The beautiful astonishment of spring at the NC Arboretum

Spring came early in western North Carolina before winter, in its final throes of the season, took back control. The blossoms of spring were unsure about timing, but at the North Carolina Arboretum, you can find beauty in any season.

This spring finds many activities designed to get you out of the house and back into nature! The grounds are replete with hiking and biking trails, gardens, exhibits at the Education Center and the Baker Exhibit Center and Greenhouse (as well as in the gardens themselves), and a myriad of events for all ages.

The NC Arboretum was established in 1986 and is an affiliate campus of the University of North Carolina. The 434-acre public garden is located just south of Asheville inside the Pisgah National Forest, one of the most beautiful natural settings in America. With its forested coves and meandering creeks, its beauty speaks to our very soul.

The NC Arboretum includes 60 acres of cultivated gardens and more than 10 miles of groomed hiking and biking trails. Events bring the outdoors inside and change throughout the year. Spring is an exciting time at the Arboretum, with its seasonal landscape garden exhibits that run from April through October.

It’s also a particularly beautiful time of year with the amazing colors of springtime in the ever-changing variety of spring flowers and the budding new leaves. The Arboretum provides innovative educational activities and events throughout the year, but spring is one of the busiest seasons.

“We are excited about the new garden offerings and exhibits coming to the Arboretum this spring,” said George Briggs, the NC Arboretum’s executive director. “In nature, new growth often leads to new opportunities for plants and animals. With these additions, we hope we can continue to grow our mission of connecting people with plants, and provide more opportunities to educate our visitors, members and students.”

The Arboretum is host to the Annual Rhododendron & Azalea Flower Show. The judged event features hundreds of Rhododendron and Azalea blooms and also features guided trail walks, which takes you along Bent Creek to the Azalea Garden to view the Arboretum’s National Native Azalea Collection.

The Orchid Festival is another favorite even

Naturally, environmental issues are a concern and this season the Arboretum is focusing on butterflies in its continuing effort to raise awareness for pollinators. Its seasonal garden exhibits feature many plants and flowers that attract and support butterflies, and its signature Quilt Garden is designed in a butterfly quilt block pattern. The Forest Meadow garden has added several new butterfly-focused plantings and includes interpretive signage about butterflies and other pollinators.

New this year and continuing throughout the summer, you can see the “miracle of metamorphosis” in the Baker Exhibit Center Greenhouse. Winged Wonders is an indoor butterfly experience featuring a butterfly nursery and walk-through butterfly house where a variety of local species, including monarchs and swallowtails fly free.

The Arboretum is also host to the annual World Bonsai Day, an internationally celebrated event dedicated to furthering bonsai awareness and appreciation world-wide. With a beautiful bonsai garden located on the grounds, you can always see a full collection of these amazing miniature trees and plants.

The bonsai garden is open all year

Throughout the year, the Baker Exhibit Center features works by local and regional artists. This year’s featured artist is painter and papermaker Elizabeth Ellison. Ms Ellison utilizes both traditional and oriental techniques, and often employs American Indian motifs, to depict the varied wildflowers, animals, human inhabitants and landscapes of the Smokies region and beyond. She frequently gathers and processes native Appalachian plants to make the handmade papers she incorporates into her paintings. A native of Milton NC, Ms Ellison is of Occaneechi Indian descent.

In addition to the exhibits and events, many people come to hike or bike the trails, which are designed for all ages and ability levels. Trail options include easy, moderate and difficult levels and are dog-friendly. From the many trails within the Arboretum, hikers have access to other areas such as Lake Powhatan, the Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

You can bike or hike the Arboretum’s trails

The term Arboretum was coined by landscape gardener and writer John Loudon in 1833, but the establishment of botanically significant collections dates back to the Egyptian Pharaohs. Intended for scientific study, one of the main aims of Arboretums is to conserve native and indigenous trees.

The NC Arboretum is part of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, a system of 80 Experimental Forests and Ranges that are administered by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service. The system provides opportunities for long-term science and management studies, which supplies a wealth of data and knowledge of environmental changes in both natural and managed forest and rangeland ecosystems throughout the US.

As part of the Experimental Forest system, the NC Arboretum supports ecosystem research and helps the Forest Service and other entities meet current and future conservation challenges through the synthesis of data. Over the years, many major discoveries have resulted from the research collected from Experimental Forests and Ranges. For example, based on long-term precipitation chemistry data at a New Hampshire Experimental Forest, scientists were able to recognize the effects of acid rain on vegetation. And, in the Pacific Northwest, research helped set the stage for conservation planning for the northern spotted owl.

Nearly a century before the NC Arboretum was founded, Frederick Law Olmsted, considered the father of American landscape architecture, was in the process of designing the grounds and gardens for George Vanderbilt II’s country estate. During that time, Mr Olmsted envisioned a research arboretum as part of his legacy and plan for the Biltmore Estate, which was the first professionally managed forest in the US.

The Arboretum is open to the public with spring and summer (April through October) hours from 8 AM – 9 PM, with the entrance gate closing at 8 PM. The Bonsai Exhibition Garden is open from 9 AM – 5 PM daily.