Inspiration and Beauty in Nature

Visiting botanical gardens in the Southeast can offer respite, amazing scenery, educational components and ideas to take home to your own garden.

Callaway Gardens, in Pine Mountain, Georgia

Spending time in nature has been shown to help lower blood pressure and stress levels and add to a sense of well-being. Studies show that—literally—digging in the dirt is good for your health. For many gardeners, we know the calm and peacefulness that working outside brings us, from the repetitive motion of gentle weeding to the charming bird calls and lush scent of clean earth and fragrant flowers. 

Maybe a long weekend trip to a nearby botanical garden would be a good way to start your new year. A stroll through someone else’s garden is almost always inspirational. The colors! The plants! None of the labor was yours! Although it’s the winter season right now for the states north of us, there’s time to plan a weekend trip in spring to gather ideas, get inspired and just enjoy the acres and acres of peaceful gardens available. Here are a few to consider in your travels:

Aldridge Gardens: Hoover, Alabama; about seven hours to drive

Hydrangeas

The former property of horticulturist Eddie Aldridge, these gardens highlight hydrangeas because Aldridge patented the Snowflake Hydrangea, a gorgeous white-flowering shrub. The 30 acres of gardens offer walking trails, plant sales, educational events and even fishing days in the lake. The gardens also have a Japanese maple collection, a small art museum, a bonsai collection, a bee apiary and azaleas. Sculpture is staged throughout the gardens as well. Admission is free. Hoover is just south of Birmingham, off Interstate 65. For a quiet drive, consider routing yourself up U.S. 19 on our west coast and taking U.S. 231 outside of Dothan, then up to I-65. For more information, visit aldridgegardens.com 

Callaway Gardens: Pine Mountain, Georgia; about five and half hours to drive

A little north of Columbus, Georgia, is one of the stars of the garden universe, with over 2,500 acres of greenery. The gardens have been turned into a destination resort with multiple lodging options, a spa, restaurants, golf, fishing and other entertainment choices. But the showpiece of the resort is the variety of gardens, especially the camellias and azaleas that bloom in spring. There are more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails through the property that meander through woods, up and down hills and alongside ponds and water features. One highlight is the Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl Garden that shows off over 4,000 azaleas of more than 700 varieties. Peak blooming season for the azaleas is mid-March to early April. Another fun spot is the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, where a glass-enclosed ecosystem allows visitors to see and experience the butterfly life cycle in person. If you stay at the resort, some packages include garden admission. Day tickets are $29.95 for adults and $19.95 for children. See callawaygardens.com for more information. 

Azaleas

Brookgreen Gardens: Murrells Inlet, South Carolina; about seven hours to drive

Set on an astonishing 9,000-plus acres, this former rice plantation has been carefully evolved into an amazing set of gardens and is a National Historic Site. In addition to azaleas, live oaks, camellias and numerous water features, over 2,000 pieces of sculpture adorn the gardens, the largest in the United States. Indoor galleries exhibit smaller sculptures and other media. The artwork is nestled everywhere on the grounds, peeking out from behind an azalea here or featured in a water garden there. There is even artwork in the nearly hidden Beyond the Wall loop walking trail. Some of the sculptures are 35 feet tall, and the front gates feature the Fighting Stallions by Anna Hyatt Huntington. Tours are available from March through November and include the Oaks Excursion on a mini-bus and the Creek Excursion through the waters of the Lowcountry on a pontoon boat. Three dining options onsite are open 10am to 4pm and nearby Murrells Inlet is renowned for being the Seafood Capital of South Carolina with over 150 restaurants within a 15-minute drive. Regular garden admission is for a seven-day pass and is $22 for adults and $12 for children. To learn more, visit brookgreen.org

There are lots of other Southeast gardens worth visiting, such as the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, just slightly southwest of Savannah; the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in, well yes, southeast Birmingham; and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, located south of Athens. These are all within a day’s drive and will offer you serene gardens and a chance to enjoy the peace, quiet and inspiration of nature for your new year. And stay tuned next month, when I’ll focus on gardens in our more immediate region. OS

A native Floridian and lifelong gardener, Belea spends her time off fostering cats and collecting caladiums. You can send gardening questions or column suggestions to her at belea@magnoliamediaco.com

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