Nature's Sweet Spots
Arkansas beauty flourishes at botanical gardens
By Jason Wiest and Jonathan Portis
From awe-inspiring lake views taken in atop the rugged Ouachita Mountains to the mind-clearing stillness alongside rivers in the Delta, Arkansas encompasses all aspects of nature in its full glory. It's what many of us love about Arkansas. In fact, it's why many people come here.
The sheer abundance of beauty statewide makes it impossible to experience it all in a short amount of time. If you're strapped for time during your visit, Arkansas' botanical gardens are a great way to take in some of nature's highlights. Keep your eyes peeled on the way to either garden – in Arkansas, even the roadsides are picturesque.
Garvan Woodland Gardens
550 Arkridge Road
What if you could find a place that offers the restorative effects of nature year-round, even during the solitude of winter and the fever of summer? At Garvan Woodland Gardens, you don't have to wait until the moderate spring or autumn months to enjoy the outdoors. While its official description is "botanical garden," it's much more than that.
Think of the Gardens as an escape to a woodland fantasy. The 210-acre botanical garden on a peninsula in Lake Hamilton is open all year, except January, a month devoted to regrouping, restoring and revitalizing. Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains, with the lake waters lapping at its shores, the botanical retreat showcases the essence of nature – towering pines provide protection for delicate flora and fauna as cool lake breezes trace the 4.5 miles of wooded shoreline.
Philanthropist Verna Cook Garvan began the gardens as a personal project several decades ago, before donating them to the University of Arkansas School of Architecture as a tribute to natural preservation. Formally opened in 2002, Garvan Woodland Gardens continues to follow Verna Garvan's dreams as well as the meticulous plans laid out by UA researchers. The newly opened Evans Children's Adventure Garden, which features caves, waterfalls and more, complement a bonsai garden, a woodland nature preserve that's a must-see for birdwatchers and other themed gardens.
One of the highlights of the Gardens is the architecture, inspired by internationally-recognized architect and native Arkansan E. Fay Jones, who believed architecture should reflect and fit within the natural beauty surrounding it. Jones designed the Garvan Pavilion, which serves as the center of activity for the Gardens. His influence is seen in other structures in the Gardens, such as the Anthony Chapel, Millsap Bride's Hall and Evans Groom Quarters.
Lectures and special events are scheduled throughout the year, including the extremely popular Festival of Lights, which illuminates the area's winter beauty with almost a million Christmas lights during much of November and all of December.
Botanical Garden of the Ozarks
4703 N. Crossover Road
The only significant rise in topography between the Appalachians and the Rockies, the Ozarks are home to unique species and landscapes, and the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks captures the best of the region in one place. A rock and water garden entrance resembling an Ozark spring and stream immediately transports visitors into the garden's magical snapshot of the area's flora and fauna. A perimeter of picturesque woodlands and nearby Lake Fayetteville practically erases guests' knowledge that the garden is located in northwest Arkansas' urban core.
Ranging from a Japanese garden to one for children, nine separate gardens exist across the sunny Botanical Garden of the Ozarks' 90 acres, of which only eight are developed. Each garden was designed by a different person chosen though a competition. Their design choices, materials and plants convey the gardens' different themes but maintain the common Ozarks thread envisioned by the group of locals who initiated a grassroots effort in 1994 to establish the attraction.
Arkansas transplants who are building their own gardens can get some guidance from the Ozark Native Garden, which has become one of the most popular since the botanical gardens opened in October 2007. Situated around a stylized Ozark front porch complete with porch swings and a small creek are a number of plants specific to the region, all labeled to promote learning.
Nationally-known speakers cover a variety of topics throughout the year, and additional educational opportunities are provided by a number of programs. The botanical garden also hosts children's activities, one of the most popular being butterfly day. Butterflies, attracted by numerous nectar-bearing plants, flood the garden in the late summer and early fall.
Several visitors use the wheelchair-accessible gardens for health, wellness and relaxation, while others use it for celebration. Public events include evenings of music in the gardens, and several weddings and receptions are held outdoors or in the Totemeier Horticulture Center, a beautiful timber frame building made of native wood.