Exploring Alaska's Botanical Gardens

Alaska gardens
••• Georgeson Botanical Garden in Fairbanks is an important resource for locals looking to expand their growing space. Erin Kirkland

When spring doesn't begin until June and autumn arrives sometime in late August, gardens become more than bright flowers and buzzing bees. Alaskans' enthusiasm for working in the dirt is robust, and true lovers of seed are always looking to the newest strain of hardy flower or fruit to make a brighter, tastier fall and winter. 

Alaska's botanical gardens are surprisingly prolific, due in part to the enthusiasm of local gardening groups and an ever-increasing cadre of residents interested in growing their own food.

Visitors are often amazed at the variety of vegetables, fruits, and flowers that thrive in a far-northern environment, and there is nowhere better to learn about landscapes and environments than gardens.

Botanical Gardens to Visit in Alaska

Whether you like to stroll among blossoms of native plants and tubers in the springtime or investigate the root vegetables making  Alaska famous, botanical gardens are a bevy of information, research projects, and simple pleasure for guests. 

Anchorage

The Alaska Botanical Garden, located along Anchorage's eastern boundary near the Chugach mountain foothills, is the state's largest facility through which to explore native plants and trees. This 110-acre property is divided among plots, with twisting, paved and unpaved trails leading among a boreal forest. The product of a large volunteer group dedicated to the preservation and progression of the space, the Alaska Botanical Garden offers educational programs, guided and self-guided tours and special events that throw in a bit of local history, too.

An annual garden fair brings music, artisans, and local experts to the property for a weekend of summertime festivities, and a September harvest fair focuses on the bounty of Alaska produce, even in spite of such a short growing season. 

A favorite activity of visitors is to hike the 1-mile Lowenfells Family Nature Trail that tracks along the botanical garden's boundaries, where moose and the occasional bear wander, too.

In any season, including winter, the garden's trails are a delight, especially during the early morning or later evening hours. 

Juneau

Visitors arriving in Alaska's capital city are fortunate to have the nation's largest rainforest, the Tongass, at their disposal, and in the middle of it sits Glacier Gardens, located a mile from the Juneau Airport. Visitors can arrange for transportation during guided tours, and independent travelers can easily explore on their own the 2-miles of trails on this 50-acre forested section of the rainforest. 

For those with mobility issues, Glacier Gardens offers a tram to fully experience the gardens, but one should walk if at all possible to truly appreciate the peaceful atmosphere within the Tongass. A highlight of the gardens is the unique "Flower Towers" that must be seen to appreciate, especially during the height of flowering season in the summer. Vistas looking out on Juneau, the Gastineau Channel, and Thunder Mountain are also not to be missed, so be sure to bring a camera. 

Fairbanks

Thanks to a solid agriculture program looking to expand methods of gardening and farming in the North, the Interior has their own botanical garden on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The Georgeson Botanical Garden can be found on a southern slope of campus, with sweeping views of the scenic Tanana Valley, and right next to the Large Animal Research Station (LARS), also an excellent stop for visitors.

Between June and September, the garden is a lovely place to wander, investigate experimental techniques, and marvel at the ability of plants to grow in what looks to be inhospitable for most of the year. During the summer months, don't miss the Children's Garden, where kids can explore interesting garden plots just for them. 

Palmer

While the Matanuska-Susitna Valley doesn't have a true botanical garden per se, it is the site of an important chapter in Alaska's agricultural history. During the Depression era of the 1930's, colonists from the upper Midwest regions of the United States were offered a chance to start farms of their own in this fertile but harsh area north of Anchorage.

While many colonists gave up and returned home, others managed to create agricultural bounty with farms still in operation today.

Stop by the City of Palmer Visitor Center log cabin in downtown Palmer and take a look at the local garden plots featuring cabbage, native flowers, and a few fruit trees. Dryer than other areas of Southcentral Alaska, "The Valley" provides rich ground for gardeners and farmers to plant with success. 

Statewide

Don't miss an opportunity to purchase Alaska-grown produce at one of many farmers markets scattered around the state. There's nothing like munching a sweet Alaska carrot, or smelling a fragrant bloom.