I am a little embarrassed to admit, however, that I had never visited the gardens at any other point. Like ever.
Now that I run All Things Arkansas in downtown Hot Springs, I encourage people to visit the gardens almost every day. Despite having not visited during other seasons, my endorsement was sincere … albeit not as informed as it should be.
So, yesterday, my husband and I ventured out to the gardens for the day. Verna C. Garvan donated more than 200 acres along the Lake Hamilton shoreline to the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture back in 1985. The gardens continue to be developed, and private contributions have assisted in the creation of a world-renowned botanical garden.
One of the first things we noticed when we entered the garden was that we quickly were on paths that we don’t see during the holiday season. The trails are wide enough to allow for the carts used by volunteers and by the staff working on the grounds. They also are clear of debris, so that we would easily have been able to see any creatures that we would not want to step on but that obviously exist out in the woods. (In other words, we would have been able to see any snakes along the path!)
The azaleas were beginning to bloom, and we saw the largest hydrangea we’ve ever seen. There was a pathway of maples, including a lacy maple, and Japanese maple, and one variety that looks fairly similar to a marijuana leaf. I do realize this probably says more about the world I grew up in than anything else, but it was quite a trip to see, if you will forgive the pun. What fun to have the maples next to one another so that you could see both their similarities and their differences.
As we wound to our left, we crossed a couple bridges and saw several small waterfalls. As we approached a pond, dozens of large koi swam to the edge. A volunteer was nearby, and she explained that when the weather is warmer, they sell fish food to visitors. The koi obviously were hopeful but the weather was still too cold for us to be able to feed them.
Shortly after that, we could see the Lake Hamilton shoreline, and we began encountering visitors there for a morning walk. As annual passes are available, anyone living near the gardens could easily get a safe and rigorous morning workout in a beautiful setting. Not a bad idea; in fact, the events page shows that the gardens hosts walks a couple times each week.
Before long, we found ourselves in tulip heaven. Though some of them had passed their prime, I don’t know how anyone could make it through the section without smiling. I told my husband that it was a good thing we were married, because I knew he wouldn’t have ever made it there if it weren’t for me … and he would have been missing out! Once again, signage explained what each variety was, and I was pleased that the one I thought looked like a cross between two flowers was indeed a hybrid. With more than 135,000 bulbs planted, you could see almost every color imaginable.
We left the overwhelming fields of color to enter a section that appeared simply to be woods. We were just about to check whether we had inadvertently entered a restricted area when one of the employees approached us and said that we had almost reached an overlook complete with restrooms and water. Indeed, when we arrived, we could see the lake as well as the Ouachita Mountains. Breathtaking views.
From there, we ventured over to the Evans Children Adventure Garden. What fun! Who cares that we are adults; this was fabulous. We were able to walk BEHIND a waterfall! Who doesn’t want to do that?! Kids were climbing on top of rocks and in general acting like explorers. We had a blast (though we did not crawl over the rocks). A sign indicated that the children’s area currently is seeking funding for interpretative treehouses. Can I just say, “Yes, please”?! I want to climb through the treehouses when they are built. I sure hope they mean kids of all ages, because I am all excited about this.
We saw peacocks in a couple different areas. As a special Happy Birthday, I’m sure, one of them preened and pranced in front of me.
In short, I am stunned that I never had visited the Garvan Woodland Gardens at any time other than during the Holiday Lights. I look forward to going back soon, and with an admission price of only $10 per person, I can. The Garden is open 9-6 daily. For more information, call 1-800-366-4664.