calif.
In 1903, businessman and philanthropist Henry Huntington purchased a ranch in San Marino, Calif., where he eventually established the Huntington. Today, the institute is a library and art collection surrounded by some 120 acres of landscaped gardens.
The 12 principle gardens on the property showcase more than 15,000 varieties of plants. Many were conceived soon after Huntington purchased the ranch; the 1905 palm garden features nearly 200 species of palms trees, and the 1907 desert garden has 10 acres and more than 4,000 cacti and succulent plants.
The rose garden, created in 1908, has more than 4,000 rose plants and includes blooms dating to the pre-Christian era, early European roses from medieval times and classical tea roses.
Many visitors enjoy the exotic sections of the garden, along with the architecture that accompanies them. In 1912, Huntington created a Japanese garden, with koi ponds, a moon bridge, a temple bell, votive stones and a fully furnished Japanese house.
In 2008, the organization introduced the Garden of Flowering Fragrance, a Chinese-style garden with a lake, a complex of pavilions and bridges, a teahouse and a landscape of traditional Chinese plants.
More than 150 species of eucalyptus live in the Australian garden, and the Shakespeare garden has English plants mentioned in the Bard’s plays, with plaques next to each indicating the verse from which it was taken.
Other highlights include a jungle garden with a waterfall and lily ponds, as well as a camellia collection and a botanical science conservatory.
Groups that visit the Huntington can arrange to have tea and a tour of the botanical gardens, or take a guided 90-minute walking tour through the Chinese garden.