Other highlights include 65 acres of themed gardens, Appalachian flora in stunning settings, such as the Blue Ridge Quilt Garden, with bedding plants arranged in patterns reminiscent of Appalachian quilts. There’s also an extensive network of trails available for walking or mountain biking. And don’t miss the renowned bonsai exhibit; it features miniature versions of many native trees and is considered one of the finest, most unique bonsai collections in the country. Be sure you also stop by the amazing, 16,000-square-foot Baker Exhibit Center, which is rather new and hosts awesome traveling exhibits on art, science, and history.
For an unusual view of the arboretum, and to really entertain the little ones, try the Segway tour, where you can glide through the forest for two hours on the gyroscopically controlled “Human Transporter!”
Should you be visiting the North Carolina Arboretum, take along the following Top Ten Attractions list. You can use it as a “to-do” or “to-see” list of sorts, and in conjunction with any maps, brochures or discovery packs you receive upon entry.
1. Bonsai Collection
There are more than 100 display-quality specimens in the bonsai collection at The North Carolina Arboretum, and more plants than that in various stages of bonsai development. All of the plants in the extensive collection have been either donated by private individuals or created at the Arboretum from seedlings, cuttings, nursery culls or plants collected from the landscape. The Arboretum’s bonsai collection is botanically diverse. Represented are traditional Asian bonsai subjects such as Japanese maple and Chinese elm; tropical plants such as willow-leaf fig and powder-puff; and American species such as bald cypress and limber pine. Of particular importance are the plants native to the Blue Ridge region, such as American hornbeam and eastern white pine, which enable the Arboretum to bring the thousand-year tradition of bonsai home to the mountains of Western North Carolina. The Collection has been noted as superior by many travel and tourism reviewers as well as locals who love to visit and photograph it.
2. Azalea Repository Trail
Starting with a bridge from Bent Creek Road this trail provides access to and multiple routes through the National Azalea Repository, including a “teaching circle” and a close look at Bent Creek. It’s marked as an “easy” level hiking trail so families can join in whenever they’d like and not worry about the little ones not making it through! At the west end of the Repository the Fern Loop provides a cool route along a natural mountain wetland and through part of a Rhododendron thicket where you can get a slight feel as to what a “Laurel hell” meant to a mountaineer traveling cross country. Total length, including the Fern Loop, is about one half mile.
3. Guided Forest Walks
Each Saturday and Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 p.m., trained, volunteer guides will lead small groups of participants along woodland trails and through a variety of forest types. Depending on the season, topics of discussion include wildflower and plant identification, natural history and tree lore, and the cultural and land use history of the Arboretum campus. Guides may include such areas as the National Native Azalea Collection as well as the course of Bent Creek. Walkers will also get neat handouts after class that include information on identifying plants, and lists of common wildflowers in North Carolina. With a limit of 12 people per walk, your chances of getting questions answered and getting personal time is quite good!
4. Plants of Promise Garden (POP)
A variety of flowers and accompanying aromas permeate the POP landscape. In the spring, daffodils flash yellow and gold; in the summer, the garden twinkles with the quick-winged movements of fireflies and butterflies. Autumn brings a kaleidoscope of fiery colors including sharp reds and purples, light blue, pink, purple and yellow. Award-winning landscape plants, plus new introductions and plants derived from the southeast’s native flora are all set in the diverse POP Garden. The POP Garden is a favorite among many locals and gardeners and landscape design experts, who often take heed of the designs here for use in their own yardscapes.
5. Canopy Walk
This collection offers an opportunity to explore, “sylvan botanical diversity and companion understory (tree/shrub) and herbaceous groundcover plantings.” The exhibit lies along a graceful ridge, and is meant to act as a visual reference and bridge for exploration into nearby garden zones. The exhibit is built in an upland forest zone along approximately a 755-foot linear area beginning at the bottom of steps at Blue Ridge Court to base of a distant knoll referred to as ‘Mountaintop Island.’
6. Stream Garden
The Stream Garden also demonstrates how different plants can be used in landscape design. The Stream Garden is the first of three demonstration gardens along the Grand Garden Promenade – a streamside plant community. It reflects the region’s natural heritage in a formal setting. Trees, shrubs and perennials are planted around an abstract representation of a mountain stream course. This is a beautiful place to stop and eat your lunch or to picnic with the family. It’s also a nice respite for a “breather” should you be speed walking, hiking or biking around the NCA.
7. Production Greenhouse
Inside the production greenhouse, plants are produced for the Quilt Garden, Container Gardens, Seasonal Landscape Exhibits and sustainable landscape areas. The greenhouse also houses the tropical bonsai. The 7,200 square foot glass greenhouse also utilizes green technology including modern improvements like a rolling benches, drip irrigation, walk-in coolers, and pad and fan cooling.
8. Carolina Mountain Trail
The Carolina Mountain Trail connects the greenhouse and nursery with the Education Center, Core Garden areas and Bent Creek Road. This trail winds through three different forest types, pine, mixed hardwood and ericaceous. Along the trail is an overlook where hikers can rest and listen to the murmurs of Bent Creek. You’ll also pass the peaceful ripples of the Wolf Branch cascades. The trail entrances are located beside the Education Center adjacent to the reserved parking area, on Wolf Branch Road and on Bent Creek Road at the west edge of the Arboretum property. A short connector runs from the overlook to the Horticulture Support Facility main parking area. The Carolina Mountain Trail, also marked easy (to moderate) is 1.2 miles long.
9. Quilt Garden
Located near the Heritage Garden, the Quilt Garden is a quintessential interpretation of traditional quilt block patterns with plants, representing the close ties between heritage crafts and gardening and the contemporary art and craft of quilting in the Southern Appalachian region. Designs in the quilt garden change seasonally and each quilt pattern appears in several iterations. The garden consists of a massive 24 in-ground beds (!) divided by gravel and slate footpath walkways. Visitors enjoy exploring the gardens up close via the path walkways as well as from the observation area, which provides a stunning overview of the whole garden.
10. Heritage Garden
The newest Garden at NCA is the Heritage Garden. It was constructed in 1997 and is a living museum garden devoted to Southern Appalachian culture, horticulture, and craft. A covered teaching shed and gathering space provide opportunities for hands-on learning about cultivation techniques that support the craft industry. The Heritage Garden showcases plants associated with four handcrafts: broom-making, basket-making, papermaking, and natural dyes, as well medicinal plants used as botanical remedies historically and today.
The North Carolina Arboretum is adjacent to the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, at Milepost 393, and is nestled in one of the most beautiful natural settings in America. Whether you have a whole day to lull in the luscious natural areas or simply a lunch hour for a brief reprieve, stop by the Arboretum, just ten miles southwest of downtown Asheville. The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way. For specific details on events, exhibits and special bookings, or should you need further information on holiday hours, group tours or more, call 828-665-2492.
North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way
Asheville, NC 28806