By their very nature, botanical gardens are wonderlands of wow—pristine patches of earth where entire staffs are devoted to every leaf, stem, flower and frond. From Alabama to Alaska, each garden is glorious in its own geographical way, but here are a few whose special holdings are truly the cream of the crop.
Cacti – If you're stuck on cactus, the Cactus Garden at Lotusland (www.lotusland.org) is a nirvana of needles. There are more than 300 species of cacti, all painstakingly grouped by country of origin, including Peru, the Galapagos Islands and Agave species native to Southern California.
Orchids – If one orchid makes you marvel, imagine what 5,000 in the same place at the same time will do. Through March 24, Longwood Gardens (http://www.longwoodgardens.org/OrchidExtravaganza.html) transforms their four-acre heated conservatory in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania into a dazzling display of Cattleya, Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis and Oncidium. Orchids adorn oval basins, are arranged in six massive hanging orbs and are connected into a 15-foot floral arch. It's the orchid olympics!
Wildlife – What you'll see in the Alaska Botanical Garden (www.alaskabg.org) is just as amazing as what you'll see around it. The area is also a habitat for moose, black and brown bears, foxes, coyotes and ravens, in addition to various birds and insects who don't mind the cold weather and seasonal lack of daylight.
Roses – The phrase "stop and smell the roses" may very well have been created in the Krasberg Rose Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden (chicagobotanic.org). Boasting more than 5,000 rosebushes, the garden is overseen by a rose expert – or "rosarian" – and contains a blend of historical bushes and newer hybrids. Don't miss the History of Roses Bed, which uses pink roses to illustrate the beautiful differences between each variety.
Daffodils – If you've ever imagined running through a field of daffodils in the warm spring sunshine, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (www.bbg.org) is the place to do it. Late March through early April, thousands of trumpet daffodils dot the hill near Magnolia Plaza with big, bright gold and yellow blooms, making it the perfect place to recreate your own romantic comedy.
Carnivorous Plants – Plants that stand and look pretty are one thing, but plants that eat other things are just plain awesome. The Atlanta Botanical Garden (atlantabotanicalgarden.org) has one of the best collections of carnivorous plants in the country, including pitcher plants, Venus fly traps and sundews that are hungry to show off their skills.