With two new gardens to explore and admire and a classic that gets better every year, Palm Beach County is the place for garden enthusiasts this fall. Let's start with the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.
The 16-acre, $3.5-million Roji-En is the new backyard of the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach. Both the garden and museum celebrate the century-old bond the city has with Miyazu, Japan, the hometown of a handful of pioneering Japanese farmers who, in 1904, created a colony here they called "Yamato," an ancient name for Japan. But by the 1920s, after years of disappointing harvests, all left for greener pastures-with the exception of George Sukeji Morikami, who became a successful farmer and produce wholesaler. In the 1970s, when George was in his 80s, he donated 200 acres to Palm Beach County to preserve as a park in honor of the Yamato Colony.
The museum sets the cultural tone for the serene Asian landscape beyond. It houses a Seishin-an Tea House, where sado (the traditional tea ceremony) is performed by Japanese masters and galleries exhibit items from the museum's collection of 5,000 Japanese art objects.
The museum's back doors open onto Roji-En, one of the largest Japanese gardens outside of Japan. Landscape architect Hoichi Kurisu designed six distinctive gardens inspired by important Japanese historical periods.
"I'd like people to notice every step, every moment...to discover what we may have missed in modern life," Kurisu said; and the gardens he created have exactly that effect.
A winding pathway takes visitors to seating areas with peaceful views and fragrant scents of magnolias, gardenias and orange jasmine. Then it leads through ancient-looking gates, past Morikami's gravestone and Japanese symbols like the Chie no Wa wisdom ring (a replica of a 500-year-old stone lantern donated by the people of Miyazu) and the Ishidoro stone lantern erected in Tokyo in 1681 in memory of the fourth Tokugawa shogun.
The Shinden Gardens (eighth to the 12th century) are two islands carved to rise out of Lake Morikami. After wandering through the gate of Kodai-mon, visitors hear the wind blowing through a bamboo grove leading to the Paradise Garden (13th-14th century), an earthly representation of the Pure Land, or Buddhist heaven with soothing ponds and an ultra-peaceful aura.
A Shinto-like beauty prevails in the Early Rock Garden (14th century), while the 15th-century Karesansui (dry landscape) Late Rock Garden is Zen-like in its simple placement of rock and gravel.
Our favorite, the Hiraniwa Flat Garden (17th-18th century), includes a solitary pine growing in a large area of coarse gravel raked in orderly patterns. On the shore of a lake, a pagoda reaches skyward against a background of tall pines. In contrast, the Modern Romantic Garden is a strolling garden featuring a number of different elements, from old tamarind trees to a waterfall.
We traded our shoes for paper slippers upon entering the Yamato-kan, the original Morikami Museum building, which now shows off old photos and artifacts of the Yamato Colony. We also enjoyed exploring the surrounding garden, which includes a bonsai garden with an outstanding display of this ancient living art.
A must: An al fresco lunch at the Cornell Café, where the terrace offers a splendid vista of Roji-En. This little gem has been featured on the Food Channel for its delicious Asian fare. Try the red shrimp and golden tofu accompanied by hot sake.
4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach. Admission: $5.25; 10 a.m- 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. (561) 495-0233, www.morikami.org.
Adjacent to the Morikami is the International Orchid Center, a brand-new garden that's everything you'd expect from the 80-year-old American Orchid Society-sophisticated, brilliant and brimming in orchids.
The headquarters of this international organization of 30,000 members has just moved from West Palm Beach into this new $8-million facility, which includes a Mediterranean-style building perched on three-and-a-half acres of botanical gardens. The lobby overflows with orchids of all colors and sizes; the atrium is adorned in decorative orchid medallions; and a 260-foot tower, which overlooks the gardens, is dressed up in orchids on consignment from local growers. And the book and gift shop, of course, offers everything orchid from eye-catching doormats to handmade crystal champagne flutes with cattleya motifs.
The garden itself includes 800 species of ornamental plants and trees. A footpath meanders through themed gardens: the Jungle Garden; the Florida Native Garden, with a boardwalk spanning a cypress swamp decked out in the beautiful orchids and epiphytes of the Everglades; and The Vaughn Focus Garden, which includes the first orchid collected by influential Orchid Society member Lewis Vaughn. In addition, visitors can stroll through greenhouses overflowing in orchids of all kinds.
16700 AOS Lane, Delray Beach. Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (561) 404-2000, www.orchidweb.org
Accommodations: The stately Boca Raton Resort and Club, with its much-awarded gardens, seemed the perfect place to stay on our garden getaway. Designed by famed architect Addison Mizner, the hotel opened as The Cloister Inn in 1926.
The grand entrance rises behind long rows of tall royal palms and neon-bright yellow and red canna lilies, which lead to circular gardens surrounding antique statuary and a large herb garden, which the chefs harvest daily for use in the restaurants. Gardens of all kinds extend to every corner of the hotel grounds. They're loved so much by guests that the hotel offers garden tours.
Room rates: Oct. 1-Dec. 20: $190-$525 per night. Tennis and golf packages available. 501 E. Camino Real Drive, Boca Raton. (888) 495-BOCA.
Getting there: For the four-hour drive: Take I-75 south, cross Alligator Alley to I-95 north. Exit at Hillsboro Boulevard East. Head north on U.S. 1, turning right on Camino Real Drive.