Want to know a good way to feel older? Celebrate a 14th birthday... for your daughter. I can't decide whether to buy a shotgun or a case of Just For Men.
For her birthday, my daughter decided to drag her family and three of her friends to the botanical gardens, giving me an excellent opportunity to walk around a huge, beautiful garden on a gorgeous spring day in the company of a quartet of giggling pubescent girls. The party element was interesting, but I really want to persuade you to visit some botanical gardens, so I'm going to focus on that.
Nearly every decent-sized city in the United States has at least a mediocre botanical garden, so there's a good chance that you can find one. These are places where people with a thumb far greener than my own have taken dozens of square acres of land and turned them into a sort of flowering paradise. If they're done well, there will be tree-lined walking paths, expansive beds of colorful flowers, and maybe some interesting waterways. Hopefully they will not include flashers, panhandlers, screaming babies or biting insects, but you're out in public, so you're rolling the dice any way you do it. The odds are in your favor, mostly, though the Fort Worth botanical gardens seem to be overrun by unruly children whose parents don't love them enough to teach them how to act in public. Happily, we went to Clark Gardens, outside Mineral Wells, and since you really have to travel to get there, we almost had the place to ourselves.
I would by lying if I said there was a whole lot to do at a botanical garden. You can walk, and you can look at stuff. It's not like they encourage paintball tournaments or skateboarding demos. Instead, they have a large area, and they've got plants all over it, and lots of times they do some incredibly pretty stuff. It's worth the trip to see the sculpted waterfalls, and rose-covered trestles, and if it's warm weather, hot women in short pants. No, it's not a trip to the beach, so you won't see very many bikinis, but by the same token, nobody is going to kick sand into your drink, and there are virtually no fat old people in revealing swimwear.
It might be worth doing a little homework before you decide which botanical garden to visit. For instance, the Japanese garden in Forth Worth is breathtaking, but it does tend to attract mullet-headed parents and their inbred children who mostly show up to throw food pellets at the giant koi. The gardens in Dallas are lush and engaging, but parking in that area can be a total bastard, and God help you if you decide to visit when the Kratt Brothers are doing an animal show for preschoolers. Clark Gardens is not as large or elaborate, but it has the advantage of being remote, and there is a really cool model train exhibit where the train weaves in and out of this neat viewing room full of fascinating miniature buildings. It beats the model train show I went to see last Christmas, for sure, and I didn't even have to go to the mall.
If you're looking for a high-energy, exciting day, a trip to a botanical garden is not going to fit the bill, even if you are dragging a mule team of teenage girls. But if you just want to relax, get a little exercise, and take in some beauty, you'll be hard-pressed to do much better. If you're an artist or writer looking for a quiet place, it's perfect, and if you're a nerdy college kid with a small budget, it's a great place to take a date and look at least a little bit cultured. And if you happen to be a grown-ass man trying to talk yourself out of a mid-life crisis, it's a nice place to take your daughter to remind yourself that there's more to life than paychecks and mortgages.