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Exploring the Best ‘Secret’ Gardens in the US

While over at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, over a dozen cherry trees began to bloom this week and held their blossoms despite the rain (and just in time for Hanami!), we got in the mood to do a little exploring of gardens you may be less familiar with, but which are worth going out of your way for. Some may require a short trip outside the city, others are infrequently open to the public, and still others are open at odd hours for the spring season to let you enjoy their splendor under moonlight. Take a stroll through this slideshow of some of the best hidden gardens in Flavorpill cities.

Fay Park, San Francisco, CA

David Fay, a famous soap manufacturer, and the daughter of the owner of the San Francisco Seals called this location home. Thomas Church, the world-renowned landscape architect, designed the yard along with its gazebos and gardens. While the City of San Francisco inherited the Fay-Berrigan House in 1998, it wasn’t until recently that the gardens were open to the public — making it the only Thomas Church-designed garden open to the public in the Bay Area.

The Cloisters, New York, New York

Though the Cloisters Museum and Gardens is part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, their gardens are tucked away far enough uptown on a hill in Fort Tryon Park that you quickly lose the sense that you’re near a city. It was reconstructed in the ’30s from architectural elements of five French Abbeys dating from the 12th through 15th centuries and techniques of medieval woodland management — like “pollarding,” or hard pruning — are used in the maintenance of the three gardens, Cuxa, Trie, and Bonnefont.

The museum offers free concerts and talks. Check out The Art of Thought from 1000 to 1500 if you’re free May 14. And if you happen to be there on May 4, hear a selection of organ music float through the galleries from the museum’s 1830 Appleton pipe organ.

Vizcaya Museum and Garden, Miami, FL

As the diplomatic seat of Miami-Dade County, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens has played host to some of the world’s most renowned dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II, and King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain, as well as major international events like the Summit of the Americas, and activities associated with Art Basel. Built by agricultural industrialist James Deering in 1916, it is comprised of a Main House, formal gardens across ten acres, and a “rockland hammock” or native forest. Take in the art installation by Ernesto Oroza or to visit Vizcaya on the sly, take in a special Moonlight Garden Tour.

Petersham House, Richmond, Surrey, UK


Photo credit: Suzie Gibbons courtesy of Petersham Nurseries

Structured loosely around permanent planting, which includes romneya, macleaya, and rheum, the Garden at Petersham House (within Petersham Nurseries) is known for its herbaceous 150-foot border, alternatively called the “mad flowering hedgerow.” Being that it’s only a few miles away from central London, the nursery, which specializes in the English gardening tradition with an emphasis on sustainability, has for a backdrop the Thames, Richmond Park, and St. Peters Church. While the nursery is open year round, the private garden of Petersham House is accessible to the public for a couple of “open days,” on May 8 and June 5.

Lake Shrine Temple, Pacific Palisades, CA

Silent films were shot on site of the Lake Shrine Temple in Santa Ynez Canyon at the Inceville film studio in the early ’20s. Los Angeles real-estate magnate Alphonzo Bell, Sr. later bought the land and the surrounding hillsides were hydrauli­cally graded to fill the canyon and make it level for future development. When these activities were stopped short, a large basin was left in the can­yon, which filled with water from nearby springs creating Lake Santa Ynez — the only natural spring-fed lake within the city limits of Los Angeles. In addition to the garden, you can take part in beginner’s guided meditation, friendship tea, and Sunday night meditation.

Sonnenberg Garden, Canandaigua, New York

Philanthropist Mary Clark Thompson was inspired in the design of these nine formal gardens by her trips to Europe and Asia in the late 19th century. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Thompson re-designed the gardens between 1902 and 1919 with the assistance of Boston landscape architect Ernest Bowditch, his protegé John Handrahan, and hundreds of workers.

Innisfree, Millbrook, New York

Waterfalls, plants, terraces, rocks, and retaining walls are used at Innisfree not only to provide definition but also to create tension and motion. In this 150-acre public space, the art of Chinese landscape design has been re-imagined to create a unique American garden.

Woodland Park Rose Garden, Seattle, Washington


Photo credit: Mary Rose

Completed in 1924, this 2.5 acre park was created to display the amazing variety of roses that grow in Seattle’s rose-friendly climate. With hybrid teas, miniatures, climbers, tree roses, and David Austens — all in all over 290 varieties of rose — it is one of only 24 All-America Rose Selections Test Gardens in the United States.

San Jose Heritage Rose Garden at Guadalupe Gardens, San Jose, CA

Initially planted in 1995, this garden will be the largest in the United States dedicated to preserving the legacy of the rose. The garden is in the shape of a large bowl, the center of which is five feet deep, a design that allows unobstructed views of each plant from any point in the garden. As an environmental showcase, it was designed to be easily maintained, minimizing labor, water, resources, and chemicals.

Kubota Garden, Seattle, WA

This garden was started in 1927 by Fujitaro Kubota who emigrated to the US from Japan in 1907. In 1987, the City of Seattle acquired the garden and it became a public park. Several ponds are fed by Mapes Creek, waterfalls, and bridges.

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