Nearby gardens meet great expectations.
The best New Year’s resolution you could possibly make for 2009 is to plan a trip, or several, to visit some of the outstanding gardens available within a day’s drive from Hilton Head Island.
These include three of the most renowned public gardens, not only in the Southeast, but in the entire country.
This is not to recommend a one-day round trip, because an overnight stay is necessary to fully enjoy the experience, although you can easily reach your destination in a day.
The most distant is Biltmore, the George Vanderbilt estate near Asheville, N.C. Completed in 1885 as a private residence, (albeit on 8,000 acres), it was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
Everything about it is magnificent, the residence which is essentially a castle, the gardens, grounds, greenhouses, vineyard and winery, including even the 5-mile entrance drive. For more information, visit biltmore.com.
(Nearby, look in on Jesse Israel & Sons Nursery and Garden Center at the Western North Carolina Farmers’ Market, Exit 47 off I-40.)
Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., is a little less than 300 miles due west across Georgia, north of Columbus. Construction began in the 1930s with the restoration of exhausted farmland by Cason J. Callaway Sr., an executive and heir of the Callaway Mills textiles family, and wife Virginia Hand Callaway, a garden lover and conservationist, particularly of native plants.
Spread over 14,000 acres, the gardens include motor trails, hiking and biking trails through the planted landscape, numerous lakes for boating, sailing and fishing, a beach for swimming, plus a huge and beautifully designed and maintained conservatory, the Sibley Center, with its vivid seasonal plantings and two-story waterfall.
Additionally, the Day Center is a spacious, light filled, state-of-the-art butterfly conservatory where more than 1,000 butterflies flutter freely and will light on your shoulder or your lips. There is much, much more. Just go. For more information visit callawaygardens.com/
Only 16 miles from Callaway is Warm Springs, Ga., where Franklin Roosevelt sought comfort and healing during his presidency. You can visit the Little White House, touching in its simplicity, where he died. For more information, call (706) 655-5870.
Closer to home is Brookgreen Gardens, up the South Carolina coast about 70 miles north of Charleston on the west side of U.S. 17 and a few miles north of Pawleys Island.
Work was begun in 1931 by railroad heir Archer Milton Huntington and his wife, renowned sculptress Anna Hyatt, on property composed of four former rice plantations, comprising altogether more than 9,000 acres. Although originally intended for a winter retreat and wildlife refuge, it became clear that it would be an ideal setting for the display of American figural sculpture.
It is an incredibly beautiful display of over 500 small, large and monumental works by more than 300 American artists of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. For more information, visit brookgreen.org/.
Across U.S. 17 from Brookgreen’s entrance you may visit Atalaya, the Huntingtons’ Moorish-themed winter home. Though wonderful any time of the year, think April. For more information visit huntingtonbeachstatepark.com/Atalaya.htm.
Smaller destinations include Wing Haven Gardens, a serene, aptly named garden and bird sanctuary which is tucked into a residential area in Charlotte – a well designed and tranquil garden retreat for both persons and birds. For more information, visit winghavengardens.com.
The Women of Prince George Winyah Parish sponsor the 62nd annual plantation tour April 3-4 in and around Georgetown. A different group of homes will be open each day – you may choose one or both days. Tours are self-guided and selfdriven with hostesses in each house to direct and answer questions. The houses, plantations and gardens are all private and mostly historic homes. For more information, visit pgwinyah.org.
Visitors to Atlanta would do well to save a couple of hours to explore the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Piedmont Park, midtown Atlanta. It has many wonderful things to see and enjoy, an extensive and beautiful conservatory and frequent special exhibits during the year. For more information, visit atlantabotanicalgarden.org.
Three historic estates in Charleston are well known, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (magnoliaplantation.com), Middleton Place (middletonplace.org) and Drayton Hall (draytonhall.org). All are located on the same road, S.C. 61 or Ashley River Road, a few miles before you cross the bridge into Charleston, and can be easily visited in one day. All were formerly private homes, now open to the public, and each is distinctive.
For a delightful small garden tour suitable for a one-day round trip, drive to Savannah for the NOGS (North of Gaston Street) tour April 17-18. It features small picturesque and private courtyard gardens attached to historic homes. For more information visit gcofsavnogstour.org.