Top 10 Gardens in the South: Dallas Arboretum

by | Jul 19, 2020 | Design, Horticulture, Plants

If spring of 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that outdoor spaces are a saving grace. Public gardens are an especially wonderful escape, not only for visitors but professionals as well. With travel restrictions lifting, public gardens are reopening all across the South, so you can take along the kids while finding some inspiration for your own landscaping and design projects.

Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

Named “Top Botanical Garden” by USA Today’s 10Best, The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden is a treasure. 

Dallas Arboretum’s 66 acres rest along the shores of White Rock Lake. While the land is owned by The City of Dallas, the gardens are run by a nonprofit along with 120 full-time staff and 50 part-time staff—including 50 horticulture employees—along with hundreds of volunteers.

Vice President of Gardens Dave Forehand is celebrating his 20th year at the arboretum after working for Walt Disney World. During his tenure, the gardens have constantly evolved. 

World-Class Children’s Garden

The Children's Garden at the Dallas Arboretum
Photos Courtesy of Dallas Arboretum

Six years ago, the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden opened at the Dallas Arboretum. With a $63 million construction budget, the eight-acre site was designed by landscape architect MKW + Associates and Dattner Architects. Features include a secret garden, enchanting walkways, educational exhibits, water features and an impressive rain collection system. 

“We once experienced 70 days straight without rainfall, and the City of Dallas mandates that we only water one area of the grounds twice each week,” says Forehand. “We have to be innovative in order to keep our grounds properly watered.”

Dallas Arboretum Trial Gardens

Photos Courtesy of Dallas Arboretum

Dallas is also known for its extreme Texas heat. The Dallas Arboretum hosts important trial gardens to test plants for heat tolerance. Thousands of plants are trialed each year from over 150 plant breeding companies.

“We work with major seed companies to test out plants and see how tolerant they are,” says Forehand. “It can be 99 degrees at midnight here. Our motto is: ‘if we can’t kill it, nobody can.’” 

The trial gardens are part of the visitor experience and the centerpiece for an annual Plant Trial Field Day where some 300 horticulturalists, researchers and major companies attend. 

The following plants were successfully trialed and received the “flameproof” designation: Begonia “Dragonwing Red,” Cuphea “Georgia Scarlet,” Lantana “Landmark Peach,” Pentax “Graffiti and Kaleidoscope” Series, Purslane “Yubi and Fairytale” Series and Salvia “Mystic Spires Blue.”

Edible Gardens Open in 2017

Opened in 2017, A Tasteful Place is a 3.5-acre ornamental garden that was inspired by the movement toward growing and eating sustainable, locally-grown food. 

The $12 million garden was designed by SWA Group, Buchanan Architecture and the Dallas Arboretum’s horticultural team. P. Allen Smith, television host and lifestyle expert, served as a program consultant for the project. Kevin Clark/Naud Burnett Landscape Architects and the Dallas Arboretum’s horticulture team later added on to the project by creating the Margaret and Jay Simmons Lagoon and its adjacent landscaped gardens.

Beauty in Every Season

The Color Garden at the Dallas Arboretum
Photos Courtesy of Dallas Arboretum

Other highlights at The Dallas Arboretum include the Margaret Elisabeth Jonsson Color Garden, McCasland Sunken Garden, Lay Family Gardens (shown in the article’s header photo), The Martha Brooks Camellia Garden, Maple Hill, Crape Myrtle Allee, the Rose Mary Hagger Rose Garden, and many more. 

One of Forehand’s favorite spots is A Woman’s Garden. The naturalistic area includes sculpture, a reflection pool and calming water features.

Photos Courtesy of Dallas Arboretum

While spring brings colorful blooms and the summer is lush and green, Forehand looks most forward to fall. Pecan Grove is transformed during “Autumn at the Arboretum,” with the gardens’ internationally acclaimed Pumpkin Houses. 

“All of our pumpkins come from Texas, and it’s really a sight to see,” says Forehand. 

Named one of “America’s Best Pumpkin Festivals” by Fodor’s Travel, the festival features 90,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash accented by 150,000 autumn flowers.

Pumpkin art at the Dallas Arboretum
Photos Courtesy of Dallas Arboretum


Don’t miss the other gardens on our list including Bellingrath in Alabama, Bok Tower Gardens in Florida, Crystal Bridges in ArkansasCheekwood in Tennessee, Reynolda Gardens in North Carolina and Jungle Gardens in Louisiana. Stay tuned to see who’s next!


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