Your local gardens serve as more than a mere showcase of beauty—it can be a sanctuary that offers a deeper connection to the natural world.

Visiting a public garden nowadays is more than a stroll through pretty flowers. In recent years, these spaces have embraced a more mindful approach that seeks to deepen visitors’ connection with nature and promote sustainable practices.

“Public gardens are a place of inspiration for what’s in bloom, so you can then go home and buy these flowers locally,” says Debra Prinzing, one of the founders of the slow flower movement and creator of SlowFlowers.com. This online directory connects consumers to florists and designers who use local flowers.

Here are some of the best public gardens to experience this slow flower trend.

Some flower enthusiasts may not realize that 90 percent of the cut flowers imported to the U.S. come from South America, where they are picked early and dipped in a chemical for transport and distribution to flower shops and stores across the nation. The slow flower movement fosters a closer connection between consumers and the floral landscape, inspiring a renewed appreciation for the beauty and diversity of locally grown flowers.

“It’s all about sustainability and making sure the flowers we buy are good for humans and for the planet,” says Prinzing. “Many botanical gardens are adding more native plants, and the floral industry is using more native perennials from the local area.” Early in her slow flower quest Prinzing created weekly bouquets with flowers sourced locally or from her Seattle garden.

Through initiatives such as community-supported agriculture programs and farmer-florist collaborations, these gardens serve as living showcases of local ecosystems, inspiring visitors to cultivate their own connection with nature and adopt sustainable practices in their daily lives.

Over the past decade, public gardens have started offering interactive programs and educational opportunities to help deepen visitors’ understanding of the native flora.

Travelers can experience one of these initiatives at the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon, which introduces participants to the ancient Japanese practice of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku.

Cecily Hunt, a mindfulness guide at the garden, says that this practice involves slowing down and immersing oneself in the sensory experience. “It’s giving yourself permission to…mindfully hear, see, feel, and smell the rich tapestry of the garden,” she says.

Japanese gardens, with their deliberate use of shades and tones of green, are specifically designed to facilitate this connection with nature. Visitors are encouraged to create their own mindfulness experiences, with strategically placed benches inviting them to listen the sounds of nature and feel grounded by connecting with the earth beneath their feet. Hunt emphasizes the importance of silence and presence, urging visitors to refrain from distractions such as chatting and photography to immerse themselves fully in the tranquil ambiance.

Similarly, the Atlanta Botanical Garden offers a mindful approach to food through its edible garden. Michael Del Valle, the outdoor horticulture manager, says that the garden serves as a living demonstration, where guests can witness the growth of vegetables and fruits, learn how to incorporate them into their cooking, and cultivate their own garden at home.

Throughout the summer, cooking demos, classes, and chef-created dinners are held in the open-air kitchen. “People are surprised at what they see growing here, like rice, as they discover edible plants they can grow in their own yard,” says Del Valle.

In Vail, Colorado, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens’ Colorado Alpine EcoFlora Project engages visitors as community scientists, inviting them to help document fragile alpine plants impacted by climate change through smartphone photography and uploads to iNaturalist.

The Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan, features the nation’s longest tree canopy walk— 1,400 feet long—offering visitors a breathtaking treetop perspective that fosters a newfound appreciation for the environment below.

The Tyler Texas Rose Garden invites visitors to stop and smell any of the 38,000 rose bushes planted across 600 garden beds. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Phipps Conservatory’s indoor butterfly forest offers up-close encounters with these vital pollinators, complemented by virtual classes on native plants, soil health, and tree care.

The sunken garden of the Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, offers an immersive sensory experience. Once an abandoned quarry, this garden now features 151 flower beds in a kaleidoscope of colors.

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