Near the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Asheville, N.C., the University of North Carolina established an arboretum in 1986. The 434 acres of parks and gardens and educational spaces that comprise The North Carolina Arboretum are located within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, which in turn is part of the Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains.
While the arboretum is just over two decades old, the idea for a public garden near Asheville was conceived over a century ago by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s father of landscape architecture. Olmstead, whose works include New York’s Central Park, Boston’s Fenway Park, Stanford University, and the U.S. Capitol park in Washington, D.C., capped his career with the landscape design for George W. Vanderbilt’s opulent Biltmore Estate, just a few miles from the site of the Arboretum.
The Quilt Garden features plantings in a traditional quilt pattern, paying homage to the mountain crafts of North Carolina. It is fun to walk through, but the "quilt effect" is best appreciated from the overlook provided. Another tribute to crafting is the Heritage Garden, where plants are grown that support traditional crafts such as basket making, broom making, dye making, and papermaking. The Holly Garden represents a wide selection of the more than 400 species within the holly family. The National Native Azalea Repository contains almost every species of azalea native to the United States. Best viewed in late spring or early summer, this lovely garden is situated along the banks of a creek. It is not only a garden, but also a "conservation reservoir" or storage center that holds the hereditary material for each of the native species as well as hybrids and cultivated varieties.
The Stream Garden pays tribute to the rivers and streams of Appalachia. This demonstration garden displays trees, shrubs, and perennials planted in an abstract representation of a mountain stream.
Signpost pays tribute to the famous landscape architect.
The Arboretum is the product of many partnerships and has multi-tiered educational missions. Both of these facets are addressed in the Professional Landscape Garden, a two-acre site designed to serve landscape professionals through education and various horticultural certifications. It contains over 250 specimen ornamental plants. For those interested in new developments, the Plants of Promise Garden contains award-winning landscape plants, new introductions, and superior plants derived from North Carolina’s native flora. The Perennial Border Garden, located outside of the Arboretum’s greenhouse, demonstrates plantings with staggered bloom times designed to provide a full season of color.
My personal favorite was the Bonsai Exhibition Garden. Not only were the 100-plus bonsai specimens among the most attractive and varied I’ve seen anywhere, the information provided about the history and practice of bonsai was fascinating.
Other Features And Activities
The Arboretum also features both indoor and outdoor art, with permanent and traveling collections on display. Adult education seminars are offered on a wide variety of topics from landscape design to seasonal horticulture to flower arranging. The grounds include a caf