I’ve lived in Northern Virginia my entire adult life, so it’s always exciting to find a brand-new-to-me place in the area. On a beautiful summer day, my 5 year old and I checked out one of these places – Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is one of those places that make you forget that you’re in Northern Virginia. It’s quiet and peaceful, it almost felt like we were on vacation, not 5 minutes from Tyson’s Corner! The woman at the visitor center told us that we wouldn’t be able to see it all in one day and she was right. The sprawling grounds cover 95 acres – far too much for a single day. After a quick stop to explore the fairy gardens that were just outside of the visitor center, we headed down the path towards the different gardens, stopping along the way to look at the various plants and flowers. During our visit in early July it seemed that the entire park was in bloom and full of colorful flowers. All of the plants are labeled, and my daughter really liked seeing the “funny names” that the flowers had.
My daughter loves birds, and the gardens were the perfect spot to do some bird watching. We saw all types of birds flying through the park and even found a nest in one of the trees close to the path. We’ll definitely bring our binoculars and bird book with us the next time we come back. We also loved spotting lots of different color butterflies amongst the flowers. There’s a special butterfly garden, but we saw them everywhere we went.
One of the highlights of our trip was the children’s garden. We really liked the different animal sculptures and we stopped to have a “tea party” with a giant tea set right out of Alice in Wonderland. There is also a small sandbox, a “touch and smell garden”, and other small spots for creative play.
We also really liked exploring the Korean Bell Garden, a tranquil spot with replicas of ancient Korean monuments and statues, walls and stone structures adorned with traditional Korean symbols, and a flowing water way. My daughter really liked the flower wall & the Dol Hareubang sculptures. I really liked the bell of peace & harmony – it was created in South Korea with many traditional images such as birds, plants and animals, as well as images symbolic of Virginia.
Our favorite spot by far was Lake Caroline & the Gazebo. We walked down the path so we could get a better view of the geese, but were delighted to find the fish (the largest koi fish I’ve ever seen) and turtles. The pavilion was also the perfect bird watching spot and we tried to identify the many birds who were flying around the water. We enjoyed this spot so much that after reluctantly leaving our shady seats to explore more of the park, my daughter begged to go back and watch the turtles again before we left. It was so lovely that it was an easy request to indulge.
We spent almost 2 hours exploring, and could have easily stayed longer. Different flowers are in bloom each month, and we will most definitely be back sooner rather than later.
Things to know before you go
- Admission to Meadowlark Gardens is $5 for adults, $2.50 for ages 7-17 and age 55 & over. Children 6 and under are free. You can also purchase an annual membership which is $35 for singles and $45 for families.
- The entrance to the gardens is through the Visitor’s Center. Spend a few minutes exploring before heading out. We really liked looking at the little frogs and the different bird nests that are found in the gardens. There is also a small gift shop (which sells snacks and cold drinks in addition to gifts) and bathrooms. While they were out the day we visited, the gift shop also sells fish & turtle food. The visitor center is also where you pay your admission fees. Be sure to pick up a map before you head out.
- There is a lot of walking as you’re exploring the gardens, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. All of the paths are paved, so they are stroller & wheelchair friendly.
- Even though it seems like the perfect place for picnics, picnics are not permitted in the gardens. There is a picnic area just off of the parking lot.
- There are special programs for children and adults throughout the year, including specific programs for girl scouts and boy scouts and Camp Grow. In December, the gardens host the popular Winter Walk of Lights, where more than a half mile of paved trail is light up by 500,000 LED lights. Read the Our Kids review for more details.
Photos by Mara Surridge.