Bermuda’s  most popular and historic park, the Botanical Gardens (183 South Rd., tel. 441/236-5902, open sunrise to sunset daily, one-hour guided tours depart from visitors center carpark at 10:30 a.m. Tues., Wed., and Fri. weather permitting, admission free) encompasses 36 acres of rolling lawns, horticultural halls boasting orchids and cacti, and myriad outdoor gardens planted with exotica (ficus, rubber, and cotton trees) and down-home varieties (medicinal herbs).
Opened in 1898, the original “Public Gardens” totaled just 10 acres and served as an agricultural station in the 1930s. They were renamed and expanded to their current size in 1965, when the government bought the Camden estate to the east from the Tucker family. Since then, specimens from around the world have been gathered and planted here, making the property the biggest and best natural showcase of both endemic and non-native flora on the island.
The Botanical Gardens are maintained by the government’s Parks Department. There are three entrances: North Gate on Berry Hill Road, South Gate at 183 South Road, and West Gate on Point Finger Road next to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. The visitors center (tel. 441/236-5291, 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri.), with a café, washrooms, and gift shop, is staffed by volunteers from the Bermuda Botanical Society; it’s near North Gate, off Berry Hill Road, but can be accessed from any entrance. All proceeds are used for park projects or student scholarships.
Highlights of the Botanical Gardens in the North Gate area include a cacti hillside, with alien-looking aloes, agaves, and other succulents that occasionally sprout spectacular blossoms; a collection of subtropical native conifers, including Bermuda’s own cedar; and a “blue garden” featuring plants with blue fruit, flowers, or foliage.
Behind Camden House , a display developed in 2006 showcases a kitchen garden, with edibles and cut flowers; an economic garden, with tobacco, arrowroot, cotton, and indigo, which early settlers cultivated to survive; and medicinal herbs used in old-time Bermuda. This area also has aviaries with peacocks, ducks, parrots, doves, and budgies, and a delightful walled rose garden, one of Bermuda’s best.
Hilly lawns spill down from Camden to South Road, peppered with mature trees such as acacias and cedars. Bordering the top lawns are wide beds planted with bulbs that flower at different times with colorful lilies, freesias, dahlias, and others. This was the famous site where John Lennon saw a freesia named Double Fantasy during a 1980 visit to the island—and left a lasting legacy.
The western section of the Botanical Gardens contains a wealth of miniature environments, from butterfly and maze gardens to subtropical fruit and palm collections to mammoth rubber and ficus trees that send down aerial roots to support their huge overhanging branches. There is also a lovely walled “sensory garden” planted with rosemary, jasmine, and other sweet-scented flora, with a gurgling fountain in the center, and several slathouses containing orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and cacti.
Another interesting feature nearby is a tiny, whitewashed Bermuda cottage, built for the 2001 Smithsonian Folklife Festival to showcase island architecture. Thousands of Bermudians come to the Botanical Gardens every April for the three-day Bermuda Annual Exhibition , a cultural and agricultural fair that’s one of the island’s biggest events.