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Essential Botanical Gardens to Visit in the Tennessee River Valley


Everything's coming up flowers. Nowhere is that more true than in the Tennessee River Valley. The drainage basin of the powerful Tennessee River stretches from southwest Virginia through Knoxville, dips into northern Alabama, and winds up in Paducah, Kentucky. That’s a lot of miles across a rich and fertile landscape — perfect for a gardener or nature lover to indulge in the area’s gardens. Here are the essential botanical gardens to visit in the Tennessee River Valley.

Knoxville, TN

Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum
Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum

The Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum, formerly known as Howell Nurseries, opened in the 18th century. Today, it boasts walking trails, an “Every Child Outdoors” Youth Garden, and a family garden. If you’re looking for planting inspiration, this 47 acres of land features master garden beds, and a Center for Urban Agriculture, where you can learn how to grow food. You can also rent some of the facilities for weddings. What a dreamy place to say “I do!”

Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Huntsville, AL

Huntville Botanical Gardens
Huntville Botanical Gardens

The Huntsville Botanical Garden has 112 acres of natural beauty. You’ll find lots of inspiration here, whether you’re looking for some peace and quiet or ideas for your own garden. This botanical garden boasts native plant collections such as bird's foot violets and flame azaleas. You'll also find ecosystem gardens dedicated to the wetlands, meadows, and forests. Kids will love the butterfly house, sure to charm everyone. You’ll find something growing all year long in the Four Seasons Garden, and the Bush Azalea Trail is a delight for the eyes.

The garden invites you to bring your dogs to enjoy the flowers with you on Monday and Tuesday nights from 5 to 8 pm. They also offer extended hours on Wednesday nights from 5 to 8 pm and invite you to bring a picnic dinner and listen to live music.

The Huntsville Botanical Garden is open with COVID-19 safety measures in place. You’re required to buy your tickets in advance, and bring your own hand sanitizer and face masks. They limit the number of guests in the gift shop at any one time and ask you to practice social distancing.

Chattanooga, TN

Rock City Garden
Rock City Garden

Between Huntsville and Knoxville lies Chattanooga, another major city in the Tennessee River Valley. The same climate that nurtures the gorgeous gardens elsewhere in the region also births the gardens in Chattanooga — of which you’ll find many. You can spend an entire weekend visiting the natural wonders here. Check out the Rock City Garden atop Lookout Mountain, complete with a 140-foot waterfall. Then, head to the Tennessee River Gardens and Nature Preserve in the Tennessee River Gorge. You’ll be enchanted by the Wildflower Trail, the Duck Habitat, and the Butterfly Pavilion at the Tennessee River Gardens.

Murray, KY

The Arboretum at Murray State University is the youngest addition to the list of esteemed botanical gardens in the Tennessee River Valley. Started by the university’s Hutson School of Agriculture, it's dedicated to both native and introduced plants. You can stroll through the Oak/Hickory Forest here, the Savanna, the Wetlands, and the Display and Community Gardens. If you’re on the Kentucky end of the Tennessee River Valley, the Arboretum at Murray State will feed your hunger for nature.

The Tennessee River Valley is a spectacular region with an endless number of activities to enjoy. Whether you’re exploring the area from Alabama to Kentucky to Virginia or focusing on one city in the Valley, you’ll find the rich climate gives rise to a diverse array of flora and fauna. These essential botanical gardens will get you pointed in the right direction and get you outdoors in this beautiful part of the country.

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