You know you’re getting older when you’re excited to see a garden someone else planted, just so you can steal ideas. Asheville’s Botanical Gardens familiarizes visitors with plants native to the Southern Appalachians, many of which people would never get to see in their everyday life.
There is nothing flashy about these gardens. In fact, we’ve seen jazzier spreads outside high-end hotels. What is special about the Botanical Gardens at Asheville is the way designers appreciate, and have highlighted, the ecosystem of the area. We were reminded of how everything works together, including birds, pollinators, wildlife, soil, water, and air. Without any of these contributors, plants could not thrive. Without plants, humans could not thrive. The lesson is understated, but important.
The stroll through the 10-acre garden is certainly shorter than many of the gardens you may have visited previously. Still, there is something sweet about a place built by a community of like-minded garden lovers. It is only through the generosity of Botanical Garden members, endowments, grants, and hundreds of volunteers that the garden is made available to the public.
It is also through these volunteers that native plants, some in danger of extinction, have been saved and cared for. For more than 50 years, the gardens have blossomed and thousands of people have learned to recognize the native plants around them.
Generally, peak time for viewing wildflower blooms is in April and May. Slopes are blanketed with thousands of flowers, dramatically displaying a variety of North Carolina flora. Mid-summer through early fall ushers in a second bloom. It’s during this time that you’ll see Asters (of all kinds), Blazing Star, and the ever-popular Goldenrod. It is all weather-dependent, of course, but that’s half the fun of visiting the garden – you’re never quite sure what you’ll find.
There’s more than flowers to look at in the Gardens. One of the coolest things we saw was called the “Moon Tree,” grown from the seed of a tree taken on the 1971 Apollo 14 lunar mission. Today, it can be found on the west end of the garden, near Weaver Creek. If you have kids with you and they’re bored, finding the Moon Tree would be a great activity. While they’re at it, have them look for the historical marker commemorating where the Battle of Asheville took place in 1865.
There’s also Hayes Cabin, built in the 1840s and moved from Madison County. You can’t get inside, but you can go up on the porch and imagine what life was like before there was central air and the Internet.
If you are visiting with children, you might picked up an investigation passport for each child. Essentially, the passports ask kids questions, like “where do birds make their homes,” and “where do you see insects at the Gardens?” Kids get to use their investigational skills to find answers and mark them in their passport. Better yet, there are activities for the kids when they get back home or to your hotel. With other things to work on, including crossword puzzles, crossword chains, matching games, word searches and word scrambles, they can keep kids busy for hours.
It’s not huge and it’s not fancy, but the Botanical Gardens at Asheville is impressive for the way it has stuck to its original mission to provide people with a better sense of what “real” North Carolina looks like.
While there is no entry fee, visitors are free to make a contribution to keep the good work going.
– Leave your pup at home or with a friend because dogs are not allowed.
– If you find yourself wishing for a longer walk, take the Reed Creek Greenway once you’ve left the Botanical Gardens. It will lead you along campus and down one mile to Weaver Park.