Public gardens in Vancouver, B.C., Brooklyn and Santa Barbara offer unique plantings, water features and even some weird wonders.

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It’s such a treat to tour private gardens when traveling that sometimes we neglect the beauty and inspiration to be found at public gardens and arboreta. Public horticulture is booming, and not only here at home with the new 12-acre Pacific Connections Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum.

Speaking of, phase one is ready to stroll. Newly opened this autumn are the central meadow, interpretive shelter and five entry gardens with flora from New Zealand, Chile, China, Australia and Cascadia (meaning Northwest natives). Still to come are the corresponding five eco-geographic forests. Already, new trails and very cool plants are enough to give visitors a good sense of the eco-geographic concept.

Even further away in style and feel from our naturalistic arboretum than its 3,000-mile distance, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a gem. The gracious old buildings and mossy walls set the tone as one garden unfolds into another, from daffodil hill to the famous fragrance garden, drenched with sweet scents most of the year. The Shakespeare garden displays plants the Bard mentioned in his plays and poems, but its casual cottage design is a flower-filled lesson for home gardeners. In spring and early summer, the garden bursts with bloom; for days when the weather is inclement, there’s a conservatory, palm and aquatic house, and a native flora garden with year-round interest.

This 52-acre garden in the heart of Brooklyn is true to its formal, century-old roots, but it’s also looking to the future with dynamic CEO Scot Medbury, a UW graduate who grew up in Tacoma. He’s busy raising money for the garden’s new visitor center, designed by modernists Weiss/Manfredi, the architects for Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park (

If you drive into Vancouver, B.C., along busy Oak Street, you’ve probably driven past the Van Dusen Botanical Garden. This is a perfect stop to stretch your legs and take in plants collected from every corner of the planet. I’d never appreciated the vast variety of alpines until I climbed around the amazing rock garden at Van Dusen; other highlights are the heather garden and the Asian plant collection centered by the Korean Pavilion. The next few years at Van Dusen should be interesting because the garden is planning an energy- and water-independent “living building” with a stunning roofline inspired by the sinuous shape of a native orchid (

Next time you’re anywhere near Santa Barbara, put Lotusland on your dance card. This is a magical property that non-gardeners will love as much as gardeners. That’s because it’s all about place and atmospherics. Created by Madame Ganna Walska, a Polish opera singer who married six times and nearly went broke making these gardens, Lotusland is steeped in intrigue and eccentricity. Walska, who lived at Lotusland from 1941 until her death in 1984, bought the property as a retreat for Tibetan monks. But once bitten by the gardening bug, she dropped the monks and started collecting rare plants, even selling her jewelry in the 1970s to finance her final creation, the cyad garden.

Make a reservation and wear comfortable shoes, because you’ll want to see that jewelry-busting cyad garden . . . and the blue garden . . . and the theater with its curious stone dwarfs that make you think you must have somehow time-traveled to medieval Europe. Then there’s the butterfly garden, the bromeliad collection, the cactus garden, the Australian garden and more contorted succulents than you’d ever imagined existed.

Much of the property is more weird than beautiful, but I can promise you that Lotusland is a garden experience you’ll never forget.

New visitor rules apply, and the wait for reservations is now brief; call 805-969-9990 or see the Web page to book a group tour (

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is