Place where a wide range of plants is grown, providing the opportunity to see a botanical diversity not likely to be encountered naturally. Among the earliest forms of botanical garden was the physic garden, devoted to the study and growth of medicinal plants; an example is the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, established 1673 and still in existence. Following increased botanical exploration, botanical gardens were used to test the commercial potential of new plants being sent back from all parts of the world.
Today a botanical garden serves many purposes: education, science, and conservation. Many are associated with universities and also maintain large collections of preserved specimens (see herbarium), libraries, research laboratories, and gene banks.
In the US, there are both publicly and privately funded botanical gardens. Some botanical gardens and arboretums are devoted to local or New World plants while others preserve, protect, and propagate specialties, such as ornamentals. Most botanical gardens are open year round, with greenhouses and conservatories as well as extensive landscaped grounds and an exhibit hall that sells plants and offers an advisory service.
The New York Botanical Society runs the botanical garden at the Bronx Zoo in this way. Winterhur, the former du Pont estate, and Mount Vernon, the former home of George Washington, are now run as private historical sites and botanical gardens.