The Idaho Botanical Garden is an unusual place. Its 33 acres were once part of the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise. This prison’s sandstone walls and guard towers are now part of the garden experience. Some concerts in its summer series and community events are held on Outlaw Field where local sports teams once played the inmates. The prison team was called The Outlaws. This penitentiary was once Idaho’s official prison. Between its opening in 1872 and its closing in 1973, 13,000 prisoners served time here. The mature trees in the Meditation Garden were planted by minimum security prisoners. The location became a botanical garden in the 1980s.
Some aspects of this almost urban botanical garden are traditional. Despite its somewhat inhospitable location in the Boise foothills,The Idaho Botanical Garden contains an English Garden designed by a British landscape architect, a Rose Garden, sculptures, many activities for children, etc. Its non-traditional aspects that will be of interest to visitors from others places include an Idaho Native Plant Garden and a Firewise Garden featuring flammable grasses, shrubs, and trees in a place close to potential forest fires. Firewise offers plant lovers alternative plants that won’t combust. Another interesting focus here is on Idaho’s carnivorous plants that will both enchant and horrify children.
My favorite area was the Western Waterwise Garden. It’s in the Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden. All the species here originated in western states, and 2/3 of them were either collected or described by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their early 19th century expedition that included this area. Their diaries noted 178 plants not known to science previously. There’s an impressive list of them on Wikipedia. One is called Fire-on-the-mountain. Thomas Jefferson instructed Lewis and Clark to pay special attention to blooming plants they hadn’t seen before and consider their commercial value. This botanical garden offers examples of the plants they catalogued.
There’s a ‘what’s blooming’ list that’s updated regularly. When we were there it held the names of fairly common plants like lavender and hollyhocks. There was also some information about this botanical garden’s nationally known collection of Western Penstemon plants that are especially popular with pollinators. I was not familiar with this plant. Ruth, the family horticulturist, found a favorite too, a very unusual blooming petunia that she is trying to find and grow.