Top 13 public gardens

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

Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA. At this garden-gallery combo, you'll see  Rembrandt portraits, Degas dancers, and Matisse prints.

Don't miss: The  sculpture garden outside, where the Maillol nudes nestled in reeds at the lily pond’s edge look as inviting as mermaids. Beyond the daylilies, lavender, and bamboo, Gwynn Murrill’s Sitting Cheetah seems so at home under the trees, you expect its tail to twitch. A cafe tucked into one corner is a pleasant spot for a break before you head back to the galleries. Closed Tue; $8; 411 W. Colorado Blvd.; 626/449-6840; www.nortonsimon.org

Earthbound Farm, Carmel Valley, CA. Enjoy a hands-on experience at Earthbound’s 30-acre research garden. Get dirt under your fingernails with a harvest-your-own-flowers walk or a pick-your-own-vegetables chef demo, or visit the snip-your-own-herbs garden. For a full-on sensory experience, wander barefoot through a low-growing chamomile labyrinth. Involve your kids in farm life at the children’s garden, which has a tipi, tunnels, and peanut butter–scented plants that could be straight out of Dr. Seuss. Don't miss: The loaded salad bar (and excellent veggie lasagna) at the farmstand run by Earthbound, the organic farm that pioneered pre-washed lettuce. $20; 7250 Carmel Valley Rd.; 831/625-6219; www.ebfarm.com

Market by Jean-Georges, Vancouver, B.C. Indulge in a meal at the buzzy restaurant set in the Shangri-La, a luxe hotel in British Columbia’s tallest (61-story) building. Don't miss: The view from Market’s terrace. Peer down at a Mondrian-inspired pattern of red, blue, and black plants carpeting a nearby rooftop. The terrace’s bamboo grove is a peaceful place to soak in the scene. $$$; 1128 W. Georgia St.; 604/689-1120; www.shangri-la.com/vancouver

Kahanu Garden, Hana, Maui, HI. This tropical temple set on Maui's famous road to Hana offers  black lava rock landscapes and awesome views of the jagged coastline. Don't miss: Pi‘ilanihale heiau, built out of lava rock in the late 13th century. One of the largest Hawaiian temples, it’s as big as two football fields. Near its base, get a quick history lesson at the Canoe Garden, where you can see plants the first Hawaiians brought to the islands by canoe, including Niu (coconut), Ko (sugarcane), Kalo (taro), and Ki (ti leaves). Closed Sun; $10; 650 ‘Ula‘ino Rd.; 808/248-8912; www.kahanu.ntbg.org

Cornerstone Gardens, Sonoma, CA. Here you'll find  good browsing in design shops and a boutique-wine collective, but you'll truly fall for the whole concept of gardens as art. Don't miss: The quirky work of top landscape architects in this nine-acre complex, including a “flying” picket fence that soars 5 feet above the ground, a tree encrusted in sky blue Christmas balls, and an orchard of plastic daisy pinwheels. These eye-poppingly unconventional landscapes make you really think. Free; 23570 State 121; 707/933-3010; www.cornerstonegardens.com

Red Butte Garden and Arboretum, Salt Lake City, UT. Hiking trails, walking paths, and primo picnic sites abound in Red Butte Canyon, which in summer swirls with butterflies and hummingbirds. Don't miss: Classes on herbs and native plants. Talk about an education; these workshops are offered by the University of Utah. And take in the carpets of 96 types of daffodils, blooming through late April. $6; at the University of Utah, 300 Wakara Way; 801/581-4747; www.redbuttegarden.org

Page