Floral magnificence: Seven of the South's great public gardens

Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Folks in the South do love a garden. The director of one of the South's quintessential public gardens, Callaway Gardens, understands why that appreciation for gardens runs so deep in Southern culture.

"Overall, gardening is inherit in Southerners due to our agricultural roots, our desire to be more connected with nature, and an interest in getting back to the basics," said Patricia Collins, director of Callaway Gardens. "Gardening in the Southeast, especially my beloved state of Georgia, offers the best of all worlds. This region's conditions, including a long growing season, varied topography, moderate climate with minimal temperature extremes, and plentiful water supplied by rivers, streams, and rainfall, are what enables the South to have such wonderful gardens."

Carleton B. Wood, president of the Southern Garden History Society and also director of the Historic Callaway family home and garden at Hills & Dales Estate in LaGrange, Georgia, is of similar disposition regarding Southern public gardens.

"Mention the 'Southern Garden,' " said Wood, "and it brings to mind a range of different images. From moss-draped live oaks accented with colorful azaleas along the coast to flowering lilacs and rolling hills in the Appalachians, each region reflects in own unique soils, climate, topography and history. The types of gardens vary from old historic gardens, to plant collector gardens, to public display gardens. Without a doubt the gardens of the South are among the most diverse in the country."

Here are seven of the South's great public gardens.

Callaway Gardens

Since 1952, Callaway Gardens has served as a horticultural asset, educational institution and charitable organization. Only an hour southwest of Atlanta, the 250-acre garden is known perhaps more than anything for its remarkable proliferation of azaleas, but during spring and early summer the gardens burst out with everything from hydrangea, lilies, rhododendron and mountain laurel, to flowered trees, including dogwood and magnolia. And there is something in the gardens to enjoy all year long. Through the decades, the Pine Mountain, Georgia, site has become a full-fledged resort offering lodging, dining and a variety of recreational opportunities.

Callaway Gardens, 17800 U.S. 27, Pine Mountain, Ga., 800-852-3810, www.callawaygardens.com

Garden at Hills & Dales Estate

The Callaway family gave Georgia not one but two exceptional public gardens. Fuller Earle Callaway, father of Callaway Gardens founder Cason Jewell Callaway, nurtured and expanded the gardens that existed at what would become the Hills & Dales Estate when he purchased the property in 1911. The garden is actually a series of formal dwarf boxwood gardens planted on terraced greenspaces and is considered one of the best preserved 19th century gardens in the country. Its signature plants include the Southern magnolia, saucer magnolia, tea olive, tea plant and the dwarf English boxwood, but many varieties of flowers brighten the landscape, as well. While the estate's historic home is also a major attraction, garden-only admission is available for those disposed to limit their visitation to the outdoors.

Hills & Dales Estate, 1916 Hills and Dales Drive, La Grange, Ga., 706-882-3242, www.hillsanddales.org

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Sitting pretty on 380 acres on the banks of Lake Wylie about 15 miles west of uptown Charlotte, the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden offers the Four Seasons Garden; Crape Myrtle Grove; Canal Garden, with water features; Cottage Garden, with heirloom plants; Allee Garden, a kid's favorite; Serpentine Garden, including circular pools and a long, meandering walk; and The Orchid Conservatory. The operation also includes a visitor pavilion, a garden store and plenty of nature trails.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, 6500 S. New Hope Road, Belmont, N.C., 704-825-4490, www.dsbg.org

Middleton Place

Middleton Place outside Charleston, South Carolina, has been designated America's oldest landscaped gardens, and the Garden Club of America has called its 65 acres "the most important and most interesting garden in America." The original gardens were created in the mid-18th century, and they've been a public garden since 1952. There are plenty of flowers blooming year-round, and the beautiful grounds also have water features, a historic house museum, the Middleton Place Plantation Stableyards (a living outdoor museum), an inn and a full-service restaurant.

Middleton Place, 4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, S.C., 800-782-3608, www.middletonplace.org

Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens, just south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, sits on a gorgeous 9,100-acre Lowcountry former rice plantation dating to the early 1700s. Among its amenities, Brookgreen contains Live Oak Allée garden, its 300 year-old live oak trees standing stately; The Brenda W. Rosen Carolina Terrace Garden, with a striking selection of perennials, roses, shrubs and trees; and Bethea's Cultural Garden, with vegetables and herbs that were grown during the plantation period. It also features a horticultural labyrinth overlooking a creek and an arboretum.

Brookgreen Gardens, 1931 Brookgreen Garden Drive, Murrells Inlet, S.C., 843-235-6000, www.brookgreen.org

Bellingrath Gardens & Home

More than 250,000 vibrant azaleas are beginning to bloom at Bellingrath, located down in Theodore, Alabama, near Mobile, and the first full rose bloom generally occurs in late April. Overall, the gardens contain more than 2,000 plants representing 75 varieties. Live oaks, water features, a hillside rock garden and The Conservatory, which houses tropical flowers and plants, are some of the additional features at Bellingrath. Come November, the gardens have the nation's largest outdoor mum display, with hundreds of colorful cascades of chrysanthemums.

Bellingrath Gardens & Home, 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore, Ala., 800-247-8420, www.bellingrath.org

Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden

Since the early 1980s, Carolinian Pearl Fryar has been creating an artful evergreen topiary in Bishopville, South Carolina, about 50 miles northeast of Columbia. Living "sculptures," Fryar's free-flowing topiary, shaped primarily with various sizes of chain saws, is an astounding feat combining artistry, horticulture and sheer perseverance. There is estimated to be about 400 plants among Fryar's garden greenery, including numerous varieties of trees and shrubs.

Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, 145 Broad Acres Road, Bishopville, S.C., 843-383-8150, www.pearlfryar.com