When I moved to Springfield from St. Louis in 2012, I knew adventure awaited.

Everyone knows the Ozarks are a patchwork of lakes, rivers, and hiking trails that awaken their inner explorer. I have spent weekends finding some of the most scenic rocky bluffs and swimming holes in Southwest Missouri, and I’ve loved every minute of it. But one of my favorite outdoor retreats is arguably also one of Springfield’s most underrated spots—Springfield Botanical Gardens.

For me, it just takes a short drive to the west side of town to spend an afternoon there. Located inside the sprawling Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, the botanical garden is a colorful maze that leads you through several miles of garden beds. Thanks to the number of gardens, there’s almost always something new to see each season, which is good news since it’s still technically winter. One day, my friend Claire and I decided to head to the park to soak up some much-needed sunshine.

The temperature was in the mid-fifties, the sun was shining, and the winds had died down. We entertained ourselves by picking out the hosta names that best fit our personalities. Some of these plants have the absolute best names. In the hosta garden alone, we spotted Abba Dabba Do, Guacamole, Fried Bananas, Brenda’s Beauty, Sizzle, Sharp Dressed Man, Curly Fries, and Striptease.

Site seeing in missouri often leads people to Springfield Botanical Gardens
Photo courtesy Springfield Botanical Gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park.

The size of each garden varies. Some are no bigger than the raised beds in my own backyard. Others are larger and are crisscrossed with walking paths and bridges. The size and scale of these gardens are as varied as the selection of blooms you’ll enjoy throughout the year. In the winter, I’d recommend the Ornamental Grass Garden or the Dwarf Conifer Garden for an afternoon stroll. These were our favorites. The conifer garden gave us the green we wanted. If you visit in March, look for blooming red maples and native wildflowers including bluebells and rose verbena.

No visit is ever quite the same, and you have plenty of room to stretch your legs. I’ve visited botanical gardens in St. Louis, Washington, DC, Cambridge in England, and Nice in France. Springfield’s is at the top of the list. I’m not just saying that because I love this city and my new home in the Ozarks, but because it is really more of a park. There are no entry fees, with the exception of the Japanese Stroll Garden where the sights and picnic spots are absolutely worth reaching for your wallet. There are no giant greenhouses where you have to battle crowds to get the perfect photo. There are no crowds period.

Instead, there are wide-open prairies and green spaces, shady arboretums, running paths, plant sales including the annual Master Gardener Plant Sale in April, events like the popular Cherry Blossom Kite festival, which takes over the park each April, workshops, and gardens everywhere you look. So next time you travel to the Queen City, plan an afternoon adventure where trees and seasonal blooms are the main attractions.

The Springfield Botanical Gardens are located at 2400 South Scenic Avenue. For more information on park hours or seasonal attractions, call 417-891-1515 or visit ParkBoard.org. You can also tour the gardens online at SGFBot.org.