By Herb Sparrow
Longwood Gardens, set in the heart of the Brandywine Valley near Kennett Square, Pa., is a horticulture showplace whose 1,077 acres are filled with gardens, woodlands, meadows and more than 11,000 different types of plants. But that’s not all.
“We have concerts, lectures, theatrical performances, fireworks and a wine-and-jazz festival,” said Michelle Ullman, group sales coordinator.
At Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, groups can not only marvel at 400 species of plants from around the world and more than 40 species of palms in its Victorian Palm House, but also pick the ingredients for and then cook a pizza in an outdoor wood-burning oven.
“We have found that people often do want to have a little more of an immersive experience,” said Lori Kingston, marketing manager for Franklin Park Conservatory. “It’s great to have that option.”
Botanical gardens around the country provide a wide range of experiences for groups beyond their horticultural exhibits, with entertainment, informative demonstrations and hands-on workshops.
Kennett Square, Pa.
“We have several different guided tours; three of those tours go into behind-the-scenes areas at Longwood,” said Ullman.
“One goes to the research and production facility and shows how we prepare plants for display. Another is the Open Air Theatre and goes underneath the stage to see the fountains pumping below and goes into the dressing rooms.
“The third is the Italian Water Garden. You actually get to go down on the grass of the garden and investigate the design of the garden.”
The Open Air Theatre, used since 1914 for theatrical performances and concerts, includes an unusual 10-foot-high water curtain in front of the stage. Beneath the stage, 11 pumps recirculate 2,000 gallons of water per minute through 750 nozzles.
The Italian Water Garden features six large and 12 small blue-tiled pools with 600 jets of water and a water staircase surrounded by littleleaf linden trees and green lawns.
“We also offer cooking demonstrations in our restaurants. You see where the vegetables and fruits are grown in our gardens, then go into the restaurants, where a chef does a demonstration and prepares meals for groups,” said Ullman.
Ullman said Longwood Gardens will conduct workshops for groups upon request. “We do offer a photography class,” she said. “What a great place to learn how to take beautiful photographs — anything from landscapes to close up.”
Sundays from mid-May to late September, the garden presents concerts by its 62-bell carillon.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens
“We have classes year-round and workshops where, for example, you can make a container garden to take home, as well as lectures,” said Sharon Cybart, manager of marketing and public relations for Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
“If a group is looking for something to do in the evening, most are in evenings or on weekends.”
Examples of the classes and workshops are Establishing Woodland Gardens, Low-Maintenance Alternatives, No-Mow Lawns, How To Attract Butterflies, and Shady Gardens.
“We have very knowledgeable docents in the gardens who can talk to people, and on Sundays, there are free outdoor guided garden strolls, where you can follow someone around and find out about the gardens,” said Cybart.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens has 16 acres of outdoor gardens that feature Midwest hardy plants and the Bolz Conservatory, which is filled with exotic plants, flowers, orchids, birds and a waterfall.
A two-story tower in the rose garden that looks over the entire garden and a golden pavilion from Thailand are two of the gardens’ signature features.
“We have outdoor concerts during the summer; it’s the only time you can have a picnic in the gardens,” said Cybart. “We sell brats, and you sit on blankets outside in the gardens in the evening.”
In the fall, a quilt show featuring quilts with botanical themes is held. “It’s in the atrium and is not just quilts on a wall,” said Cybart. “We bring in hundreds of flowers and group them to compliment the quilts.”
This year’s show is Sept. 22-Oct. 14.
“I also highly recommend the tours to anyone because you get so much more out of a visit that way,” said Cybart.
Missouri Botanical Garden
“We offer a wide array of classes for adults on a broad range of topics,” said Karen Hill, public information officer for the Missouri Botanical Garden. “Adult programs cover topics including gardening and landscaping, arts and crafts, food and cooking, green living, nature study, and health and well-being.
“We often have special themes running through our lineup as well. For example, this year we are celebrating China with our big Lantern Festival exhibition, so we have several China-inspired classes as part of the spring/summer lineup.”
Examples of some of the classes offered in the gardening and landscaping category are Rain Gardening for Homeowners, Gardening for Wildlife and People, Easy Rose Gardening, Growing Hydrangeas Like Martha and The Importance of Plants in Chinese Culture.
Guided tours include behind-the-scenes looks at the garden’s orchid greenhouse and self-sustaining garden and farm.
Groups can also stop by the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, where staff and master gardener volunteers answer questions about home gardening. The center includes an 8,000-square-foot pavilion that is designed like a residential home and 23 display gardens.
“The Missouri Botanical Garden often hosts special events and exhibitions that offer exciting cultural experiences,” said Hill. “We have a free summer concert series, the Whitaker Music Festival; annual celebrations of Chinese and Japanese culture; and occasionally, temporary exhibitions.”