Maybe you shouldn’t judge a university by its looks, but you sure can appreciate these ones for the creative and inspiring way they have transformed their space into stunning arboretums and gardens. Whether you are interested in hands-on environmental programs that emphasize conservation and sustainability, or you just love a good magnolia tree, this list of universities has everything from well-manicured gardens with stone fountains to breathtaking waterfalls. The impressive greenhouses and natural landscapes are great spaces for research, recreation, or simply marveling at their brilliant nature designs.
50. Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden (St. John’s, Canada)
Near the colorful entrance to the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden is where you can find the main flower gardens. University students are responsible for much of the garden maintenance, and they practice soil stewardship by not using pesticides on any of the gardens. Following the theme of sustainability, the beautiful hiking trails include a compost demonstration area with different kinds of compost bin setups as an educational tool. Five nature trails guide the way through 100 acres of scenic natural land.
49. University of South Florida Botanical Garden (Tampa, Florida)
Impressive gardens are incorporated throughout the grounds at the University of South Florida Botanical Garden. Including both both planned and maintained gardens and 9 acres of natural greenbelt, the garden’s well-designed trail leads through varied gardens and habitats, past Lake Behnke, and to the conservatory that offers plant information and education. The distinct gardens include Florida native plants, fruit trees, palms, and more than 3,000 taxa of plants.
48. University of Bristol Botanical Gardens (Bristol, England)
A walk through the immersive University of Bristol Botanical Gardens will carry you along the path of plant history. In the Evolution of Land Plants display, the greenery moves through geological history from ancient aquatic algae to contemporary flowering plants. The collections contains unique greenery such as the Wollemi Pine, which was known from fossils dating back 200 million years and was thought extinct until specimens were discovered in the 1990’s. The garden’s 1.5 mile Avon Gorge with the Avon River running through the center is home to many local and rare native species.
47. Chester M Alter Arboretum at the University of Denver (Denver, Colorado)
Among the more than 2,000 trees at the Chester M Alter Arboretum at the University of Denver, there are ten champion and notable trees. These include unique trees from around the world and some of the largest trees of their species within Colorado state. The arboretum’s champion collection includes a Giant Weeping Sequoia Tree, a Horsechestnut Tree, and two Crabapple trees that bloom a brilliant pink in the spring. The trees are impressively catalogued in an online database and labeled across the grounds for visitors to learn an enjoy.
46. University of Tennessee Gardens (Knoxville, Tennessee)
Recognized as the official state botanical gardens of Tennessee, the University of Tennessee Gardens have locations in Knoxville, Crossville, and Jackson. The test gardens are particularly important for maintaining and monitoring plant life in a climate of hot, humid summers and variable winters. They are one of only thirty-four official All-American test sites in the United States. In addition to creating beautiful gardens, the research from these sites is used for evaluating and selecting commercial plants and seeds.
45. University of Rhode Island Botanical Gardens (Kingston, Rhode Island)
The Ericaceous Garden at the University of Rhode Island Botanical Gardens is a particular treasure. Tucked around a grassy knoll, it is filled with mountain laurel, azaleas, and rhododendron plants and outlined with a dwarf conifer display. Another highlight is the White Garden that contains only plants that bloom white flowers. In addition to shrubs and perennials, this garden includes white-barked Paper Birch. The flora surrounds a low circle wall that visitors and students use as a charming learning space.
44. University of Chicago Botanic Garden (Chicago, Illinois)
The University of Chicago Botanic Garden is an oasis nestled in the middle of a big city. A collection of oak trees that are older than the university flourish in the main quadrangle gardens. It is one of the few gardens where the botanical gardens are incorporated directly into the campus itself rather than in separate or additional land. The original layout design is largely influenced by the ideas of Frederick Law Olmsted, who has been called the most influential landscape architect in United States history.
43. University of Central Florida Arboretum (Orlando, Florida)
The University of Central Florida Arboretum is an expansive space with over 320 acres of managed uplands and wetlands, and an additional 200 acres of natural land with long-term preservation plans. Wetland areas and a network of stormwater ponds cover a significant potion of campus grounds. The arboretum has wooden platforms that lead through its cypress domes in the wetlands, creating attractive canopied walkways.
42. University of Arizona Arboretum (Tucson, Arizona)
The University of Arizona Arboretum is the only Land Grant institute within the Sonoran Desert. It reflects this role with its heritage tree collection containing specimens that cannot be found anywhere else in Tucson and some of the oldest trees in the state. The campus has an expansive cactus garden that includes several Boojum trees, some of the strangest-looking plants in the world that originate further west in the Sonoran Desert.
41. Wellesley College Botanic Gardens (Wellesley, Massachusetts)
The Wellesley College Botanic Gardens are home to several 300-year-old white oak trees that are older than the college. The variety of notable trees surround a winding brook that ends in Paramecium Pond, creating the perfect setting for watching the seasons change. The innovating campus gardens include a Kitchen Garden for growing edibles and a Green Roof Garden where researchers plant and evaluate a wide range of plants for use on green roofs.
40. South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson University (Clemson, South Carolina)
The South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson University contains one of the largest collections of nature-based sculptures and visual art in the United States. The sculpture pictured above–The Crucible by artist Herb Parker–is one of many pieces that are designed onsite by international artists using entirely natural elements. They are built by students and volunteers, and then left untouched to become part of the natural setting in fascinating ways.
39. Botanic Garden of the University of Valencia (Valencia, Spain)
The Botanic Garden of the University of Valencia has cultivated a collection of over 4,200 plant species within twenty lovely gardens. With a history of growing medicinal plants that dates back to the sixteenth century, there is still a large ethnobotanical portion of the gardens that includes medicinal plants and industrially used plants like legumes, soy, cotton, and sugar cane. The School of Botany comprises the largest and oldest portion of the garden with plants grouped and labeled by classification and ordered to display the evolution of various plants.
38. University of California, Davis Arboretum (Davis, California)
Located in California’s Central Valley where weather extremes are the norm, The University of California, Davis Arboretum serves as a central source of horticultural information for the non-coastal areas of the state. The university focuses on sustainable means of horticulture. They practice and teach environmentally-friendly techniques that lower energy and water use while bolstering natural pollinators and insects. The Arboretum’s All-Star program offers the public a practical list of 100 plants that are hardy and easy to grow for the average garden in similar climates.
37. University of Uppsala Botanical Garden (Uppsala, Sweden)
The grounds of the University of Uppsala Botanical Garden contain a 200-year-old orangery that was built in the 18th century style for housing plants during the winter. It is one of the few that continues to be used for its original purposes. There is also an Alpine Garden that replicates the plant make-up within the Scandinavian mountain range and two satellite gardens that the University maintains, including the Linnaeus Garden, which has been restored to its 18th Century French-style design and includes around 1,300 species.
36. Connecticut College Arboretum (New London, Connecticut)
The beautiful landscaping and gardens at the Connecticut College Arboretum reflects the college’s emphasis on environmental sustainability. At least 30 classes at the college incorporate the arboretum into their coursework. It includes over 770 acres of land with more than 400 acres set aside as naturally preserved land for research or manipulative projects. The college is accredited in the highest level III category of arboretum by the Morton Register of Arboretum for meeting high standards and criteria.
35. Donald E. Davis Arboretum at Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama)
The Donald E. Davis Arboretum at Auburn University is home to about 300 species of plants native to the southeastern United States. Auburn’s geographic position across the fall line where the rocky uplands of Alabama meet the sandy coastal plains allows for the arboretum to encompass a diverse collection of plants that flourish both above and below the fall line. North of the fall line you can find the arboretum’s sandstone and limestone outcrops, and south of the fall line there are a host of coastal plant bogs, dunes, and prairies.
34. University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum (Madison, Wisconsin)
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum was established on what was largely farmland along the Lake Wingra shore. A primary focus became ecological restoration as the university attempted to restore the land to its natural landscape prior to human settlement. It claims to be the oldest and most extensive restored ecological site. The arboretum’s Curtis Prairie, the world’s oldest restored prairie, covers 60 acres and at times grows big bluestem grass and Indian grass up to 8 feet tall.
33. Stellenbosch University Botani cal Garden (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
As the oldest university botanical garden in South Africa, Stellenbosch University Botani cal Garden contains an enormous diversity of plants that flourish in the mild climate of Stellenbosch. The gardens includes a lily pond, an extensive bonsai collection of around 300 trees, and four greenhouses that host a variety of succulents and other plants native to Southern Africa. The gardens include some plants that are now considered extinct in the wild. They also have some of the biggest and tallest species of trees in the world–the giant sequoia and the Californian redwood.
32. University of Idaho Arboretum (Moscow, Idaho)
The University of Idaho Arboretum is situated in a valley along the rolling Palouse Hills. The university’s campus was largely treeless in 1909 when they developed a forestry curriculum, and hundreds of trees were planted across fourteen acres of land. They now comprise a grove of mature trees that makes up one piece of the vast arboretum. The arboretum is filled with stone benches and walking trails, including one climb that offers a stunning overview of Oregon’s Blue Mountains.
31. University of Washington Botanic Gardens (Seattle, Washington)
The University of Washington Botanic Gardens has officially existed since 2005 when the Washington Park Arboretum and the Center for Urban Horticulture united. It contains one of North America’s most important tree collections that include many different types of maples, oaks, hollies, magnolias, and mountain ash trees. The Union Bay Natural Area of the garden stretches along four miles of coastline, providing a great research habitat for birds and other wildlife. The gardens also offer the unique opportunity to experience the wetlands by kayak.
30. Cambridge University Botanic Gardens (Cambridge, England)
The Cambridge University Botanic Gardens first opened in 1846 when the intricate garden space was designed for a largely flat area of land. It now covers over 40 acres with more than 8,000 species displayed. The gardens gained their newest addition in 2011 when Sainsbury Laboratory opened on the botanic grounds as an interdisciplinary research center to study plant properties with the most innovative tools and analytics.
29. The Botanic Garden of Smith College (Northampton, Massachusetts)
There are 6,600 different kinds of plants at The Botanic Garden of Smith College and around 10,000 plants altogether, with an emphasis on plants native to New England. The college has a long history of using campus flora as a site for scientific study, and the Lilly Hall of Science is thought to be the first science-oriented structure at a women’s college. It has housed plant sciences and the college’s herbarium since 1886. The herbarium houses 60,000 pressed plant specimens.
28. Bonn University Botanical Garden (Bonn, Germany)
The main garden at Bonn University Botanical Garden was constructed around 1720 and has been maintained with its original Baroque structure since then. After World War II in 1945, the gardens had to be completely reconstructed, and it was rebuilt with two conservatories. The outdoor gardens are grouped in distinct sections in the moderate climate. The arboretum holds the woody plant collections, the systematic section is grouped by plant relationships, the geographical section organizes plants by place of origin, and the biotrope section displays the most important native plant communities.
27. Koishikawa Botanical Gardens at the University of Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan)
One of the oldest botanical gardens, the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens at the University of Tokyo originated as a medicinal garden in 1684. Ancient plants and ruins can be found throughout the garden, marking its long history. The collection’s plants are mostly from eastern Asia and emphasize conservation of endangered species. The garden’s most recent conservation project focuses on an endemic of endangered species in the Bonin Islands and Yakushima Island. Research at the gardens involve evolution, plant physiology, and phylogenetic systematics.
26. University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Stunning red bridges and stone entryways pop from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens. The gardens have three main sections. One part is a greenhouse complex with a diverse collection of international tropical plants. The Susie Harwood Garden has a wide collection of ornamental plants and winter-blooming trees including Japanese Flowering Apricot, Wintersweet, and Witch Hazels. The Van Landingham Glen has trees and wildflowers native to the Carolinas.
25. University of Oxford Botanic Gardens (Oxford, England)
Located at the center of the city, University of Oxford Botanic Gardens is a compact space filled a wide mix of plants that create one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. Scientific collections are located in the walled gardens, and ornamental greenery is in the lower gardens. One notable space is the Euphorbia Collection which includes over 2,00o specimens from the Euphorbia family with types that will work in nearly any soil type and condition.
24. Lyon Arboretum at University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
There are nearly 200 acres of tropical rain forest and seven miles of hiking trails at the Lyon Arboretum at University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Located in the Manoa Valley watershed, the land elevation varies drastically from 400 feet to heights of 1,850 feet above sea level. The arboretum includes one of the largest collections of palm trees. It also has an Ethnobotanical Garden that preserves traditional Hawaiian plants which have been historically used for building canoes, creating and dying barkcloth, and creating medicines.
23. University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden (Copenhagen, Denmark)
The University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden is well-known for its extensive layout of 27 greenhouses. Most notable is The Palm House complex that was first built in 1874 and houses a 300-year-old palm tree as well as five departments that each have distinct climates and flora. The garden is part of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and contains the country’s largest living plant collection. It has over 13,000 species collected from the wild and over 23,000 living plants which are all digitally registered.
22. Cornell Plantations of Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)
The botanical gardens at Cornell Plantations of Cornell University covers 25 acres with an emphasis on plants native to the New York area. There is also a 150 acre arboretum and an additional 3,500 acres of natural land that encompasses a mixed terrain of bogs, meadows, gorges, and woodlands. Stressing the importance of education connected with the garden, the plantation has a LEED Gold certified welcome center with bright, open rooms to host visitors and large multipurpose rooms for education and outreach programs.
21. Botanical Garden of the University of Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland)
The domed greenhouses are a distinctive feature of the Botanical Garden of the University Zurich. The three houses hold three unique environments for plants: tropical mountain forest, tropical lowland rainforest, and tropical drylands. Outside gardens include a rocky alpine area, native forests and meadows, and water garden plants. There is also a collection of dye plants which have typically been used to create dye, including chamomile, woad, and indigo.
20. University of Illinois Arboretum (Urbana, Illinois)
The University of Illinois Arboretum is a younger arboretum that was first created in the 1980s, but it has quickly grown into a lovely space. It holds the American Hosta Society National Display Garden, with many different types of the shade-loving plants tucked under trees and along pathways. The garden path is bursting with colors and blossoms in the spring beneath the Sen Cherry Tree Allee, which is part of the Japan House landscape.
19. Georgeson Botanical Garden at University of Alaska Fairbanks (Fairbanks, Alaska)
The unique horticulture of subarctic Alaska fills the Georgeson Botanical Garden at University of Alaska Fairbanks. The gardens hold unique native plants that thrive under the midnight sun, Alaska’s famous giant cabbage plants, and act as a home to Alaskan wildlife. The Georgeson Botanical Garden also initiated a now statewide trend of growing and exporting peonies because of their late blooming period for the flowers. The compact grounds are packed with specialty gardens that include wetlands, a children’s garden, and perennial research plots.
18. Botanical Garden of the University of Naples Federico II (Naples, Italy)
Orchards are a distinctive feature at the Botanical Garden of the University of Naples Federico II. A citrus orchard was one of its earlier gardens, and it now includes several kinds of uncommon citrus species. There are also lush orchards with many different kinds of apples and pears represented. A particularly striking space is the Desert Garden that covers a South-facing slope with full sun and sandy soil for proper drainage. An impressive amount of cacti and succulents fill the hillside.
17. Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, Pennsylvania)
The 300+ acres of the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College hold a diversity of plants from the Delaware Valley region. One of the architectural highlights of the arboretum is the outdoor amphitheater that is well-hidden until you enter the stunningly open space surrounded by the Crum Woods. The grounds have over 4,000 different kinds of plants with impressive collections of peonies, rhododendrons, conifers, and flowering cherries.
16. University of British Colombia Botanical Garden and Centre for Research (Vancouver, Canada)
The University of British Colombia Botanical Garden and Centre for Research is the oldest university botanical garden in Canada, created in 1916. The gardens include a traditional Japanese tea garden that is considered one of the top five Japanese gardens outside of Japan, a food garden planted using organic farming techniques, and the British Columbia Rainforest Garden that displays native plants to the southwestern British Columbia coastal rainforest. Lovely networks of wooden bridges cross the pond and boggy areas to allow access to all parts of the gardens.
15. Marsh Botanical Gardens at Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)
The six greenhouses at the Marsh Botanical Gardens at Yale University cover about one third of an acre of the expansive greenery, and they contain 2,000 orchids. In the outside gardens, a hillside spring outlines the bog of native plants. In the springtime, the grounds pop with color in areas where wildflowers cover the ground in place of grass, providing beautiful surroundings for students and visitors to enjoy.
14. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia of the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
The shade and native floral gardens at The State Botanical Garden of Georgia of the University of Georgia create an enchanting scene during spring, when new flowers bloom every day. The magnolias, dogwoods, and azaleas all radiate bright blooms. The shade gardens have seven sections, and each contains a plaza with wooden benches and pergolas that complement the scenery. The gardens have also been deemed an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.
13. Jardin botanique de l’Université de Strasbourg (Strasbourg, France)
Nine gardens surround the Institute of Botany at the Jardin Botanique de l’Université de Strasbourg. These include an arboretum, the school of botany garden, ecological plantings, rockeries, a tropical greenhouse, and the Bary Greenhouse, which is a historical monument that dates back to the original architecture of the nineteenth century. The pond creates particularly spectacular views of the surrounding greenery.
12. The Blandy Experimental Farm and State Arboretum of the University of Virginia (Boyce, Virginia)
The Blandy Experimental Farm and State Arboretum of the University of Virginia is a popular destination for walkers with loop trails of several different lengths that provide amazing views of flourishing vegetation and Lake Arnold. The State Arboretum of Virginia rests in 172 acres within the Blandy Experimental Farm. With more than 5,000 woody plants, it is an important reference garden for the American Conifer Society of the Southeast Region. It also contains the American Boxwood Society Memorial Garden.
11. University of Leicester Botanic Gardens (Oadby, England)
The sixteen acres of greenery at the University of Leicester Botanic Gardens was created as four distinct gardens that eventually merged into one vast garden. One of the most diverse landscapes in the region, the garden brings together a variety of plants, sculptures, water features, and well-manicured shapes and paths. It is often open to the public with art exhibits, plant sales, and musical performances. The water garden is an enchanting space surrounded by pillars and a pergola where roses and grape vines climb.
10. Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra (Coimbra, Portugal)
The lush gardens at the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra rest on land that was donated by Benedict monks. The more formal part of the garden is divided into gorgeous terraces which are individually styled after distinct time periods. Another portion of the gardens include a bamboo forest, exotic trees, and 50 species of eucalyptus trees. An expansive lime grove surrounds and overhangs one of the most stunning garden walkways.
9. The Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University (Boston, Massachusetts)
With around 15,000 plants, the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University contains a premiere collection of hardy woody plants that thrive in the Boston area. Established in 1872, the arboretum hosts one of the oldest and most expansive lilac collections in North America. They celebrate Lilac Sunday on the second Sunday of May, and it has become a popular tradition where as many as 43,000 people have attended the festivities.
8. JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University (Raleigh, North Carolina)
A collection of uniquely scenic gardens make up the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University. By using the gardens as space for students studying Landscape Architecture to design and create, they continually evolve into innovative spaces. The gardens include a rooftop terrace that covers the university’s environmentally-designed McSwain Center and a Color Trials garden where over 700 perennial varieties are planted and evaluated annually.
7. Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna (Vienna, Austria)
More than 11,500 plant species reside in the breathtaking grounds of the Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna. The special collections at the gardens focus on conservation and research. While the tropical house is accessible to the public, there are several specialty departments within the greenhouses that are only open to students and researchers. There is a specific focus on preserving endangered species of plants from the dry eastern areas of Austria.
6. University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
Among the waterfall and tall trees of the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, you can find one of the most extensive, diverse plant collections in the United States. The garden’s most well-represented plant families include 2,669 cactus plants and 1,151 sunflower plants. The garden has an additional focus on rare and endangered species, and it includes more than 170 taxa that are listed on the California Native Plant Society’s list of endangered and rare plants.
5. Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum at University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
The 10,000 square foot conservatory of The Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum at University of Michigan is a dazzling space that is said to be the largest display greenhouse at a United States University. It includes a tropical house, a temperate house with plants originating from Mediterranean areas and Asia, and an arid house that showcases desert plants from around the world. There are also a wide array of outdoor gardens nearby.
4. Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
It looks like a fairy tale when the magnolia trees bloom in the Asiatic collection at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University. The peaceful site that features a wide variety of plants from Southeast Asia includes stepping stone paths and arched bridges that offer pretty views across the Garden Pond. There is also an intimate space for traditional Japanese tea preparation and service where visitors can participate.
3. Crosby Arboretum at Mississippi State University (Picayune, Mississippi)
It doesn’t get much more picturesque and serene then the Pincote Pavilion and at the Crosby Arboretum at Mississippi State University. The Pavilion and several surrounding wooded bridges were designed by E. Fay Jones, an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright. The Pavilion is a state historical landmark, and it is stunningly incorporated into the natural surrounding, which includes a large diversity of plants native to the Pearl River Drainage Basin in a 104-acre Native Plant Center and 700 additional acres of natural land.
2. Red Butte Garden at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)
The Red Butte Garden at the University of Utah stretches across hilly and mountainous terrain with several miles of hiking trails. The more than 100 acres of botanical gardens also create a colorful backdrop for the garden’s amphitheater that regularly hosts big-name concerts, movies, and theater performances.
1. Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Located in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is the official state arboretum of Pennsylvania. Amid its winding paths, rose gardens, and swan pond, you can find the 8-sided glass Doris H. Hamilton Fernery that contains 523 varieties of ferns. Built in 1899, the fernery is the only remaining freestanding Victorian structure of this kind in North America.