In April and May, the blooming buds at the following flower havens draw serious crowds of both avowed horticulturists and visitors who simply wish to celebrate spring. Follow your nose to these favorites around the world:
The white-and-pink blossoms lining the Tidal Basin are the centerpiece of Washington's two-week Cherry Blossom Festival
, held each spring since 1935. This year's festivities kick off on March 29 with the lighting of a ceremonial Japanese lantern that rests on the north shore of the Tidal Basin, not far from where the first tree, one of 3,000 given by Japan, was planted in 1912. The once-simple celebration has grown over the years to include concerts, martial-arts demonstrations, and a parade.
If you've worked up an appetite at the Tidal Basin, head four blocks down Maine Avenue. Restaurants stretch along the avenue, including local seafood powerhouse Phillips Flagship. All have terraces overlooking the Washington Channel and the motorboats, houseboats, and sailboats moored here.
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Spread over some 128 acres, the grounds contain a large lake (with black swans from Australia), masses of shrubs and flowers, and magnificent examples of many tree species, including fan palms more than 90 feet high. Don't miss the 10-acre natural remnant rain forest. Locals come here to stroll along nature walks, jog, practice tai chi, feed geese, or just enjoy the serenity. Inside the Botanic Gardens is the 7.4-acre National Orchid Garden, where you can see more than 700 orchids and some 2,100 hybrids, bred over the last 70 years.
Pair an afternoon visit to the Botanic Gardens with an evening visit to Night Safari, the world's first wildlife park designed exclusively and especially for night viewing. Night Safari uses a moat concept to create open, natural habitats; areas are floodlighted with enough light to see the animals' colors but not enough to limit their normal activity.
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The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are a spectacular 300 acres of public gardens, containing more than 30,000 species of plants. In addition, this is the country's leading botanical institute, and has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The highlights of a visit are the two great 19th-century greenhouses filled with tropical plants, many of which have been there as long as their housing. The bold glass roofs of the ultramodern Princess of Wales Conservatory shelter no fewer than 10 climatic zones.
Take a break and some tea at Maids of Honour
, the most traditional of Old English tearooms, named for the famous tarts invented here and still baked by hand on the premises. Tea is served in the afternoon, Tuesday-Saturday 2:30-5:30.
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At the foot of Picketpost Mountain in Superior, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum
is often called an oasis in the desert: the arid rocky expanse gives way to lush riparian glades home to 3,200 different desert plants and more than 230 bird and 72 terrestrial species. Trails on the grounds offer breathtaking scenery in the gardens and the exhibits, especially during the spring wildflower season (March-April). The arboretum offers a living album of the world's desert and semiarid region plants, including exotic species such as Canary Islands date palms and Australian eucalyptus.
A scenic drive past the arboretum (from Phoenix) will bring you to Superior, the first of several mining towns and the launching point for a dramatic winding ascent through the Mescals to a 4,195-foot pass that affords panoramic views of this copper-rich range and its huge, dormant, open-pit mines.
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It's the largest flower garden on earth, with roots--in terms of legacy, not soil--that date back to the 15th century. And the parking is just big enough for the tour buses it must accommodate March through May. Many find the park a bit kitschy, but everyone marvels at the superbly manicured flower beds and tulips named for everyone from Lady Di to the Teletubbies. As many as 7 million tulip bulbs bloom here every spring, either in hothouses or in flower beds along the sides of a charming lake. In the last weeks of April you can catch tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and narcissi all flowering simultaneously.
Twelve miles east of Keukenhof, the Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer (Aalsmeer Flower Auction) is held five days a week from the predawn hours until midmorning. The largest flower auction in the world, it has three auction halls operating continuously in a building the size of 120 football fields. You can watch the proceedings by walking on a catwalk above the rolling carts that move on tracks past the auctioneers.
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Photo credit: (1) © Rachael Voorhees; (2) © Jan Lukac; (3) © Tracy Ducasse.