This American Horticultural Society Reciprocal Admissions Program post is not sponsored.
When we were going to San Antonio last year, we planned on going to the botanical gardens. We love visiting botanical gardens in different cities because you’re able to see the different flowers and terrain of the area.
When my mom heard we planned on going, she bought a American Horticultural Society membership as an early Christmas present. That meant we would be able to get into the San Antonio Botanical Gardens for free, plus our local garden, plus any other reciprocal gardens.
We’ve had the membership for four months now, and we’ve been to four separate gardens arelady.
It’s a great deal.
American Horticultural Society Reciprocal Admissions Program
What Is the American Horticultural Society?
The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is a national gardening organization that provides high quality gardening and horticultural information.
The American Horticultural Society website has a ton of resources about sustainable gardening, container gardening, grow zone maps, and more. If you’re a home gardening, or thinking about starting a garden in your backyard, there is a wealth of free information at your fingertips.
The AHS has its own facility, River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s currently closed to the public, but you’re able to rent it for private events like weddings, memorials, and other celebrations.
The AHS created the Reciprocal Admissions Program, which it dubs “Your Passport to Public Gardens Across North America.”
What Is the Reciprocal Admissions Program?
The Reciprocal Admissions Program (RAP), which I call the Reciprocal Gardens Program because it’s easier for me, is a program where your garden membership grants you complementary admission into over 300 gardens nationwide.
How do you get a American Horticultural Society membership card?
You have two options for signing up for an American Horticultural Society membership card. You can get an AHS membership, which means that your “home garden” is actually the American Horticultural Society.
Your second option is to purchase a membership at your local participating garden. By purchasing your membership at your local garden, you may receive additional perks from your garden.
How much does an AHS membership cost?
If you’re purchasing an AHS membership directly through the AHS, current prices (as of March 2021) range from $35 for a National Member (1 US resident) to $100 for a Contributor Member (4 admissions). There are additional memberships above the contributor level. Those add additional donations to the AHS, but not additional membership benefits.
A Sustaining Member is a $50 membership, and that includes admission for two.
That’s the level that we have, and that my parents have.
Our membership, which we have through Airlie Gardens, is $40 for an individual and $75 for a family (which is equivalent to the AHS’ Sustaining Member level). Our membership also includes a ticket to Enchanted Airlie, tickets to the gardens’ Summer Concert Series, and more.
My parents have their membership through Bok Towers, which is $60 for an individual and $75 for a duo (which is equivalent to the AHS’ Sustaining Member level).
Costs vary per garden and are subject to change. Memberships last for one year and prices can change annually.
Can you go to all 300+ reciprocal gardens?
In theory you can visit all 300+ reciprocal gardens with your AHS membership, although there are exclusions based on the garden you want to visit and your proximity to it.
Some gardens enact a 90-mile exclusion. So if your home garden is within 90 miles of the reciprocal garden, you may not be granted admission.
There are very few gardens that do enforce the 90-mile exclusion. There aren’t any in New York that enforce it and, in North Carolina, our home garden, Airlie Gardens, is the only one that does enforce the 90-mile exclusion.
The closest garden to Airlie Gardens is the New Hanover County Arboretum, which is only 1.3 miles away from Airlie Gardens.
Luckily for us, the New Hanover County Arboretum doesn’t enforce the restrictions. Also, it’s free to get in always anyway. In fact, it’s one of our top ten free things to do in Wilmington.
How do you use your membership at reciprocal gardens?
Using your membership at reciprocal gardens is so easy. Just show your membership card at the admission counter of the garden. It will be scanned and you’ll be granted admission.
That’s the same process as if you were using your membership at your home garden. You have to have your card with you, and have it scanned, for admission.
Can you use your membership immediately?
It can take a few days for you to receive your membership card in the mail, but it is valid as soon as you pay for it. In fact, we went to the San Antonio Botanical Garden before we had our membership card for Airlie Gardens.
I actually called our local garden and was emailed a temporary card that I printed and brought with us to Texas. It was a scan of our actual card and it worked for admission.
If you don’t have your card yet, you can have someone from your home garden call the garden you want to visit and put you on an admission list for a specific day (that’s what SABG and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, SC told me).
Is it only botanical gardens?
Botanical gardens are the most popular type of reciprocal garden, they’re not the only type of gardens included in the AHS membership.
There are horticultural gardens, like the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens in North Carolina, sculpture gardens like the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens in Florida, and zoos like the Ross Park Zoo in New York.
How do you find reciprocal gardens?
The American Horticultural Society has a RAP Map. Click that link to access it.
You’ll be able to choose a state, either via the dropdown menu or just by clicking on it, and you can see all the participating gardens in that state.
You’ll see pertinent information for each garden, like its name, address, phone number, and website. Then, you’ll find additional information, like if the 90-mile exclusion is or isn’t enforced, if you can get free or discounted entry to special events and the gift shop.
Some gardens only offer free special events to members. Our home garden, Airlie Gardens, only offers free admission to its summer concert series to members of Airlie Gardens. Members of reciprocal gardens still need to pay $10 per ticket.
Other gardens, like Bok Tower Gardens, only offer discounts at the on-site restaurant to Bok Tower Gardens members. We actually ate lunch there when we went and heard a member from a reciprocal garden try and get declined, which is how we know.
Where has Drugstore Divas been?
We really like botanical gardens. I like walking around and sunshine, and botanical gardens combine both. In the four months we’ve had the membership, we’ve gone to four different gardens (our home garden and three reciprocal gardens).
In that same time, I actually went to Brookgreen Gardens as well, but that one doesn’t participate in this program.
We actually have been to three other reciprocal gardens as well, although those were prior to our membership.
So far, we’ve been to:
- Airlie Gardens (Wilmington, NC)
- Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens (Winter Park, FL)
- Bok Tower Gardens (Lake Wales, FL)
- Cape Fear Botanical Gardens (Fayetteville, NC)
- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (Charleston, SC)
- New Hanover County Arboretum (Wilmington, NC)
- Wave Hill (Bronx, NY)
Have any questions about the American Horticultural Society Reciprocal Admissions Program that we haven’t covered? Let us know in the comments and we’ll find you an answer.