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The North Carolina Arboretum, a member of the University of North Carolina System, quietly goes about its business every day of the year. Fortunately for visitors to the Arboretum, its business just happens to be one of the most delightful businesses to be found in the state.
The Arboretum, covering 426 acres within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, and further surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest, was first conceived in the 1890s by Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect of the Biltmore Estate. A century later, his vision was finally realized with the opening of the Arboretum.
The Arboretum was created for the education and enjoyment of the thousands of people who visit the site each year.
Educational programs are an important part of the work of the Arboretum; during any season of the year, programs are available to people of all ages, scholars and weekend gardeners alike. Programs range from workshops on gardening, conservation, bonsai, and bird watching to nature journaling, garden photography and crafts. An enormous number of programs are available; a complete listing may be obtained at the Arboretum. An example of one of the programs is "Old Roses in the Mountains," a lecture by the local Rose Society on growing antique roses here, on May 23, from 1-3PM ($3 members, $5 non-members).
If hiking stirs your interest, the Arboretum sponsors guided walks and hikes throughout the mountains, throughout the year. Several are scheduled throughout the spring, and range in difficulty from beginner to more advanced levels. For example, on April 21, from 9AM-4PM, you can join Arboretum naturalist Ron Lance for a 6-1/2 mile hike along the western rim of the Bent Creek watershed ($12 for members, $15 for non-members). If something a little more tame is calling you, the May 6 "Spring Garden" conversation and walk with renowned artist and gardener Peter Loewer (from 2-3PM, $8 members, $10 non-members) might be more to your liking.
The property itself is magnificent. Majestic views of blue-tinged mountain ranges can be seen from almost any vantage point. Miles of hiking and biking trails weave throughout the countryside, where people of all ages and interests can enjoy the scenery of all the seasons, each taken in their own time and at their own speed. Acres of unique gardens, all with a theme and a purpose, are artfully exhibited for the pure enjoyment or education of those who come to this peaceful place.
A state-of-the-art greenhouse cultivates many new and old-fashioned plants of all types, large and small, for future use on the property. Rare and endangered species, tropical plants, nursery material and bonsai are also propagated and grown in the greenhouse. The bonsai collection, one of only two public bonsai displays in the Southeast, features miniaturized tree species from all over the world. Even the entry road, thoughtfully and gently cut through the forest leading up to the Visitor Education Center, gardens, and trails and with its many uses of mortar-free rock walls, is awe-inspiring.
Many well-groomed gardens occupy the property immediately surrounding the Visitor Education Center. Seasonal plantings can be found in most of these gardens, but one garden that you might want to treat yourself to is the Plants of Promise Garden, located directly on the south side of the Visitor Education Center. This garden features interesting new plants that are not necessarily native to the area, but grow well here. The heritage plantings, in spring exhibits throughout the gardens, include old roses, forget-me-nots, delphinium, and verbenum, among others.
Other gardens that are worth your attention include the Stream Garden, the Quilt Garden, and the Heritage Garden. Each of these gardens reflects the Southern Appalachian culture and crafts through plantings, sculpture or rushing water, and each has a focus. For example, the Stream Garden's learning focus is on the use of native plants in the garden, and the Quilt Garden focuses on the use of color. The nearby Outdoor Events Garden, a lovely amphitheater setting, features educational programs and performances by some of the most talented people of the region. Its focus is on the proper use of plantings with specific adaptations within the correct site for those plantings. Comfortable seating is available in each of these areas for quiet moments to enjoy the beauty of the gardens.
Just beyond the cultivated and well-marked gardens surrounding the Visitor Education Center are the miles of nature and walking trails. The Owl Ridge Loop (0.9 mi) connects several trails together, where Bent Creek is visible from many points. The National Native Azalea Repository is located in this peaceful stand of tall, old trees.
Bicycles and pets on leash are allowed throughout the Arboretum except in the Core Garden Area and on the Natural Garden Trail.
The Asheville Transit System also began offering a new weekend recreation bus route to the N.C. Arboretum, the Bent Creek Recreation area and Lake Powhatan. This new bus route also only runs on Saturdays and Sundays.Parking at Lake Powhatan is particularly crowded on weekends. This new bus route will allow visitors to travel to the Lake Powhatan area and be dropped off close to the lake, N. C. Arboretum or bike trails. The buses handling this route also have the new bicycle racks on the front of the buses and can accommodate up to two bicycles on each trip. These areas have very attractive bike trails and the new recreation bus route should be attractive to the area's bicyclists.Click For Bus Schedule The North Carolina Arboretum is located off the entrance ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway, 2 miles south of Exit 2 (Brevard Road), off Interstate 26. Arboretum grounds are open seven days a week, 8AM-9PM, except Christmas and New Year's Day. The Visitor Education Center is open Monday - Saturday, 9AM-5PM, and on Sundays from Noon-5PM. Admission to the greenhouse, Visitor Education Center, grounds and gardens is free. You may reach the Arboretum by phone at 828-665-2492; fax is 828-665-2371; their website is www.ncarboretum.org.