Where are the greenZoos?
The best and easiest to use list of botanical gardens in the United States and Canada is a site named ilovegardens.com. It calls itself “A Treasury of Glorious Public and Private Gardens for Garden Lovers to Visit!” And it is. It lists over 1600 botanical gardens, arboretums, public gardens and other places where green things grow. Best of all, every entry includes a two or three sentence description of the garden spot.
Botanique.com is another good site for finding gardens in the US or Canada. Start by clicking on a map, and botanique.com takes you to a list of all the gardens, arboreta and nature sites in a state of province. Apart from botanical gardens, botanique.com also turns up lots of other green spots worth a visit.
The American Public Gardens Association (a.k.a., the American Association of Botanical Gardens) is the member association of public gardens, mainly in North America. The American Public Gardens Association (APGA) includes a Garden Search feature that searches for the names and websites of gardens that are members of APGA. The search also promises to find specific gardens using a host of other criteria (e.g. Children's Garden, Japanese Garden, Art/Sculpture Garden), but I was disappointed with the spotty results returned by the specialized searches.
To find botanical gardens worldwide, I use two sites: The Botanical Garden Information System at the University of Ulm in Germany and the Garden Search site of the Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). Of the two the BGCI database is more comprehensive and easier to use.
Still another good (and getting better all the time) source is Wikipedia's list of U.S. botanical gardens and its list of gardens outside the U.S.
Which are "The Best Botanical Gardens?"
With more than 1600 botanical gardens and arboreta in the world, which are the "best" ones? Garden keepers are understandably skittish about choosing. When I posed the question to the Botanic Gardens Conservation International, a membership organization of that offers support to botanical gardens in almost 100 countries, I was told "we have never ranked the botanic gardens of the world."
Others are not so reluctant.
HotelClub, an online hotel booking site owned by Orbitz, published a list of “The 10 Best Botanical Gardens in the US” in its November 2007 blog. The unsigned piece said nothing about how or why the gardens were selected for the list, nor even whether the gardens they included were listed in any particular order.
HotelClub’s list includes a picture from each garden and a thumbnail description that includes a paragraph of information about the size, unique features, and plant collections of each garden. In order listed, the botanical gardens named are the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai, Hawaii, the Memphis Botanic Garden, United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C., and the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri. Sandwiched among the list of gardens are two university arboretums: the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, and the UC-Davis Arboretum.
GardenWeb.com, a site that they say "comprises the largest community of gardeners on the Internet" sponsored a kind of peoples choice awards in 2000. They asked visitors to their site to rate a list of nominated botanical gardens and public gardens on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). They then included gardens with viewer ratings of 7.00 or higher on their list of much-liked botanical gardens. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida topped their list with a rating of 9.26. The huge Longwood display gardens near Philadelphia was the most visited garden and came in second in the poll.
To see the closest thing that botanical gardens will ever come to being a magazine centerfold, have a look at the back page of Horticulture Magazine. Since 1998, the magazine has featured a full-page color photo of a public gardens in the United States and Canada on the hard-to-ignore page opposite the inside cover. They call the feature "Destinations." So far, the magazine has featured fourteen botanical gardens. Too bad but pictures and descriptions of the choices are not online.