How to see the country's best botanical gardens for free. (No, really!) Just follow some of these useful tips.
By Amber Bruggman
Vacations can restore sanity. As a mother of three, I welcome every bit of time I get to spend with my husband and kids, but sometimes it's nice to get away from the carpooling and cooking and trade up to relaxation, fun and quality time.
Between everyday necessities and the little extras, it's hard to squeeze the budget just for the sake of family bonding. But help is on the way! While pricy family attractions like amusement parks have their place, a great alternative is to reconnect with nature—and sometimes art—in a nearby setting. Public gardens are a great way to do this. And with just a little bit of planning, you can enjoy a relaxing day trip with your family without spending a dime.
Here are my top 10 "frugal mom" tips for making your next visit to a botanical garden your best and cheapest!
Do your research. While not all gardens are free, most offer free or discounted days. Websites generally indicate who pays what and when.
Prepare for parking. Admission to the gardens may be free, but parking may cost you a bundle. Carpool with friends to save money, or research free parking options around the garden. You may end up walking a few blocks, but when parking can cost $20 or more, some exercise can keep a little of the green in your wallet.
Plan a "staycation." If you live in the same city or county as the garden, you might be eligible for free or reduced admission. Be sure to take proof of residence to get the discount.
Let your kids tag along. You might end up paying for yourself, but most gardens let children in free. And who knows? You could cultivate a real love of the outdoors when you expose your child to a wide range of beautiful flowers and plants.
Serve your country. While you might not join the military to get free garden admission, it can be one of the perks of service. Check it out if this applies to you.
Get a group together. Some gardens give group discounts, so while you won't exactly be getting in for free, you can save with friends and family outings.
Do good for others. Gardens sometimes offer discounted or free admissions when you bring canned goods or gently used clothing donations. Usually these perks are tied up with local charitable organizations, so check with your food pantry or clothing drop-off location to see if something like this is offered.
Become a member. For a yearly fee, you get perks like free
or reduced admission, free parking, and sometimes longer admission hours or access to special areas. Many gardens also allow free admission to other participating gardens with your membership.
Observe holidays. Many gardens stay open year-round, and a few offer free admission on certain holidays. For example, a garden might let you in free if you wear red on July Fourth. The garden's anniversary is also a popular time to offer reduced or free admission.
Set a budget. You may pay nothing for general admission, but special events and areas of the garden may not be free. Decide ahead of time which exhibits you want to visit, and make sure you're not tacking on hidden costs.
Take a closer look at these botanical gardens around the country to see how you might be able to get in free of charge!
BROOKLYN BOTANIC GARDEN
Brooklyn, New York
If you're in the mood for earth-friendly programs, stop by this world-famous garden, which holds more than 20 classes that are open to the public. How to get in free: No admission charge Tuesdays or 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. Seniors get in free on Fridays, too, and children and school groups are always free. More free admission: any weekday in the off-season, from Nov. 17 to March 2.
BIRMINGHAM BOTANICAL GARDENS
Enjoy a wide variety of traditional and non-traditional gardens, including a Japanese garden with a teahouse and the wheelchair-accessible Enabling Garden. How to get in free: Save your money for the gift shop. Admission and parking are free!
YERBA BUENA GARDENS
San Francisco, California
In addition to the flora you'll see great public art, including a glass ship sculpture that doubles as a greenhouse. How to get in free: Go anytime. Enjoy waterfalls, meadows and more, all at no cost.
OLBRICH BOTANICAL GARDENS
Stop and smell the roses at this botanical garden. The rose area is a popular site and has been open to the public since 2005. How to get in free: Admission is free, but some areas might have a nominal fee.
BELLEVUE BOTANICAL GARDEN
Get your group a free guided tour of this garden just by contacting the staff. Free tours are also available on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.
How to get in free: Admission is free to all!
ZILKER BOTANICAL GARDEN
Dinosaurs once roamed where the Cretaceous Garden grows. Along with plant
and insect life that existed 65 million years ago, a life-size dinosaur sculpture sits on Dino Island. How to get in free: General admission is free, though certain shows cost a bit extra. Parking is free on weekdays and $3 per car on weekends.
CHEYENNE BOTANIC GARDENS
This garden may not offer the largest acreage, but its focus on sustainability and renewable energy makes it a must-see in the area. Even the Children's Village strives to be eco-friendly, with recycled amphitheater seats and lessons in composting. How to get in free: Just sign a guest book and enter at no cost.
ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN
If you love the wild, this is the place for you. With the intent of keeping most of the facility in a natural state, only 11 of its 110 acres are cultivated, so you never know what you might spot while exploring the trails!
How to get in free: Become a member, or pay $5 to enter.
MISSOURI BOTANICAL GARDEN
St. Louis, Missouri
The land for the country's oldest botanical garden was a gift from Henry Shaw, whose grand 1850 home stands here today. How to get in free: Wednesdays and Saturdays before noon, there's no charge for residents of St. Louis County. Admission is also free to children and members, as is parking.
CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN
Sitting on nine islands in the middle of a lake, this complex features formal gardens, bird-watching areas, sculptures and more. How to get in free: There's no admission charge, but parking is a steep $20 per car and $25 per van. However, parking is just $7 for seniors on Tuesdays, and free for members anytime.