Top 13 public gardens

You don't have to know a zinnia from zoysia to be wowed by the these dazzling gardens

Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, OR. Japanese maples are at their most vivid in autumn at the Portland Japanese Garden, set on a hilly 5.5 acres among tall cedars, Douglas firs, and hemlocks. Enjoy the views of downtown and Mt. Hood from the Pavilion’s lookout, then meander the trails through five garden areas. In the Natural Garden, 12 varieties of Japanese maples are showing their true late-fall tree colors. Scattered throughout the grounds are crimson burning bushes and yellow, orange, and red deciduous azaleas. Don’t miss: The star of the show, a 100-year-old specimen known as That Maple, in the Flat Garden, just inside the entrance. Its leaves turn brilliant orange in autumn. $10; 611 S.W. Kingston Ave.;

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Fort Bragg, CA. Canyons, wetlands, a pine forest, and more make up this 47-acre site overlooking the Pacific. See native species in their natural plant communities, and formal gardens filled with heaths and heathers. Stroll the trails along coastal bluffs for breathtaking ocean views, at their best on clearer autumn days. Don’t miss: Dahlias in full bloom in the Dahlia Garden in summer and fall. $14 ($7/Mendocino Coast Recreation & Park District residents); 18220 N. State 1;

Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, CO. With the Rocky Mountains as backdrop, the 24 acres here include idea-filled theme landscapes such as Plains Garden and Rock Garden. The kids will go nuts for a 19th-century working farm that has chickens and sheep, plus the rough-hewn wooden treehouse in the new Deer Creek Discovery Children’s Area. The Japanese Garden is awash in fiery color come fall. If the air turns chilly, duck into the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory, kept at a balmy 70°, to see banana palms and coffee plants. Don’t miss: Autumn crocus blooming along Shady Lane. $13; 1007 York St.;

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA. Fall is an ideal time to wander the Getty Center’s newly refreshed Central Garden amid the maze of clipped azaleas, blooming dahlias, and a stream. Don’t miss: Mod and marvelous bougainvillea “trees” trained up rebar arbors—they’re absolutely awe-inspiring. $15/vehicle; 1200 Getty Center Dr.;

Rancho Los Alamitos, Long Beach, CA. This former estate of the pioneering Bixby family has new features, including a restored barn, farm animals, and, occasionally, a visiting working blacksmith. Paths lead through the oak- and pine-shaded Native Garden, the Cactus Garden, and the Cutting Garden. Don’t miss: The Oleander Walk, which is lined with crape myrtle trees whose leaves are turning bright orange. Free; 6400 E. Bixby Hill Rd.;

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ. Rambling among red rock formations with vistas in nearly every direction, the Desert Botanical Garden will make you feel like you’ve left the city for the country. Show-offs are bristly headed barrel cactus and ornamental grasses. Don’t miss: The Desert Discovery Loop Trail (about 0.3 mile) along a yucca forest, and the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail (0.25 mile) through stands of organpipe cactus. $18; 1201 N. Galvin Pkwy.;

The Water Conservation Garden, El Cajon, CA. Go for the exhibits and classes on how to keep your water bill from breaking the bank. Bring the kids along as you learn how to grow veggies in a raised bed or check out dollhouse-size models of fire-safe landscaping. Have a lawn you love to neglect? Find smart solutions at the meadow of drought-tolerant ornamental grasses. Don't miss: Fleshy succulents in pink, yellow, green, burgundy, and blue, plus cactus blooming with magenta flowers. Free; 12122 Cuyamaca College Dr. W.; 619/660-0614 ext. 10;

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