Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. ~John Lubbock
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden. This was an intention on my gardener’s bucket list this year. I went to Atlanta for the Food and Wine Festival which was truly a culinary masterpiece. Food is my second passion next to plants and I found myself surrounded by some of the most innovative, creative, and tasty delicacies imaginable. Every meal was more tantalizing than its predecessor and the wine pairings melded the experience into a heavenly union. Clearly after two days I had overindulged and was in need of some other sensory delight and perhaps a little exercise.
I strolled through Piedmont Park which is a glorious “green space” encompassing one hundred eighty five acres. Fredrick Law Olmstead, Jr. was the architect, who also designed Central Park in New York City. I happened upon a Farmer’s Market and stocked up on local fruit and honey. What an unexpected treat! I made my way along the expansive meandering path to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. I could feel myself getting giddy with anticipation of this long awaited visit.
I began my tour along the canopy walk, which is a twelve-foot wide concrete path forty feet above the ground, winding through the canopy of an urban forest. This aerial view was unlike any I have experienced. I had the feeling of being a part of the woodland as though I had climbed the trees. There are artistic, organic in form, benches along the way that invite one to stay.
I descended into the Southern Seasons Garden. I was completely surrounded by Hydrangeas all in full bloom. There are over one hundred sixty cultivars of these beauties here and they are absolutely enchanting. This is one of the most outstanding collections in the Southeast. Shade perennials and ground covers were mixed throughout creating an array of form and texture.
The Levy Parterre garden is an award winning, terraced formal area, which showcases a Chihuly water fountain. The boxwood lined beds are filled with color. The symmetry here is the perfect entrance to the Rose garden. I was astounded to learn that all of the roses here, many old fashioned, are managed organically. The scent in this garden was heavy and intoxicating. Interspersed were some of most favorite perennials including clematis, peonies, and coneflowers.
There is a Japanese garden that is small yet very well designed. The architectural hardscape of the entrance and the tucked in path that exits this area I found perfectly indicative of this Asian art. A great example of designing for small spaces and one that could encompass other styles.
If you thought that vegetable gardens were not aesthetically appealing, think again. The Edible garden looked like a commercial display garden. Vegetables and fruits filled this space. The thing that was so cool however was that every weekend, May to October, top chefs come and create dishes from the garden. There is an outdoor kitchen with ample seating, to watch and learn how to recreate the recipe. I was treated to Megan McCarthy’s Swiss chard sauté with toasted coconut. We all observed her as she picked the greens, washed and prepped them, and went on to create this incredibly fresh and healthy sidedish.
I have saved my favorite place for last and that is the conservatory. I actually got lost in here, perhaps a little on purpose. I think I could have spent most of the day here. There are several rooms that encompass this series of massive glass houses. The Tropical Rotunda is filled with hundreds of species of plants found along the equator. Frogs including poison arrow varieties, birds, turtles, and geckos inhabit this jungle recreation. The High Elevation House exhibits plants from the Cloud Forest of the Andes Mountains. In sharp contrast to these two lush regions is the Desert House. The Spiny forest of Madagascar is the region showcased here. The flower crown jewel is of course the Orchid House. Wow, and I mean wow! This place is dripping in orchids. Six thousand square feet of blooming, exotic and sensual orchids are both naturally and formally thriving here. The lobby of the conservatory is even spectacular with vertical walls of plant displays.
I was truly impressed with the gardens. Containers were intermingled everywhere and all were creative, colorful, and interesting. The most remarkable thing I noticed, was something that probably many people might overlook, and that was the maintenance. Absolutely, hands down, one of the most impeccable maintenance programs I have seen in a public garden. Weeds were very few and hard to find. Plants were allowed to drift, mingle, and grow into their neighbor yet not encroach as to harm them. The art and attention to detail was astounding. They even tamed Kudzu. There is an undercurrent of knowledge, training, and passion in this garden and it shows.
I left the Atlanta Botanical Garden completely satiated, refreshed, and inspired. This was just what I needed before heading to my next Food and Wine event…a Basque in the South inspired dinner…Yum!