The State Botanical Garden of Georgia

I first visited the Georgia Botanical Garden when my son began grad school at the University of Georgia five or six years ago, and each time my wife and I have traveled to Athens we have stopped by. The tours of the garden were always for a shorter period than I preferred, but I can hardly expect my wife and son to be as enthusiastic as I am.

My last trip was two years ago, and since then a new section (above) of the garden has been completed. I planned more time for this visit since it’s likely to be my last. My son and his wife have completed their studies and are returning to the Washington, D.C. area in a few weeks (to save the world, or blow it up, I’m not certain which), and I doubt that I’ll make the nine hour journey to Athens again.

We arrived at the garden in the morning at nine something so that we’d have plenty of time to tour and still meet up with the family later in the afternoon. But, moments after our arrival the storm clouds burst open, and the downpour sent us scurrying back to the car. We considered waiting it out, but after the rain continued for a few too many minutes my wife suggested that we go shopping until it quit. A wise husband knows when to fight and when to throw in the towel, so reluctantly I agreed, but was relieved to find that most downtown stores open late on Sundays, and many don’t open at all.

After a quick window shopping tour of deserted downtown Athens we checked the radar and saw that the storm was moving slowly to the south of town, so back we went to the garden. Our tour was begun slightly before noon with thick cloud cover and heavy humidity, and ended nearly five hours later with dripping sweat and a fogged camera lens. Today I’ll give an overview of our day at the garden, and then I’ll return for a second chapter in a few days  with as many plants as I can jam onto a page.

Most of our tour was through the more formal parts of the garden. There are trails through the property showcasing native woodlands and collections of shade plants, but these do not present well for photos in mid-summer, so most of our time was spent in the gardens chock full of blooms, bees, and butterflies (above). Botanical gardens are useful to the gardener to see plants in a landscaped setting rather than lined up on a garden center table. In the heat of a Georgia August there are plants that have faded badly, but many others thrive and look their best in mid-summer.

The differences in cold hardiness between northwestern Virginia and Athens, Georgia are more slight than you might expect, so when you fall in love with a plant in the garden it’s likely that it will work in your home garden. From my years visiting nurseries in the southeast (and experimenting in my garden) I know that loropetalum and cleyera will  barely hang onto life for a few years until they gain a foothold or give up, older (supposedly winter hardy) gardenias fail in the early freezes of November, and only select camellias will survive. But most of the plants in Georgia gardens are well suited to planting in the mid-Atlantic region.

On display in the Botanical Garden since March are marvelous gates (above and below) sculpted by Andrew T. Crawford Ironworks. They’re a bit large for most gardens, and though my wife was enthralled and had to have one, her enthusiasm cooled slightly when she heard the selling price for these beauties.

After a brief tour of the bronze sculptures (below) near the entrance to the visitors’ center, a walk through of the indoor, tropical collection to cool off,  and a quick peek into the gift shop our day was done, but of course I came away with a few ideas, and more than a few plants that I’ll not be able to survive without.


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