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Garden Wise: The Idaho Botanical Garden: A Treasure Valley jewel

Garden Wise: The Idaho Botanical Garden: A Treasure Valley jewel

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Idaho Botanical Garden

The English Garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

The Idaho Botanical Garden comprises 15 acres of cultivated land, divided into individual theme gardens. The garden showcases native and non-native plants adapted to the intermountain region. While it provides visual delights, it also draws attention to wild and rugged terrains that define Idaho.

Established in 1984, the garden has steadily grown, thanks to the generous contributions of individuals and organizations. Of special note is the English Garden, adjacent to the Rose Garden and the Mediation Garden. This atmospheric walled garden was designed by internationally acclaimed British landscape designer John Brookes, whose American projects also include the English Garden at the Chicago Botanical Garden.

Tom Schwartz

Tom Schwartz

In his books and lectures, Brookes emphasized the importance of site. He argued that a garden must reflect and celebrate its site rather than ignoring or working against it. Here, the English Garden pays homage to its Idaho environment, couched as it is in the Boise Foothills and the Old Penitentiary Historic District. A focal point of the English Garden is the quaint Summer House, constructed of Table Rock sandstone with a black slate roof. The garden’s flowering beds are awe-inspiring, hosting over 1,300 perennials, creating waves of color so orchestrated that blooms occur throughout the growing season.

The English Garden blends alternating blooms, variations of light and shade, and striking hardscape features, including the wrought iron and copper weathervane and the Princess Diana Fountain, dedicated to the former Princess of Wales.

Across the wide brick pathway is the tranquil Meditation Garden with its flowing water and koi pool. The garden highlights shade-loving plants that provide refuge from the scalding summer sun. This garden’s canopy includes broadleaf evergreens, conifers and deciduous plants that thrive in the shade, the cool and moist air, and the welcome break from intense summer sunlight. Summer temperatures in the Meditation Garden are often 10 to 20 degrees cooler than exposed locations in other parts of the garden.

The Heirloom Rose Garden features many antique or heirloom roses that graced gardens before 1867 when the very first hybrid tea rose was introduced. The garden also presents many modern hybrids.

In partnership with the Pahove Chapter of the Idaho Native Plant Society, the Idaho Botanical Garden developed the Idaho Native Plant Garden in 1990. The objective was to demonstrate a selection of Idaho’s native flora and to educate visitors about the importance of native plants. This garden showcases native grasses, forbs, trees and shrubs. It illustrates the diversity of plants that thrive in a high desert climate, but it also presents a waterfall and small pond that play host to native wetland plants.

The Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden features plants, native to Idaho, first discovered by Lewis and Clark during their historic exploration of the mid-American continent in 1805-1806. This garden was opened in 2006 to commemorate the bicentennial of that exploration. The garden also highlights contributions, both historical and botanical, of Sacajawea, the Idaho-born Native American woman who accompanied the expedition through Idaho’s many varied landscapes.

While signage in other parts of the garden often seems sparse, in the Lewis and Clark Garden, the signage is most impressive. Plant species are identified with both common and scientific names. Larger signs provide historical information about the land, the people (both Native Americans and white explorers), the climate and the flora. Overall, the signage provides instructive and engaging lessons in American history and the native flora of Idaho. Located within the boundaries of the Lewis and Clark Garden is the Western Waterwise Garden, showcasing drought-tolerant plants native to the western states.

The Vegetable Garden and the related Herb Garden draw attention to the central role plants play in our diet. They are also pivotal in the IBG’s efforts to educate and engage children in gardening activities

Even in October, as the growing season is slowing down, there is much to see in the Idaho Botanical Garden. Flowers are still blooming. Asters, azure blue sage, stonecrop, autumn crocus and bluebeard all add color to the fall landscape. Ripened berries in the Idaho Native Plant and Lewis and Clark Gardens also provide wonderful splashes of color. Look for the blue elderberry, Douglas’ hawthorn, Cascade mountain ash, chokecherry and Nootka rose.

The Idaho Botanical Garden is at 2355 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise, Idaho 83712. Garden hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. Entrance fees: adults $8, seniors (65+) $6, youth (4-12) $5, members and children 3 and under free. The IBG participates in the American Horticultural Society Reciprocal program.

The Idaho Botanical Garden is a must-see for Idaho gardeners, plant and nature lovers, parents looking for an educational and aesthetic experience for the family, and anyone seeking the calming and restorative powers of the natural world.

Garden Wise is presented by the Magic Valley Master Gardener Association. We will try to answer questions of general interest submitted by the community. Email questions to


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