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Southern Spring

Public gardens and other spaces in Arkansas
announce the South’s prettiest season.

After wild and woolly winter weather, spring is a welcome guest, and an Arkansas spring starts shyly with a few brave bulbs and pink lace on redbud trees. Beautiful blooms in gardens, parks, or neighborhoods call out “road trip” to our senses. Experience some of the best spring has to offer by checking out these scenic spots.


Above: In Bentonville, the town square comes alive with tulips and other seasonal blooms. Bentonville CVB photo

Below: Moss Mountain Farm near Little Rock attracts visitors with fields of daffodils. P. Allen Smith organization


Garvan Woodland Gardens

South of Hot Springs in central Arkansas you’ll find Arkansas’s premier botanical garden. Named for Verna C. Garvan, Garvan Woodland Gardens is on a 210-acre Lake Hamilton peninsula that was once commercial timberland. When Garvan inherited the property, she vowed that it would never be used for timber production but would be preserved as a botanical garden. She did much of the original planting and bequeathed the land and preservation of the gardens to the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture.

Although there is beauty in the garden year-round, spring and early summer are the peak times to enjoy riotous color. Depending on weather, daffodils can appear by late February. They’re joined in March by hyacinths, anemone, and redbud. By late March, tulips create rainbows of color; dogwood and some azaleas add showy blooms. In April, tree peonies begin blooming, and by mid-April to the first of May, the gardens are ablaze with azaleas, hydrangeas, and a variety of other flowers.

The gardens are a photographer’s dream. A favorite area is Daffodil Hill where thousands of daffodils in hundreds of varieties carpet the landscape. Architectural features like the Full Moon Bridge, the Garvan Pavilion, and the Anthony Chapel offer special photo opportunities.

The chapel is a popular setting for weddings. Created with glass, native timber, and stone, it is flooded by natural light and decorated with views of the surrounding woodlands. Outside the chapel stands a 57-foot carillon with electronic bells chiming on the hour and intermittently sending familiar tunes tumbling through the treetops.

With special features like the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden, full of places to climb and explore, and the Sugg Model Train Garden, Garvan Woodland Gardens is appealing to kids of all ages. Five miles of trails provide opportunities for good exercise while you enjoy the beauty of nature. Approximately half of the trails are ADA accessible, including one mile of paved trail. A guided riding tour is available for an additional charge. Chipmunk Café, open daily, offers goodies including sandwiches, wraps, and salads.

Living Art

Bentonville, in the state’s northwest corner, also sports a spring wardrobe. The town’s traditional square, complete with fountain and Civil War memorial, is decorated with a majority of the downtown area’s 7,500 tulips, along with a number of other bulbs and masses of violas.

On the 120 acres around nearby Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, multiple trails meander through the Ozark woodlands. Native redbuds, serviceberry trees, and woodland phlox are among the early bloomers. In April, more than 500 dogwoods blossom where nature planted them along the Dogwood Trail. Dozens of other dogwoods ranging in color from white and pink to deep red have been planted elsewhere on the grounds. Other April and early May plants include oakleaf hydrangeas, anemones, trillium, wallflowers, and coreopsis.

One of the most special areas on the grounds is Crystal Spring. Around this beautiful natural spring–once owned by Dr. Neil Compton, a local obstetrician, gardener, and naturalist–are remnants of his original plantings, venerable rhododendrons, and native trout lilies.

More of the late doctor’s property abuts Crystal Bridges and is accessible from the museum grounds via the Crystal Bridges Trail or by car from Main Street. Compton Gardens is a six-acre gem comprising Compton’s home–now a conference center–and trails from which you will see a wide variety of plants native to the Ozark Plateau. Among the spring beauties are jack-in-the-pulpit, trout lilies, bloodroot, trillium, bluebells, violets, and dwarf-crested iris. Among the trees, the yellowwood is a late-spring standout with trailing, wisteria-like flowers. Compton Gardens has the state champion yellowwood tree. The first of May brings the illusive lady slipper orchid. Don’t miss this chance to see Ozark spring at its best.

Capital Color

Although not a formal garden, nature lovers will enjoy a spring experience in Little Rock’s Riverfront Park, a 33-acre area on the south shore of the Arkansas River with the Clinton Center on the east end of the 11-block park. Trails run from one end to the other with highlights being a wetlands area and nature center, access to several pedestrian bridges over the river, playgrounds, a splash park for warmer weather, a musical play space, the eponymous little rock, and the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden. This terraced area features approximately three dozen sculptures.

Early color plants include forsythia, Carolina jessamine, redbud, dogwood, Bradford pear trees, tulip magnolias, and violas. Spirea, bearded iris, daffodils, wisteria, and tulips add to the array in March. As weather permits, potted phlox, moneywort, and dianthus offer more variety.

Downtown celebrates the season during Tulipfest, with events and attractions throughout the month of March. Main Street and Markham Street and the River Market area will be adorned with pots and hanging baskets totaling 25,000 tulips. More tulips will brighten the landscape in historical MacArthur Park.

Curran Hall, a historical 1842 home in the MacArthur Park Historic District, features a garden with pansies, violas, snapdragons, foxgloves, daffodils, suteras, forsythias, quince, and other flowering shrubs. It is also an official Little Rock Visitor Information Center. Staff here can suggest driving tours of the historical districts. Many of the charming homes in these districts have colorful landscaping.

About 30 minutes northwest of Little Rock is Moss Mountain Farm, country home of P. Allen Smith, guru of all things garden, as well as cooking and decorating. In spring, approximately 300,000 daffodils carpet the ground around his 1840-style farmhouse. Tours are pricey ($90) but include tours of the house and gardens, lunch, a book signing, and photos if Smith is available.

Living up to its nickname, “The Natural State,” Arkansas puts its best forward in this season.

Elaine Warner is a contributor from Edmond, Okla.

Mar/Apr 2014 Issue


For more information, contact:

Garvan Gardens,,
(501) 262-9300

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art,,
(479) 418-5700

Compton Gardens,,
(479) 254-3870

Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau,,
(800) 844-4781

Moss Mountain Farm,

To visit Arkansas’s gardens, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Arkansas through the Free Travel Information Card found online.



Jumpin' Jonquils

Historic Washington State Park, in southwest Arkansas just north of Hope, preserves the legacy of Washington. Founded on George Washington’s birthday in 1824, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The little village comprises 30 restored landmarks including both the 1836 and 1874 county courthouses; a number of homes; several museums; and Williams Tavern, the park restaurant.

Spring is a special time in the park as they celebrate their 46th annual Jonquil Festival March 14–16. Thousands of jonquils, entertainment, demonstrations, and crafts vendors attract not only native Arkansans, but visitors from Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas.

Admission is free with a $5 fee for parking. Tours of the park and surrey rides are available at regular rates.

For more information:

washington state

Jonquils at Historic Washington State Park. Historic Washington State Park photo

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