Another beautiful, sunny day in the Blue Ridge Mountains (those seem to be in abundance here) warranted another outdoor adventure. Today’s destination? The North Carolina Arboretum, a 434-acre public garden in Pisgah National Forest.
Anyone who has been lucky enough (or unlucky, depending on your level of patience) to be around me when I’m outdoors with a camera in hand knows that I am an avid photographer. And by avid, I’m referring to the absurd amount of pictures I take in the course of a short period of time, not necessarily my photographic skill.
My particular photographic weakness? Flowers. Let me loose in a garden, and you might not see me for several hours. Let me loose in an arboretum, and you might not see me for days. DAYS. I am not exaggerating. Unfortunately, I only had a one day-only parking pass and a limited camera battery, so I had to be quick.
The Arboretum has eight main gardens. My favorites: the Quilt Garden and Bonsai Exhibition Garden (though you’d probably hit all of them during a quick walk-through). The Bonsai collection here is actually epic: if you don’t have an appreciation for this horticultural art (and it is definitely an art), you might have a change of heart after you’ve finished walking amongst the tens of perfectly formed miniature Southern Appalachian trees woven between gently cascading waterfalls and flowers.
And if you don’t care about plants but wouldn’t mind checking out for the afternoon with a good book, the Arboretum scores major points in that department, too: A plethora of benches are scattered throughout, some with sweeping vistas, some beside streams and others beneath the Heritage Garden’s rather massive, impressively constructed wooden gazebo.
One of my most delightful Arboretum discoveries, however, was indoors, on my way out, and completely unexpected. I was heading for the gift shop (and for Calibu the Malibu) when I noticed a small art exhibition in a corner of the Baker Exhibit Center’s second floor. Close-up prints of flowers lined the walls – beautiful, of course, but not completely out of the ordinary for a garden art display.
Looking closer, however, I could distinguish this collection’s true uniqueness: The photos of the flowers were imprinted on an image of each respective flower’s cellular makeup. From a distance, the cellular patterns simply appeared to give the photo’s background some texture.
The artist, Dr. Terry Ashley, was a research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine before becoming a full-time artist. She actually received her BA from Duke before going on to obtain a PhD in Genetics from FSU. She calls her collection “Botanical Chords” – chords referring to the link between distinctly different images of two aspects of the same subject species.
Combining microscopy with photography is a brilliant and certainly underutilized mixture of science and art, one which, I think, allows for a deeper appreciation of the organized complexity behind what appears, to the naked eye, as a simple flower.
Another under-appreciated Arboretum treasure? The Greenhouse(s), which I discovered after my camera battery died. (So typical.) Beautiful perennials like snapdragons and irises lined the Greenhouse’s east side, along with more reading benches, a lovely view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the backdrop. If you stop by the NC Arboretum on your Asheville visit, don’t miss this aspect of it!