Friday, November 1, 2013

The North Carolina Arboretum -- "Some Assembly Required"

Fall is in full swing at the NC Arboretum
The autumn winds are blowing, drawing us out to see deciduous trees in all their gaudy splendor.  There are few places in the Southeast U.S. that compare to Asheville, North Carolina for viewing fall foliage.  The North Carolina Arboretum is one of Asheville's treasures, and a great place to explore the colors of autumn.

The 434 acre property boasts several trails of varying difficulty, diverse and well-maintained garden areas, and two very nice buildings for visitors -- the Baker Exhibit Center and the Education Center.  I visited the NC Arboretum for the first time earlier in October.  Although the whole property was dazzling, my favorite areas were in the main garden area.

Bonsai displays may use traditional or unique plant
material, like this grove of bonsai bald cypress.
The Bonsai Exhibition Garden was especially impressive.  Although the specimens were younger than bonsai exhibits that may be found at other gardens, I thought the variety of plants and styles were much better than other displays I've seen.  In addition to the traditional Japanese maples, junipers and pines, the exhibit included specimens native to the continent and the southeast region, like bald cypress and hornbeam.  Although the bonsai specimens are the main attraction, the exhibition garden is a really lovely setting for the display.  Also, the signage was attractive and informative.

The Gardener's Green Shed showcases
water-saving methods for the landscape
The Quilt Garden is usually a "must see" area.  I visited during a kind of weird in-between period where their summer annuals had been removed but it was too early to add their winter interest plants.  Plants in the quilt garden are arranged in really interesting patterns.  Visitors can walk between squares to see the pattern up close or view from an overlook to see the whole picture.

A couple other areas include the Heritage Garden that showcases ornamental plants that have a history as utility plants in the appalachian region, the Dickinson Holly Garden that showcases a variety of hollies and their uses in the landscape.

Although I was originally drawn to the NC Arboretum to view fall foliage and explore new gardens, I was in for a special treat.  Right now the arboretum has LEGO nature-inspired art pieces on display throughout the garden as a part of their "Some Assembly Required" exhibit.  Of the 27 sculptures that are part of the exhibit, 15 are places outdoors throughout the gardens.  Created by certified LEGO artist Sean Kenney, pieces range in size and style, from a intricate phalaenopsis orchid to a life-size lawnmower.

Young folks were really interested in
"Some Assembly Required" LEGO statutes
The morning of my visit, it seemed like most folks were there to see the LEGO art.  Finding each piece was like an exciting scavenger hunt for young visitors.  Children cried with joy when they discovered the next sculpture, then fell into silent, wide-eyed awe as they took in the intricacy of the display.  If you know a LEGO lover of any age, definitely check out "Some Assembly Required" at the NC Arboretum this fall and winter.  The LEGOs will be on display until January 5, 2014.

The arboretum offers several features intended to enhance the visitor experience, including cell phone tours, geocaching, clean bathrooms, water fountains, and other amenities available for use in their buildings.  The Savory Thyme Cafe is housed within the Education Building, and offers local, natural, and organic selections.  The Connections Gallery gift shop in the Baker Exhibit Center had a nice selection of horticultural, local, and touristy items for sale.

Other important considerations when planning your visit:

  • Hours of operation:
    • April 1 to October 31, 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
    • November 1 to March 31, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
    • Baker Exhibit Center, Education Center, Bonsai Exhibition Garden, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Admission: FREE
  • Parking: 
    • FREE the first Tuesday of each month
    • $8 personal vehicles
    • $30 commercial vehicles
    • $50 buses
    • Free for members of the NC Arboretum
  • Accessibility:
    • The garden areas, production greenhouse, Baker Exhibit Center and the Education Center are wheelchair accessible.  The trails have varying levels of accessibility.
    • Wheelchairs are available to use free of charge, and may be borrowed from the Baker Exhibit Center and the Education Center.
  • Pets:
    • Dogs may visit the gardens and arboretum areas as long as they are kept on a leash.  Owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets.
    • Service animals are allowed inside buildings.

The arboretum is very easy to find from I-40, with plenty of signage guiding you there from the interstate.  However, when you plan your trip to the NC Arboretum, consider taking the road less traveled.  In addition to hopping on I-40, some folks could also travel on the Blue Ridge Parkway or 19 to Cherokee then up 411 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Special thanks to my co-hort Nathan and his friend Tiffany for keeping me company in the Arboretum. Also thank-you Jared in Raleigh and Nathan in Johnson City for helping me triangulate the peak time to visit Asheville.

To see more photos of my visit to the North Carolina Arboretum, check out my flickr set.

If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment on this post or shoot me an email.

Tell me about your last visit to a garden or arboretum.  What was your favorite part?

What's the most unusual display or exhibit you've seen at a garden or arboretum?

Young folks were really interested in "Some Assembly Required" LEGO statutes

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