Southeastern Gardens from a Northwestern Perspective
Bill and Kerry O'Neill
Bainbridge Island, Washington
As we have written before, we love to combine national conferences with extended botanical vacations (Winter 1993 issue of the Journal). Spring is the greatest time to visit gardens and May 1994 is likely to be no exception. We've had a preview of what you could expect to see by expanding your plans for attending the meeting in Asheville, May 4-8th. In 1992 we flew to Atlanta on the 20th of April, in anticipation of a convention there of the American Iris Society, and then drove up to the ARS meeting in Long Island, N.Y., visiting horticultural attractions along the way. Maybe you can benefit from our experiences to plan your own itinerary.
We rented a car in Atlanta for touring the last week in April before the iris conference. (General offered the best deal for a car to be returned there.) We went straight to the coastal cities famous for their azaleas, but were a bit disappointed to find that the peak of their bloom is closer to the beginning of April. Nevertheless, the gardens were very attractive in Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah and points in between, though we were left to imagine how those masses of evergreen azaleas looked earlier in full bloom. Coastal Carolina highlights included Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach, which features magnificent sculptures in sylvan settings, and numerous large gardens around Charleston, S.C., where the floral beauties are set amidst a variety of watery vistas. We appreciated Charleston's antebellum architecture and history as well as the gardens, and it is less than 250 miles from Asheville. We stayed there in a motel right inside Middleton Gardens. The Southeastern Chapter hosts are arranging a pre-convention trip to Charleston May 2-4th.
Inland, just north of Columbus, Ga., and within a 250 mile radius from Asheville, we visited a national horticultural treasure, Callaway Gardens. It was our privilege to tour part of its 12,000 acres with Fred Galle, the former garden director who assembled Callaway's vast collection of native deciduous azaleas from all over the Southeast and placed them in natural surroundings among its golf courses and other recreation facilities. It's well worth contacting Fred and Betty in advance to see if you could gain the benefit of their decades of experience at Callaway Gardens and with azaleas in general. (After all, Fred literally wrote the book on that subject.) One can stay right on the grounds, and there is a glassed-in butterfly conservatory where we were enchanted by about 50 species of tropical butterflies, like a thousand "fluttering flowers." In the woods about 10 species of azalea were in bloom at the end of April, but they vary considerably as to timing .
We returned to the Atlanta area, where we saw many fabulous gardens on tours with the Iris Society, plus several rhododendron and azalea gardens of Olympic caliber. Margarita Cline was our gracious hostess in her 25 acre garden near Canton, Ga., which features magnificent specimens of rare magnolias and dwarf conifers too. We also enjoyed the warm Georgian hospitality and outstanding nursery/display gardens of Willis Harden, near Commerce, and Mary Beasley, near Lavonia, both of which are within 100 miles of Asheville. We learned about these gardens from back issues of the Journal and heartily suggest that source for traveling ideas, e.g., the articles in connection with the 1984 ARS meeting in Atlanta. You can get such addresses from the ARS roster (available for $2 from Barbara Hall, the ARS Executive Director), but be sure to contact people well in advance of any proposed visit. We had rented another car in Atlanta, with arrangements to drop it off in Boston, and visited those northeastern Georgia gardens en route to the Smoky Mountains, Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The folks in charge of the '94 convention have arranged some dandy tours in the mountains and foothills around Asheville. Gus Kehr has described all sorts of attractions in his articles on the Bonnie Blue Ridge in the two preceding issues of the Journal, and we can only endorse his recommendations for botanizing along the Parkway. Lawrence Mellichamp wrote about an interesting garden to the east, near Charlotte (Fall '93), and there was a useful calendar of bloom guide to the Parkway in the Fall '87 article by Bambi Teague. If it fits your route of travel, you might plan to visit some of the wonderful private gardens in the adjacent valleys, as we did in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. There is so much to see that you can't see it all, but you couldn't pick a better time for a first visit. We bet that you will plan to return and see what you miss, as we do.
The O'Neills just moved from De Anza Chapter in California to North Kitsap Chapter in Washington.