Dave Bodle, associate publisher of Leisure Group Travel, profiles four of his favorite show gardens in the South, spotlighting Garvan Woodland Gardens in Arkansas, The Elizabethan Gardens in North Carolina, Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.
If you ask me anything about gardening, you’ll be met with a pleasant smile. I manage to keep a half-dozen potted plants alive on my small courtyard, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. Maybe it’s my limited skills that attract me to some of the wonderful gardens found in the South.
Arkansas is known as The Natural State and Garvan Woodland Gardens certainly portrays that calling. Located near Hot Springs National Park, the 210-acre Garvan is the botanical garden of the University of Arkansas and a generous gift of Verna Cook Garvan. The gardens feature dynamic architectural structures, the most prominent being the Anthony Chapel Complex highlighted by the Millsap Canopy Bridge and Anthony Chapel. Paths wind majestically past waterfalls and over bridges. If you have any model train enthusiasts in your group, allow for extra time. The Sugg Model Train Garden will stop them in their tracks.
Just south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina you’ll find Brookgreen Gardens. The 9,000-acre property sits on former rice plantations and is a true representation of the surrounding landscapes. Brookgreen is really two attractions in one. There are more than 1,400 pieces of sculpture created by 350 artists. Brookgreen Gardens was the first public sculpture garden in America. The collection of figurative sculpture blends seamlessly throughout the gardens. The Live Oak Allee Garden is particularly magnificent with its 300-year-old Live Oak trees, while The Fountain of the Muses Garden is my favorite. Brookgreen Gardens provides a variety of tour options from classes and cruises to history and Gullah culture.
Roanoke Island in Manteo, North Carolina is home to The Elizabethan Gardens. The Garden Club of North Carolina was approached to create a garden to enhance and memorialize Sir Walter Raleigh and the lost colonists. Twenty years prior to Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, English settlers colonized Roanoke Island, although not permanently. Today more than 10 acres of public gardens are located adjacent to the Waterside Theatre and the outdoor drama The Lost Colony. More than 85 varieties of camellias grace the gardens and provide beauty even in the winter. The gardens sport a very English landscaping and theme.
I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating: Richmond is the best-kept secret on I-95. Of course, when BBC.com rated Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden among the “Ten North American gardens worth traveling for,” the secret was out. The conservatory is the self-stated “Jewel of the Garden” and rightfully so. It’s unique to the mid-Atlantic area. Having visited the garden a half dozen times, I can assure you that you’ll never tire of the spectacular display of unique and exotic plants and flowers from around the world. The central garden is made-up of three acres with five distinct garden rooms. On the opposite side of the lake, the new Rose Garden presents more than 80 varieties. The Lora and Claiborne Robins Tea House and Asian Valley are an absolute must for lunch.
−By Dave Bodle, Associate Publisher, Leisure Group Travel