This past Sunday, I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden for what I assumed would be my last visit for quite a while. My annual membership was expiring that day, and having not used my membership to make more than a couple of trips to the Garden over the past year, I’d decided not to renew it.
Somewhere in the middle of my Sunday morning stroll through the Garden, however, I changed my mind. I ended up plunking down $75 to extend my free admission to the Garden for another 365 days.
What changed my mind was not only the hope (resolve?) to visit the Garden more often in the coming twelve months, but how magical the Garden seemed to me during each of my most recent visits.
Ever since the Garden was established back in 1976, I have been impressed with its design. As the acreage of the place has steadily expanded over the past four decades, the design of the Garden’s new territories has continued to be imaginative and appealing. So much so that that I’ve come to believe that the ABG should rank among the best botanical gardens in the country. (I’m not the only person with this opinion.)
In addition to marveling at the Garden’s overall excellent layout – including the design of its most recent expansion, the May 6th opening of its new “Skyline Garden” – I’ve also been impressed with the Garden’s continuing parade of special exhibitions, including two spectacular installations of Chihuly glass sculptures and its annual year-end holiday light show. (Not so impressive is the irritating fact that admission to the annual light show isn’t included in the annual membership fee. Ditto parking at the deck inside the Garden: that also costs extra.)
What makes every visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden “magical” for me, however, isn’t the special installations, but the imaginatively-designed – and often wonderfully smelling! – permanent walkways through the garden’s creative mixtures of familiar and exotic plantings, often featuring fountains, pools, or tiny waterfalls. It is so pleasant to spend a few hours every so often ambling through this urban oasis. Wandering along the forested parts of the Garden, it’s easy to forget you’re walking in the middle of a major city. Biking to Piedmont Park, where the Garden is located, via the Atlanta Beltline, is a particularly refreshing way to make one’s visit a special occasion.) The Garden’s multiple, constantly-branching paths enable visitors to create a different route through the Garden on every visit.
Some of the Garden’s pathways meander through shady areas, others cross or border sunny courtyards or lawns, and some of the most interesting paths are located inside the Garden’s enormous conservatories. Every outdoor path is punctuated with comfortable benches featuring a pleasant view (some of them as excellent for people-watching as for gazing at plantings. And for a while now, the Garden has featured an (affordable) glass-walled restaurant smack in the middle of the grounds.
In addition to the Garden’s obligatory and gorgeous (if disappointingly pricey) gift shop, there’s also a botanical library that I’ll want to explore during some weekday – the library is, alas, closed on weekends.
Another rationale for supporting the Garden by buying a membership is the fact that the Garden’s provides plenty of inspiration (and, because of the plant labels and sometimes unexpected plant combos, helpful information) for one’s home gardening activities (and ambitions). Whenever I visit the Garden, I invariably see some plant I’d like to find for my own modest garden.
If you haven’t ever been to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, or haven’t been recently, now would be a good time to do that. Its current installation, “The Curious Garden,” is yet another successful experiment in melding art and botany in a delightful, thought-provoking way. Who knew that dozens of dead trees painted pastel colors and plunked down amidst living plantings could be so stunning?