A trio of Arkansas’s horticultural treasures colorfully welcomes visitors to enjoy the blooms of spring.
Tulips – not by the thousands or even tens of thousands – but more than 100,000 are planted each year at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Ark.
“We have 160,000 tulips in bloom in mid-March,” said Susan Harper, director of visitor services who’s been known to impersonate gardens founder Verna Cook Garvan. “That’s our showtime.”
The tulips don’t come back every year “because we’re a shade garden, and we don’t get cold enough here,” Harper said. “So we pull all of them out and plant new ones each year.”
They’re not the only spring stars in this horticultural haven begun by one woman who just might have had a thing or two to prove. Complementing the tulips are more than 300 varieties of daffodils, quickly followed by camellias, azaleas, dogwoods, rhododendrons, and wildflowers.
Garvan was just 23 when her father, Arthur Cook, died in 1934, leaving two major industrial businesses – one in lumber, the other in brick and tile – to her care.
“She was excellent at business,” Harper said.
Her personal life, however, did not go as smoothly. After a divorce, she married Francis Patrick Garvan Jr., but had no heirs when she died in 1993.
“She left a 210-acre paradise to the people of Arkansas” through the University of Arkansas, Harper said. Garvan loved the wooded peninsula off Lake Hamilton and intended to have an estate on the property but never got around to building a house. She worked for nearly 40 years, with just one or two helpers, to add a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers to the land.
“Mrs. Garvan particularly loved to plant things from all over the world that people said would never, ever grow in Arkansas,” Harper said. “She loved to prove them wrong.”
When the university took possession of the property, “there was nothing here except the woods, a shop building, and a pavilion,” Harper said.
The gardens opened to the public in 2002. Garvan’s work has been expanded many times over with a wide variety of native and non-native plants, plus architectural treasures. There’s always something on the drawing board; right now a $1.5 million treehouse is scheduled to open by the end of 2017.
The Anthony Chapel, completed in 2006, hosts approximately 200 weddings annually. It’s one of the most requested wedding sites in the state because of its architecture and setting.
Harper, who started as a volunteer when the attraction opened, had high praise for the educational offerings at Garvan gardens. She encourages others to consider volunteering there.
“They actually pay me to come out here every day to do something I was willing to do for free. I just have the best job,” she said.
Wildwood Park a bouquet of unlimited arts
In Little Rock, Ark., Wildwood Park for the Arts offers a multitude of artistic options. It started about 20 years ago with a 625-seat opera theater. That tradition continues – The Pirates of Penzance opens at the end of March – but the 105-acre park boasts an ever-increasing array of offerings.
“This is a park for the arts,” said Executive Director Leslie Golden. “It was built as a home for opera, but in 2008, the board determined that Wildwood needed to expand its vision.”
During the period when the park was used primarily for opera performances, the gates weren’t always open; not a welcoming message to the public.
“When we expanded the vision for the park, the first thing we did was open the gates every day. Now families have discovered us. They might come here for nature and realize there’s an art exhibit indoors. It could be city kids who find out about the great outdoors,” Golden said.
The artistic platforms are numerous. So, too, are ways in which to engage with them. Wildwood’s WAMA (Wildwood Academy of Music & the Arts) is a summer music festival and training program for students ages 6–18. Areas of study include vocal and instrumental music. Other educational camps and classes are available to children and adults throughout the year.
And for visitors who simply want to take a walk through the gardens, Wildwood is accessible to them. Admission is free every day except for festival weekends and some holidays.
Several gardens, two trails, and Butler Arboretum, the centerpiece at Wildwood Park, are beautiful year-round. But in spring, the 10-acre arboretum has the region’s largest collection of woodland azaleas. Daffodils and iris will line Swan Lake. Or visitors may want to stroll the Ruth Allen Dogwood Trail.
“It’s gorgeous every time of the year,” Golden said of the park.
Backyard garden ideas in Fayetteville
In Fayetteville, Ark., the 42-acre Botanical Garden of the Ozarks aims to grow appreciation for the local ecology. It opened just 10 years ago as a grassroots movement.
“We had a dream,” Operations Director Gerald Klingaman said. “But we didn’t have any money.”
But the idea of several small backyard gardens seemed doable, and the idea took off. There are now a dozen themed gardens that provide not only ideas but also the how-to for home adaptations.
“Ours is a horticultural garden developed by plant people,” Klingaman said. “The plants are our driving force.”
The popular Japanese garden has proven to be the easiest to care for.
“We spend the least amount of time tending to this unpretentious garden,” Klingaman said. But it’s one of the most popular, with visitors wanting to replicate its serenity at home.
The Children’s Garden is another winner. The benches on its Reading Railroad invite both children and grown-ups to sit and read for a while.
The newest addition is the Butterfly House that focuses on native species.
Structured programs are offered for children and adults. But there’s always the joy of simply walking through the gardens.
Klingaman said his favorite spot is a bench on the streamside trail.
“There’s always a breeze there, even on the hottest day of the summer,” he said. “You can look out and think about what needs to happen next.”
Elizabeth Granger is a contributor from Fishers, Ind.
March/April 2017 Issue
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