Following such a long winter, when many Northerners saw a seemingly everlasting and unending vista of snow and ice, you can’t blame anyone for wanting a peek at spring flowers. At Garvan Woodland Gardens, a 210-acre complex of gardens, buildings and parks, your group will be able to experience the spring they’ve been waiting for, including lots of flowers.
With roses, azaleas, hydrangeas and other spring perennials heading the list of May’s blooms – and a veritable carpet of tulips blooming earlier in the spring – it’s no wonder that this Hot Springs botanical garden is one of the most well-known in Arkansas. Currently, it is ranked No. 1 out of 39 attractions in Hot Springs on TripAdvisor. Nestled in the rolling Ouachita Mountains, these woodland gardens live up to their name. One might say they even surpass their name.
This complex was the gift of Mrs. Verna Cook Garvan, a wealthy industrialist, Arkansas native, and gardening enthusiast. She purchased this parcel of land in the 1920s after it had been completely cleared of timber some years earlier. Vowing to never let that happen again, she decided to turn the land into a garden, combining rare plantings, shrubs and trees, and many different kinds of flowers. (Today, there are 160 types of azaleas alone.) In time, the property passed to the University of Arkansas, which maintains it, in accordance with Mrs. Garvan’s wishes, as a place where the public can enjoy nature and educate themselves about it.
Garvan Woodland Gardens Has Something for Everyone
Garvan Gardens has an appeal that extends well beyond groups of avid gardeners and horticulture experts. This property includes such diverse attractions as a bonsai garden, a model train, a pavilion, and an amphitheater. As part of its community education program, there’s a roster of activities, workshops and classes for all ages. It also hosts one of Hot Springs’ most popular garden wedding venues. But what makes Garvan Woodland Gardens so special for visitors, especially for groups?
- Your group’s first impression of the Garvan Woodland Gardens may well be the Pratt Visitors Center. This spacious, cedar-and-stone building serves as the entrance to the gardens, as well as the gateway to meeting rooms, workshops and monthly art exhibits.
- Anthony Chapel Complex includes the Anthony Chapel, Bride’s Hall, Groom’s Quarters, a celebration garden and a family carillon (also known as a bell tower or Glockenspiel). The building was completed in 2006, with modern, tall lines that evoke both the forest and a Gothic-inspired cathedral. It manages to both stand out and blend perfectly with the surrounding natural setting.
- Evans’ Children’s Adventure Garden and Sugg Model Train Garden appeal to both kids and adults. The Children’s Adventure Garden was designed specifically to give kids a way to interact with nature in a fun, very active way. Currently, this 1.5-acre space includes a 12-foot waterfall, man-made cave, rock maze, wading pools and bridge made of tree branches. There’s also a place for parents to keep a birds-eye view of their kids as they play. Tree houses and other buildings will be added in a later phase.
Sugg Model Train Garden is not quite as interactive, but it’s a popular draw for all ages. Almost 400 feet of track are used to create three independent model train loops. But this isn’t just a dreamy landscape; the model trains represent the brick and lumber businesses that the Garvan family ran.
- Unforgettable photos and firsthand sights await visitors to Millsap Canopy Bridge, Wallace-Walker Floating Cloud Bridge, and Joy Manning Scott Bridge of the Full Moon. Each bridge offers a totally unique experience. The Floating Cloud Bridge is built on boulders overlooking a ravine, allowing visitors a glimpse of Lake Hamilton in the distance. It’s landscaped with white azaleas, trimmed to suggest clouds. The Bridge of the Full Moon is one of the most photographed bridges in the complex; its circular underpass harks back to classical Chinese styles and provides a centerpiece for the Garden of the Pine Wind. And the aptly-named Millsap Canopy Bridge sits two stories above Singing Springs Gorge. As it gently wends through a landscape of pools and streams, guests can also note flourishing growths of oak, hickory, pine and ash, highlighting the woodlands aspect of the garden’s name.
Special Accommodations for Travel Groups
Garvan Woodland Gardens has several arrangements in place for the convenience of group travel planners. For a start, special rates are available for groups of 20 or more, and company tour guides and bus drivers get free admission when they accompany their group. (Note: For special rates to apply, they must be booked at least two weeks in advance and be paid at one time – i.e. using a single credit card transaction or a single check for the lot.)
Group tours are also available. The tour area covers 44 acres; the Garvan Gardens staff recommend that a minimum of 2.5 hours be scheduled for the tour. Both self-guided and docent-led tours can be arranged. Although not all tour areas are accessible to wheelchairs, some portions of it are; wheelchairs are available on a first-come-first-serve basis at the Visitors Center. For guests who may have trouble walking long distances, golf cart rides can be purchased at the Visitors Center.
Garvan Woodland Gardens consistently draws rave reviews from its visitors. It can be a great place to host a picnic, an informal party or something as formal as a wedding. No matter if you’re booking a trip for a group of gardening experts or if you’re looking for an unforgettable activity for winter-weary tourists bound for the Hot Springs area, Garvan Woodland Gardens deserves a place on your must-see list.
Have you visited Garvan Woodland Gardens, booked a group tour there, or had some other kind of experience with this attraction? Tell us about it! Leave a comment below and share your story. Thanks!