Garden Guide '06: Three Pretty Ones - Carolina Country

Three Pretty Ones

North Carolina's Public Gardens are inspiring and enlightening

By Karen Olson House

Three Pretty Ones
Quilt Garden, North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville

North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville

Small trees are a big attraction at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, which recently opened a beautiful, new bonsai exhibit. The Arboretum's diverse collection of more than 100 display-quality bonsai trees and more than a hundred plants-in-training features native Appalachian plants such as red maple and eastern white pine.

Walking on a lighted boardwalk path and through a courtyard with attractive stonework, visitors to the Bonsai Exhibition Garden learn about the art of bonsai through interpretive signs. There is also an open-air pavilion for demonstrations, classes and exhibits.

The 432-acre arboretum, nestled in a natural setting amid the Appalachian mountains, is a busy center for education, research, conservation and economic development. It offers 10 miles of forested hiking and biking trails, guided weekly tours of the garden, trail and greenhouse, as well as classes, craft demonstrations and behind-the-scenes tours of new facilities.

Visitors can explore 65 acres of cultivated gardens with Appalachian Mountain themes, including:

Plants of Promise Garden

This garden showcases superior plants for the North Carolina region and offers ideas for growing a garden at the woodland edge.

Stream Garden

This design, featuring native plant species and cultivated varieties, centers on a mountain stream.

Quilt Garden

It translates traditional quilt patterns into seasonal floral exhibits. This year's featured pattern is "Flower Basket."

Heritage Garden

Currently in expansion and slated for a late spring reopening, it features plants valuable to the heritage of western North Carolina.

Visitor Information

  • Café: The arboretum's "Savory Thyme Café" serves sandwiches, soups, salads, baked goods, locally roasted and fresh-brewed coffee, tea, juices and sodas. The atrium has great views of the Bent Creek Watershed. Visitors can picnic outdoors.
  • Wheelchair Access: Buildings, gardens and some trails are wheelchair accessible. Wheelchairs are available free of charge on-site, on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Hours of Operation: Arboretum grounds are open seven days a week. Property hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., April–October; and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., November–March. The Visitor Education Center is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
  • Admission: Parking is $6 per personal motor vehicle, $25 for commercial vans and $45 for buses. No parking fee for N.C. Arboretum Society members. All day Tuesday, parking is free.
  • Location: Just outside Asheville, the Arboretum is located next to the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance ramp at Milepost 393.
  • (828) 665-2492 or

Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham

Sarah P. Duke Gardens, spoken of as the "Crown Jewel of Duke University," occupies 55 acres. It is renowned for landscape design and the quality of horticulture, each year attracting more than 300,000 visitors.

During spring, see blazes of colorful redbuds, cherry, crabapple and dogwood trees, hyacinths, daffodils, tulips, peonies, camellias and wisteria at the gardens. Petunias, daylilies, begonias and other annuals and perennials flower through the summer, with hundreds of rose bushes and azaleas providing glorious banks of color.

In the fall, gardens glow with more than 7,000 chrysanthemums. Winter displays dramatic barks, berries and evergreens.

For adults, the gardens offer innovative programs including lectures, classes, guided walks, workshops, off-site tours, symposia and trips. A schedule of classes is published twice a year.

For children, special programs and guided tours reveal the interconnections between plants, animals and people. Kids can participate in scavenger hunts, sensory walks, games, story times and more.

Visitors can explore three major sections of Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which offer five miles of pathways and allées (walks specially bordered by a graceful grouping of trees or clipped hedges):

Terrace Gardens

Most first-time visitors start by strolling the Linden Allée to the Rose Garden. Other features include a Perennial Allée, a pair of ornamental stone garden cottages, a delightfully irregular fish pond and rock garden. Beyond the pond is a Dawn Redwood, long believed to be extinct and one of the largest specimens in America.

Culberson Asiastic Arboretum

This tract of 20 acres features approximately 550 specimens and cultivars of Asian plants, including special collections of deciduous magnolias and Japanese maples. The arboretum is embellished with stone lanterns throughout, with a popular zig-zag bridge along a lake, a teahouse shelter, rock-rimmed pond, foot bridge and a Japanese entrance gateway.

H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants

Situated in a 6.5-acre woodland setting of mature southern yellow pines, it contains more than 900 species and varieties of regional native plants. The focal point is the Blomquist Pavilion, a graceful garden shelter beside a spring-fed pond.

Visitor Information

  • Café: Housed in one of the Terrace Garden's attractive stone cottages bordered by low stone walls, the "Terrace Café" sells sandwiches, salads, snacks, ice cream and drinks.
  • Wheelchair Access: Much here is suitable for the physically challenged, and there are resting benches. But note there are many changes in slope, some loose gravel on paths, and some steps. For $25, trolley tours are available Monday to Friday if scheduled in advance. Call (919) 668-1705.
  • Hours of Operation: The Gardens are open daily 8 a.m. to dusk. The Doris Duke Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
  • Admission: The gardens are open free. During certain hours, visitors pay for parking usually set by the hour.
  • Location: The gardens are in Duke University's West Campus, adjacent to Duke University Medical Center, in Durham. The entrance is off Anderson Rd.
  • (919) 684-3698

Gardens at Tryon Palace, New Bern

A part of the past grows here at Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens, with its 18th century-style gardens of native plants that greeted European settlers, its Victorian-era displays, and 20th century interpretations of earlier periods.

Tryon is a North Carolina State Historic Site that includes seven major buildings and 14 acres of gardens. The main palace was built between 1767 and 1770 as the home for William Tryon, the British governor of the North Carolina colony, in the colony's first permanent capital at New Bern.

Each spring, tulips are a big Palace draw. About 10,000 of these colorful, fabled flowers should be in bloom the first two weeks in April.

With 14 acres of grounds and gardens, visitors can choose from 13 themed gardens. Some of the more popular Palace gardens include:

The Kitchen Garden

The kitchen garden, with 18th century varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruit trees, offers produce almost year-round. Cool-weather crops visible in March include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi. Herbs include several varieties of mint, lavender, oregano and rosemary. In summer you'll see beans, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, melons, artichokes and watermelons. Fruit trees include apple, plum, pear and fig.

The Kellenberger Garden

The walled Kellenberger Garden includes plants that might have appeared in original Palace gardens. Mostly perennials are displayed here, including hellebores and dianthus. Spring annuals include violas, johnny jump-ups and pot marigolds.

Latham Garden

The Latham is a formal English garden where clipped hedges, flowers and paths form patterns that define the distinctive "parterre" garden. Statues of the four seasons survey displays of spring bulbs, summer annuals, annuals and fall chrysanthemums. The center beds, edged in yaupon holly, overflow with colorful tulips and daffodils in the spring. The garden also displays many species of irises.

Stoney Garden

The Stoney Garden features old-fashioned perennials and antique roses of varieties known to have graced New Bern gardens in the 19th-century.

Visitor Information

  • Wheelchair Access: The gardens are accessible to all visitors. Call ahead to discuss special needs.
  • Hours of Operation: Now until Memorial Day weekend Palace buildings and gardens are open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The last guided tour begins at 4 p.m. daily. Summer hours (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend) are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The last guided tour begins at 4 p.m. daily. The gardens are open until 7 p.m. Tickets are sold until 4:30 p.m.
  • Admission: Admission to all gardens, the blacksmith shop, stables and kitchen office, is $8 for adults and $3 for students grades 1–12. Admission to all buildings and gardens is $15 for adults and $5 for students.
  • Location: New Bern, in the heart of historic downtown. Tryon Palace's Visitor Center is at the corner of Pollock and George Streets.
  • (800) 767-1560

About the Author

Karen Olson House is a contributing editor for Carolina Country.

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