On Friday afternoon, I drove about 40 minutes west to the arboretum and paid the $12 admission fee at the entrance gate. From there, you can park at the main visitor center and walk through many of the arboretum's 32 gardens within a hundred yards of that building—or you can explore, per the website, "more than 1,100 acres of gardens and tree collections, prairie and woods and miles of trails." My plan was somewhere in the middle: I was hoping for a nice long walk, but would also love to come back to run, ski or snowshoe the trails.
I started looking through the first few gardens...
...then wandered into the rose gardens, home to a gazebo I liked...
...and then realized I had almost bypassed the entrance to the Cloistered Herb Garden (and Kitchen Herb Garden!):
The herb gardens were a great example of the arboretum's educational elements. Most plants were identified, of course, but also scattered throughout the garden were tidbits about an herb's history or tips on how to use an herb. This is where the arboretum really started to feel not just like a collection of gardens, but a vibrant outdoor museum. It actually reminded me right away of the Desert Museum in Tucson, which I visited a few years ago and loved!
This little spot was near the Kitchen Herb Garden and was just as refreshing as it looks.
Early in my visit, I was introduced right away to the featured Nature in Glass exhibit, artist Craig Mitchell Smith's striking series of 32 glass sculptures placed all over the gardens. The glass poppies in this picture of the annual garden are part of "Poppies of Oz":
After I browsed the gardens near the visitor center, I decided to venture out onto Three-Mile Drive, a scenic tour more or less around the arboretum's outer perimeter. It's a one-way, one-lane road designed for cars, bikes and pedestrians. See the little pedestrian lane?
Three-Mile Drive winds through both wooded areas and open spaces like the one pictured above. On my Friday afternoon visit, a car passed me every few minutes, and I saw five or six other pedestrians. There are lots of options to cut the loop shorter, and I decided to take a leisurely stroll to see the arboretum's full range of collections. A lot of the shrub and tree collections were along this loop, and I loved the hydrangea collection.
My favorite stop on Three-Mile Drive, though, was the prairie section, with lots of little paths to explore the prairie plants and flowers.
Along Three-Mile Drive, in addition to other collections and a sculpture garden (not pictured), there is also a maze designed for families:
I tried my hand at the maze, took a few quick wrong turns, and left before I spent the rest of my afternoon in it. One dead end:
And soon enough, I was back to the main visitor center. The gardens bloom at different times, of course, and even the ones that aren't in season were pretty. There's a peony walk lined with all kinds of peony bushes, which will likely draw me back to the arboretum earlier in the season next year. And look at the iris garden!
Ready for my tips on visiting the arboretum and walking Three-Mile Drive?
- If you want to walk Three-Mile Drive, dress for it. This advice seems like common sense, but I was dressed for a casual garden stroll in a maxidress and flipflops (Chaco flipflops, but flipflops nonetheless) and pleasantly surprised to find a longer walking tour option. If I were to visit again on my own, I would dress for the activity: I'd probably pretend I was going for a run and wear shorts, a tank top and running shoes (or at least regular Chaco sandals).
- Consider what you want to carry. I carried my purse on my shoulder the whole way, which was okay, but I would probably bring a little drawstring backpack next time.
- Bring refreshments (at least a bottle of water). I would have brought my lunch. There are lots of benches along the way that are perfect for stopping for a little picnic!
- Allow enough time to be leisurely. You could definitely visit the central gardens quickly, but the arboretum is no place to rush through. Wander around and take a closer look at the gardens that pique your interest. Take in your surroundings. I even saw some visitors relaxing on a bench and reading a book, and it looked wonderful.
I loved exploring the arboretum—and I'd welcome the chance to visit again in different seasons.