New Jersey may be the Garden State, but it doesn’t have anything on Georgia when it comes to experiencing the beauty and serenity of flowers and trees. The many public gardens in metro Atlanta represent a variety of plant types and themes, but all have the same fundamental appeal.
“Public gardens are places to decompress from life’s stresses while learning about nature as well as threats to the environment and our dwindling green spaces,” said Mary Pat Matheson, executive director of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Whether you have the neighborhood’s most-envied landscape or couldn’t sustain a potted kudzu vine, you’re sure to find inspiration, some surprises and plenty of photo ops at these gems.
Atlanta Botanical Garden
The Garden’s 30 acres in the heart of Midtown Atlanta house more than a dozen specialized gardens, with tens of thousands of plants. Don’t miss the collection of orchids, hydrangeas and Japanese maples. One of the garden’s unique features is the Canopy Walk, a tree-level walkway. From 40 feet in the air, visitors stroll among oaks, hickories and poplars for a bird’s-eye view of Storza Woods below. The garden also weaves in art and music. In addition to permanent art pieces, such special exhibits as 2004’s blockbuster “Chihuly in the Garden” still have visitors talking. Through October, “Independent Visions: Sculpture in the Garden” will showcase 19 contemporary sculptures by nine internationally known artists; the six-performance “Concerts in the Garden” series begins in June. Garden admission: $18.95 adults; $12.95 ages 3-15. Parking begins at $2. Garden memberships and parking passes available.
Atlanta History Center Historic Gardens
History buffs are familiar with the wealth of knowledge cataloged at this Buckhead institution, but plant lovers are equally enchanted with the 33-acre site’s gardens and trails. The Center is home to more than 600 species, including many rare and endangered species that are native to Georgia. A specimen of the Franklin Tree, which is now extinct in the wild, was determined to be the largest of its species and given the designation of Georgia State Champion in 2008 by the Georgia Forestry Commission. The Center’s interest in the lives of our ancestors extends to its gardens — particularly the Tullie Smith Farm Gardens, which displays the plants that 19th-century Georgians kept both for aesthetic and practical purposes. $16.50; $13 age 65 and older, or ages 13-18; $11 ages 4-12. $2 discounts for buying online.
Gardens of the Carter Presidential Center
The 35-acre site on which the Jimmy Carter Library & Museum sits provides a beautiful space to relax amid the gardens and its two small lakes. The site’s most famous flora are the roses; there are 40 varieties, including the coral flower named for former first lady Rosalynn Carter. Visitors also can explore the Japanese garden, which was designed by master gardener Kinsaku Nakane and features azaleas, rhododendrons, Japanese maples and more. Formal gardens and waterfalls between the lakes add to the site’s tranquility, and interspersed with the plants are donated sculptures, a koi pond and picnic tables near a native oak forest. No charge to stroll the grounds east of downtown near Little Five Points.
Robert L. Staton Rose Garden
For those whose preferred plant is the rose, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History boasts 960 plants of 170 named specimens. The garden, near downtown, is named for the man who founded it in 1983. One highlight is the Mary Adrienne rose, named for former Fernbank director Mary Hiers. Samples of this rose, which vary from deep coral to orange-red, are available for sale, so visitors can take home a living souvenir — and support the rose garden with the proceeds. Free.
Georgia Perimeter College Native Plant Botanical Garden
This botanical garden features about 2,000 plants in two gardens: one devoted to native plants and one that features one of the largest variety of ferns in the nation. Gardeners frustrated by plants that can’t endure Georgia’s climate will want to visit to the native plant garden, where experts share what thrives here. Spring and fall plant sales let visitors put the education into practice at home. The Ferns of the World Garden, which displays 380 groups of ferns, is so impressive that its guests have included the British Pteridological Society and the Hardy Fern Foundation from Seattle. Free.
Founded by actress Hetty Jane Dunaway as a place to train theater artists, this 25-acre site in Newnan is on the National Register of Historic Places. The rock and floral garden reopened to visitors in 2005. Guests today can see the original amphitheater, where performers honed their craft in the 1930s and ’40s, as well as Little Stone Mountain, an acre of solid granite. Other highlights include the Hanging Garden, a perennial garden where rock overhangs and staircases surround a waterfall; the Japanese Garden, which includes koi pools; and a rose garden with more than 100 antique roses. $10; $8 children.
Amy Schneider is an Atlanta freelance writer.