After 100 years of growth, development and environmental stewardship, University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum is where a naturalist essay meets a Robert Frost poem. Professors, sponsors and researchers have collaborated to make the 700 acres of gardens, greenhouses and natural preserves into a haven for rare wildlife and a fascinating escape for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
This vast expanse brings exotic flora from all over the world right to Ann Arbor. A walk through the conservatory will take you through distant climes; a balmy tropical exhibit including orchids, bromeliads, and chocolate and banana trees; the Arid House populated with strange, spiny greenery; and a meditative Bonsai Garden filled with artistic miniatures. Dozens of trails, exhibits and display gardens feature carefully selected, planted and cared for trees and flowers in fascinating expressions of the culture, history, geography and science of their native lands.
You can learn about the plants used in modern pharmaceuticals, discover the first plants ever domesticated in the Americas, learn about habitats worldwide, and gather dozens of other facts along your journey. If your mind or feet get tired, simply enjoy the vibrancy and serenity that pervades the entire gardens. “A real treasure in the Arb is the peony garden,” said Joseph Mooney, marketing director for the area, “The Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden is the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America, with over 10,000 flowers in shades of white, pink, and red during peak bloom.” The Peony Garden alone draws thousands of visitors each spring from all over Michigan and beyond. Another must-see, according to Mooney, is the Heathdale area, a quiet, shaded spot with rhododendrons and azaleas from the Appalachian region. The Arb loses none of its grandeur as summer ends: “The fall is a beautiful time to visit the Arb because of the changing trees, and fall/late summer is also the best time to view the prairie,” Mooney notes, as that part of the gardens hits its peak in the fall.
The Arboretum and Gardens host many events, classes, and workshops throughout the year for all ages. In June, hundreds come out to see Shakespeare in the Arb, “a perfect blend of theater and nature,” enthuses Mooney. September 16th marks Music in the Arb, an afternoon of world music, and The Run for the Arb 5K fundraiser takes off on the 29th. Additionally, many plan their own events by reserving areas for weddings and receptions in the beautiful gardens.
With children’s gardens, hiking trails, interactive exhibits and educational features of all subjects, this Ann Arbor emerald has something for everyone. Take a virtual tour on their website, check out their facebook, twitter, blog or, best of all, make a getaway, any day of the year.
Samantha Stemler, Feature Writer