In the heart of the bustling city of Memphis is 96 acres of natural beauty. At the Memphis Botanic Garden, there are 31 specialty gardens. One minute you might be surrounded by roses of every color in the rose garden. The next, you'll be in the fragrance garden where your nose, rather than your eyes, will lead the way. One of the most famous places is the Japanese garden where you can feed the koi and learn about traditional Japanese plants and garden designs. Locals head there for weddings, dates, and family outings.
While a stroll through the gardens is certainly relaxing, the Memphis Botanic Garden is also an educational place, especially for children. The Prehistoric Plant Trail teaches the entire family about the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It has stone caves, a sand pit with buried fossils, and ancient plants still alive today including ferns, palms, and magnolias. A new addition to the park is an urban demonstration garden where visitors learn how people around the world garden in cities. Don't miss the live chicken coup or the edible plants exhibit.
The Memphis Botanic Garden is located in Audubon Park in midtown Memphis. The address is 750 Cherry Road in between Park & Southern. There is free parking in front of the visitors center. For special events an additional lot opens on the North Side of the garden.
It's open year-round. During the winter the hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In the summer it's 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission for adults is $10, seniors $8, children (2-12) $5, and kids under 2 and members get in for free.
In the late 1940s, politicians of Memphis decided the east side of the city needed a park. They set aside acres of land, and plants were donated to it. In 1953, for example, 2,500 Irises from a prominent private house were given to the park. In 1957, an arboretum was built in honor of an active member of the Memphis Men's Garden Club. In 1958, a magnolia garden was gifted. These projects set the stage for the Memphis Botanic Garden.
In 1964, after the rose garden and 350 American native plants were growing, a building was created to tie the gardens together and host visitors. It had an exhibition hall, meeting rooms, a library, and administration offices. The building was renovated in 1996 into what it is today.
Over time the garden has bloomed (literally!) into a cultural attraction. In 2001, a concert series was launched named Summer in the Garden. An area was set aside where 6,000 people could listen to the country's leading musicians perform under the stars. In 2008 the garden started hosting a bustling farmers market. New hands-on exhibits continue to open every year.
Things to Do
The focus is the 31 different gardens. Each one introduces new colors, smells, and information. Grab a map from the visitors center, and choose which gardens interest you the most or simply go for a stroll and see where you end up landing. It's impossible to get lost; the paths are easy to follow, and each garden has signs teaching visitors about the plants found around you at that spot. The garden also offers guided tours and activities for children and adults. Check the website to find out what's going on during your visit.
Adults shouldn't miss visiting the Blue Star Memorial Marker that honors all Americans who have or are currently serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. The marker is placed in a garden where plants are used to create an American flag. The entire family will enjoy the Japanese Garden where you can buy fish food and feed the gigantic fish that swim in the pond.
Both the visitors center and the cafe have rotating art exhibits. Most of them focus on landscape artists who have done work in or around Memphis. The paintings and sculptures complement the views you see outside the window. A current list of the exhibits is posted on the website.
A highlight for children is My Big Backyard, a whimsical play space where the entire family can get up close with nature. Kids can crawl through tunnels in gardens, help tend plants in a house, play musical instruments, and much more.
The Memphis Botanic Garden is known for staging creative events all year long that attract both locals and visitors. During Halloween there are trick or treat stations, and during the winter holiday season, light shows bring the gardens to life.
If you're visiting in the summer, don't miss Live at the Garden, a concert series that attracts talent from all over the world. You can lie on a picnic blanket or bring your own chair and listen to music with flowers and fireflies all around you.
During the year there are garden talks by experts, guided tours, and garden workshops that teach you how to plant masterpiece gardens at home. Check the calendar here.
Where to Eat
Inside the gardens is Fratelli's Cafe, open for lunch. You'll find soups, salads, sandwiches, kids meals, and desserts. It's also located in between the sculpture garden and water garden, so you get beautiful views while you eat. When the weather is nice find a table outside.
Another way to eat in nature is to bring your own picnic. There are tables set up throughout the gardens. Large groups should head to the Pine Grove Picnic Area.