Does your spring garden inspire you, or is it lacking the “wow” factor? If you need some ideas on how to pump up interest, plan to spend a day or two visiting the stunning public gardens in Georgia. Our state’s botanical and display gardens are a treasure trove of inspiration that reflect our state’s history and also give us a peek into future horticultural trends. You will get ideas for creating a garden “room,” adding a water feature or other focal points, building raised beds for edible gardens, adding plants for wildlife and be tempted by new plants just out on the market. Most public gardens have exhibits of different types of gardens, which will help you discover your personal style and give you ideas to replicate a similar look in your own landscape.
It might take you all year to visit these gardens, but put them on your bucket list!
Atlanta Botanical Garden: Considered by U.S.A. Today as one of the “Top Ten Botanical Gardens in the Country,” and by Creative Loafing as the “Best Local Place to Commune with Nature,” Atlanta Botanical Garden is a gardening Mecca in the heart of the city. Visitors can wander along winding pathways, with great views of the city skyline, to visit themed gardens, including a rose garden, hydrangea garden, edible garden, dwarf and rare conifer garden, water gardens, children’s garden, Japanese garden and many more! The Canopy Walk, added in 2010, gives visitors the opportunity to stroll through the tree tops, giving a bird’s eye view of the gardens below. There are dining opportunities at the garden, including the new, contemporary Longleaf Restaurant.
Atlanta Botanical Garden is located adjacent to Piedmont Park at 1345 Piedmont Ave., Atlanta and open April – October, Tuesday – Sunday, from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Admission is free for garden members, $21.95 for adults and $15.95 for children age 3 – 12. Right now the garden is hosting “Atlanta Blooms” – the garden’s spring event to highlight blooming daffodils, tulips and other spring bulbs. For more information, go to atlantabg.org.
Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville: Georgia’s newest public garden opened in 2015. When fully developed, the garden will feature 168 acres of woodland scenery, making it five times the size of the downtown Atlanta urban garden. The first phase of the garden, which encompasses over five acres, features the Kay & Douglas Ivester Visitor Center, sitting on the highest point of the terrain, and the 2000-seat amphitheater, where outdoor concerts are held in the summer. Kids will be delighted by the model train garden. A stream garden features a waterfall cascading over huge boulders, and the display gardens highlight over 1,200 different plants, 400 of which were grown on-site in the new conservation nursery. The conservation nursery’s mission is to preserve threatened and endangered plants in the Southeast and to grow plants for the Gainesville and Atlanta botanical gardens.
Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville is located at 1911 Sweetbay Dr., Gainesville and open April – October, Tuesday – Sunday, from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children. The gardens will host a spring plant sale of rare, hard-to-find woodland perennials, plants for sunny spots and annuals on Saturday, April 21, from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. For more information, go to: atlantabg.org/visit/gainesville.
Barnsley Gardens: Barnsley Gardens Resort, in Adairsville, has won numerous awards as well as inclusion in the prestigious Conde Nast Gold List of the “World’s Best Places to Stay.” 36 unique cottages with 90 guest rooms and suites provide luxury accommodations and the Jim Fazio-designed 18-hole golf course is considered the #2 golf course in the Southeast. The resort also includes two restaurants, a beer garden and a full-service spa.
You don’t have to stay at the resort to visit the 160-year-old gardens, manor ruins and museum. Godfrey Barnsley built the Italianate villa on 4,000 acres he purchased in the 1840s to get his ailing wife, Julia, out of disease-ridden Savannah. Tragically, Julia died in 1845, and a heartbroken Barnsley ceased all work on the estate. According to legend, while Barnsley was sitting in the unfinished formal garden he was visited by the spirit of Julia who urged him to finish the project for their family. The estate was completed in 1848, inspired by the innovative concepts of Andrew Jackson Downing, considered the premier landscape architect of the nineteenth century.
After decades of neglect, the gardens have been restored to their former glory. The grounds feature hundreds of varieties of antique roses and rare trees and shrubs. Stop in at the museum to see the bullet holes and blood stains where two of Barnsley’s great-grandsons fought over the property and one was shot and killed. Over the museum fireplace, you will find a portrait of Barnsley’s daughter, Julia, rumored to be Margaret Mitchell’s inspiration for Scarlett O-Hara.
Barnsley Gardens Resort is located at 597 Barnsley Gardens Rd., Adairsville. The gardens, museum and ruins are open for self-guided tours from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. The cost for tickets is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children and students. Admission is complimentary for guests staying at the resort. Clent Coker, the resident historian, will be signing copies of his book, Barnsley Gardens at Woodlands, at the museum on April 21 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, go to: barnsleyresort.com.
Callaway Gardens: Cason Callaway and his wife, Virginia Hand Callaway opened Callaway Gardens to the public in 1952. With over 2,500 acres to explore, Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain is a gardener’s delight! Known for its stunning display of azaleas, thousands flock to the site during the spring. The 40-acre Azalea Bowl garden features more than 3,000 hybrid azaleas and the Overlook Garden displays over 700 varieties of azaleas. The kids will be captivated by the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, where more than 1,000 butterflies flutter and swoop freely throughout the glass-enclosed conservatory. Callaway offers resort amenities, including upscale dining, places to stay, hiking and biking trails and golf. The Country Kitchen, in The Country Store, is a favorite for its casual atmosphere and Southern cuisine. Most locals have fond childhood memories of swimming at the “beach” at Callaway’s – Robin Lake Beach.
Callaway Gardens is located at 4500 South Pine Drive, Pine Mountain and open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is $24.95 for adults. There are discounts for seniors and children. On April 28, at 8 p.m., The Columbus Symphony Orchestra will host “Symphony on the Sand” at Robin Lake Beach, where you can enjoy a gourmet food picnic basket, glass of wine and the sand between your toes! For more information, go to: callawaygardens.com.
Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens: Drive just ten miles southwest of Savannah and spend the day at Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at Historic Bamboo Farm. The 51-acre gardens are owned and managed by the University of Georgia and contain the largest bamboo collection open to the public in North America, as well as the largest outdoor palm collection north of Florida. Gardens of note include the Cottage Garden, Xeriscape Garden, White Garden, Bamboo Maze and the Orchid Greenhouse. Check out the Garden for All Abilities which features raised beds, walkways and modified planters to make gardening easier for those with physical limitations.
Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens is located at 2 Canebrake Road, Savannah, and open Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday, 12 noon – 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children. Check the schedule for “Gazing in the Garden,” a free evening event on the great lawn, hosted by the Oglethorpe Astronomical Association, to give people the chance to look through telescopes at the stars and planets! For more information, go to: coastalgeorgiabg.org
Dunaway Gardens: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this 25-acre Newnan showplace is considered one of the South’s largest natural rock gardens. The site was developed by stage actress Hetty Jane Dunaway in 1934 as a theatrical training ground. It was a popular retreat destination for many celebrities, including Walt Disney and country music singer, Minnie Pearl. Later the gardens fell into disrepair and were nearly forgotten for 50 years until 2000 when new owner, Jennifer Bigham, of Peachtree City, (Fayette Woman Cover, June, 2015) began restoring this hidden treasure. The gardens feature waterfalls, spring-fed pools, stone pathways, granite outcroppings, a stone gazebo and staircases, an outdoor amphitheater and a huge assortment of shade-loving plants. It is a favorite destination for garden weddings. You can enjoy lunch at the original Sprayberry’s in Newnan or at The Blue Eyed Daisy in nearby at Serenbe.
Dunaway Gardens is located at 3218 Roscoe Rd., Newnan and is open in April and May on Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children. Get a group of 20 or more together and enjoy a personal tour of the gardens by appointment. For more information, go to: dunawaygardens.com.
Gibbs Gardens: Travel to the North Georgia mountains, to the tiny town of Ball Ground, and enjoy the 300-acres of gardening paradise that is Gibbs Gardens. The garden is expansive, containing 16 themed gardens, 24 ponds, 32 bridge crossings and 19 waterfalls! The site is divided into two sections. The Valley Gardens (featuring the Japanese and Water Lily Gardens) are wheel-chair accessible and on mostly level ground. The upper Manor House Gardens are reached by walking along winding pathways up a slope, with about a 150-feet elevation change. Numerous benches are placed along the way for your convenience to rest and enjoy the views. You can enjoy a delicious lunch of salads and sandwiches at the Arbor Café near the Welcome Center.
Gibbs Gardens is located at 1987 Gibbs Dr., Ball Ground and open March – December, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is $20 per adult, with discounts for seniors and children. You can purchase an annual membership for unlimited access to the garden for $50 per person. The Daffodil Colorfest runs through April 15 and features over 50 acres of an estimated 20 million blooms, including 100 different varieties of daffodils. Southern Living considers the exhibit “the most spectacular this side of Holland!” For more information, go to gibbsgardens.com.
Hills & Dales Estate: The history of Hills and Dales began in 1832 when Nancy Ferrell planted a small formal garden on her LaGrange property. Her daughter, Sarah, took over the care of the garden in 1841. Sarah was a visionary who scratched out garden design ideas in the dirt and slowly expanded the space to include formal boxwood parterres on six terrace levels. Sarah rooted her own boxwoods and scoured the region for plants, especially unusual and exotic ornamentals. Known as the Ferrell Gardens, people came from miles around to enjoy the beautiful setting she created.
Several years after Ferrell’s death, Fuller and Ida Callaway bought the property in 1911 and built a 13,000 square foot Georgian Italian villa to be the centerpiece of the gardens they lovingly restored. Later their son, Fuller Callaway Jr. and his wife Alice Hand Callaway took up residence at the estate. Alice tended the gardens for over 60 years. (Fuller Jr. was the brother of Cason Callaway who opened Callaway Gardens in the early 1950s. They both married sisters from the Hand family). There are many themed gardens including Lover’s Lane, Magnolia Walk, Sunken Garden, Herb Garden, Ray Garden and Church Garden. The most significant signature plant in the garden is the dwarf English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) that provides the structure of the 2 ½ acres of formal boxwood parterres. Some of the boxwoods are shaped into mottos, including “God is Love.” Lunch at Taste of Lemon, featuring Southern country cooking and located in an old church!
Hills & Dales Estate is located at 1916 Hills and Dales Dr., LaGrange. During the spring, the estate and gardens are open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sunday, 1 – 6 p.m. Admission is $15 to visit the house and gardens or $8 to view the gardens only. Don’t miss the 11th Annual “Picnic in the Garden,” on Saturday, May 12, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. – a family event to celebrate Mother’s Day. Enjoy live music, an old-fashioned cake walk, flower potting, face painting, pony rides and more. For more information, go to: hillsanddalesestate.org.
Smith-Gilbert Gardens: Tucked away in Kennesaw, you will find a collectors garden, encompassing 16 acres, and featuring over 3,000 species of plants. On site you can visit the historic Hiram Butler Home (ca. 1880). A Confederate major, Butler is known for his role in “The Great Locomotive Race,” helping to track down the Union soldiers who stole the General locomotive. After a former house burned down, Hiram Butler built this home with triple-layer brick walls, over 12 inches thick. In 1970, Richard Smith and Dr. Robert Gilbert bought the Hiram Butler home and the surrounding acreage. Their original goal was to attract birds that migrated over their property. Over a 35-year period they developed the gardens, which include 30 contemporary sculptures. Enjoy lunch at nearby Fish Thyme in Acworth.
Smith-Gilbert Gardens is located at 2382 Pine Mountain Rd., Kennesaw, and open Tuesday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, with discounts for seniors and children. On Saturday, May 19, from 6 – 10 p.m., the gardens will host the 8th annual Rose Garden Gala, a night-time stroll through the gardens to enjoy food, wine and live music. For more information, go to: smithgilbertgardens.com.
State Botanical Garden of Georgia: Located in Athens, the home of the University of Georgia, the State Botanical Garden is free to visit and features over 300 acres of themed gardens and five miles of hiking trails along the Middle Oconee River. Highlights include the tropical conservatory, herb & physic garden, heritage garden, international garden and shade and natural flora garden. A café is open to the public for a quick bite of lunch or you can go into town and eat at the popular Last Resort Grill. While in Athens, you can also visit the Founders Memorial Garden, tucked away on UGA’s North Campus, honoring the Ladies Garden Club of Athens, founded in 1891, and considered the nation’s first garden club.
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia is located at 2450 S. Milledge Ave., Athens. The grounds and hiking trails are open each day from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Plantapalooza, three plant sales in one, will be held on Saturday, April 14, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m., at the State Botanical Garden and at the Trial Gardens on the UGA campus. Come find new and unusual plants including the botanical garden’s signature Southern Flame Azalea. For more information, go to: botgarden.uga.edu. For information on other gardens in Athens, go to: visitathensga.com.
Plan your trip now to get great gardening inspiration for your own outside space!