Sunday was perfect. Book-ended by chilly days Saturday and Monday, Sunday was 68 and sunny and high time to visit the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Located about 20 minutes away in Chapel Hill (Y es, it is associated with UNC. Don’t despair Blue Devils, you don’t have to set foot on our rival’s campus to enjoy the Botanical Garden). My mother was visiting, and we showed up at 11:30 a.m., ready to go.
There was only one problem: the NC Botanical Garden opens at 1 p.m. on Sundays! In the famous words of Homer Simpson: “Doh!” Faced with closed gates, we sat in the car, wondering what we could do to kill an hour and a half. As we sat pondering, a young couple with two kids hopped out of their car and headed around the perimeter of the fence before disappearing down the hill. Curiosity peaked, we headed out after them and came to the trail-head of the NC Botanical Garden’s nature trails. The nature trails are the number one reason to visit; though there are only a few miles of trails, they are absolutely spectacular in autumn. One trail follows the meandering creek as fall leaves spin round and round in the current, the other leads up a graceful wooden staircase to the top of a small ridge. I saw my first golden-crowned kinglet, a tiny songbird. Downy woodpeckers, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens, common grackles, and even a large turkey vulture flitted in the trees or soared overhead.
It was difficult to leave, but we had to move on to the second reason to visit the NC Botanical Garden: the gardens themselves. Walking through a large education center with artwork covering many of their walls, we reached the gardens on the other side. The NC Botanical Garden is dedicated to replicating natural ecosystems and native plants of North Carolina. The thin paths passed through coastal plain, sandhill, piedmont, and mountain habitats, complete with the different plants you would find in each of these ecosystems. The mountain habitat area even included a tiny cabin that was once used by famous writer Paul Green. I especially loved the carnivorous plant collection – plants to definitely look out for!
Interspersed throughout the garden sat the third reason to visit the NC Botanical Garden: the outdoor sculpture gallery. In small clearings, in trees, on fountains, anywhere and everywhere different works of art were featured throughout the gardens. I’m not an art expert, but I loved the giant jug, the wood sprite representation, the delicate and tiny female statue, and all the other pieces of art of every shape and size. Each piece, however unique or bizarre, seemed perfectly situated in its own habitat, and small laminated cards allowed us visitors to see a little into the artists’ inspirations for their pieces.
The North Carolina Botanical Garden seems to have it all: hiking trails, native plant representations, and the beautiful merging of nature and art. I may not be an expert in any of the three, but I sure loved the combination. The sunshine didn’t hurt either!