The lily pond at the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden

Ah, Mexico! I just returned from two weeks in the Puerto Vallarta area and – as I do with any trip – worked in some plant expeditions, amidst time spent ferreting out incredible food, wandering towns and villages, and peacefully resting on sunny beaches with cocktail in hand. (By the way, there are some incredible airfare deals this month so if the sound of warm sand, sunshine and fresh fish tacos sounds appealing… well…?)

Meantime, here’s something I discovered: while you wouldn’t think there could be great horticultural thrills in an area known for its touristic beaches and hotels, in fact the Puerto Vallarta area has much to recommend it to plant-lovers – including a lovely botanical garden.

The Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden is easy to get to from the city via a super-cheap city bus (take the "El Tuito/Botanical Gardens" bus) – a winding, scenic drive of about 20 minutes, from the historic district directly to the botanical garden gate.

Founded by Robert Price and his mother Betty in 2004, the garden was originally intended to provide a means to protect and conserve endangered native orchids that were being poached from their habitats. But the garden soon grew in scope to include many types of plants, as well as a great restaurant that serves day-visitors and hosts events – all of which helps fund the 501c non-profit garden.

The site consists of 20 acres of natural jungle ranging in elevation from about 1,100 to 1,300 feet above sea level and bisected by streams and trails running down the sometimes steep hillsides. The garden’s features include an orchid conservatory, tree fern grotto, trails through the jungle and a hillside of planted blue agaves, a native Mexican plant collection, a palm collection, tropical fruit trees, and butterfly gardens.

The garden has recently hired a new executive director, Neil Gerlowski, who plans to tackle the important task of developing the site and creating consistent records and labeling for the growing plant collections. The place is already an engaging destination for the general public, thanks to Robert’s aesthetic eye and skill in gathering plant materials: on display are sophisticated mixed terrariums, creative potted plantings, striking vines dripping from arbors, and playfully designed garden beds incorporating bones and skulls, quixotic plants and hardscaping. Now it looks like they’re ready to take the garden to the next level, turning a lovely destination into a serious botanical resource equipped to provide real collection and conservation resources for plants, including endangered species.

The restaurant, Hacienda de Oro, is a wonderful place to linger and enjoy a cold jamaica drink (made from red hibiscus flowers), spiked with flowers and herbs picked from the garden.

All in all, the garden is a visual treat, with lots of dramatic terrarium and container displays for flower lovers plus great food, fine walking and hiking opportunities, spectacular views from the restaurant, and even bird-watching opportunities for bird geeks (like me!). And based on my conversations with the Robert and Neil, I’d say it will only be growing more exciting for plant collectors and plant nerds as time passes.