“When the pandemic first hit, it was really fatalistic,” Celia Ober remembers. “Everything was shut down and you started to feel that–almost a claustrophobia.

“I can remember the very first signs of spring, I went outside. And I had this sense of, ‘Wait, you’re open?'”

Outside was definitely open when Ober, her friend Christine Tomasso, and their families headed to Matthaei Botanical Gardens to bike the trail to Parker Mill.

“Why would we drive forty-five minutes for a beautiful trail when we have one right here?” mused Tomasso.

Even with its signature conservatory and display gardens temporarily closed due to the pandemic, Matthaei Botanical Gardens is still a jewel for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and plant geeks. The visitor center with its restrooms and water fountains is also closed, so plan ahead for your visit.

With the display gardens closed, Matthaei spokesperson Joe Mooney recommends people start with “a walk along the Sam Graham Trees Trail to see collections of native trees.” Mooney also recommends the Matthaei-Parker Mill trail that Ober, Tomasso, and their families explored. “It’s a four-mile round trip trail that passes by and through interesting ecosystems.”

For Mooney, time outside at places like Matthaei is even more important with the coronavirus shutdowns, “Nature never fails us! A walk in the woods or time spent viewing plants, trees, and flowers has a calming effect. With so many places closed because of Covid, it’s important that we get a dose of nature every day if possible.”

Pablo de la Vega agrees. “We were just saying how important this place has been for us to maintain our sanity.” He and Ginger Carter were watching the fish and turtles at Dix Pond on Carter’s birthday. She explains, “We like to come out here, hang out by the bench, and solve all our life problems.”

To make the most of your visit, Mooney suggests you “consider the season. We look good year-round but in the fall the trees and shrubs at Matthaei put on a great show of blazing color, while in spring the woodland wildflower garden offers a view of some delicate native ephemerals. Summertime, the Gateway Garden really shines with colorful annuals from the New World.”

De la Vega also enjoys “the change of seasons, watching decay, if you want to call it like that, in the wintertime. That’s always happening. It helps you to understand that there are cycles in life. Because if you’re going to hit the bottom, there’s always going to be something nice after, and then you’re going to hit another bottom again. It’s just the cycle of life.”

Whenever you visit Matthaei, Carter recommends you “take your time when you’re going through the trails. Today, we found a frog that was the size of my thumb, it just looked like a bug jumping across the trail, but we just take our time and go really slow and we always find little animals or bugs or things like that.”

Slowing down also allowed de la Vega to appreciate new sights, “We found this one area, and the reflection of the water on the [underside of the leaves on the] trees is amazing. We’ve been here thousands of times and we never noticed it. It was one of the best light shows we’ve ever seen.”