Between gloomy weather and the sudden drabness of life without decorations and events, it’s time to be planning a getaway. Surely before too long, even in this third year of extreme temperatures, spring will come, and people can drive or even consider the possibility of flying to interesting destinations.
And I believe anybody reading this column likes to look at beautiful gardens or striking displays of plants or well-ordered landscapes. Maybe you are like Mary Price and I once were, taking six months to plan the perfect multi-week trip, planned around great gardens, mixed with musical performances for her, or striking architecture and literary sights number one, which was good for us.
Or maybe there’s one gardener, plus a golf enthusiast grownup and cell phone texting children, who roll their eyes at “Another garden, Mother? When we do eat?”
In other words, do you plan your trip to go see the gardens you choose, or do you think about where you might be going anyhow, and at what is special there?
This is where you find invaluable that magazine I told you a couple of weeks ago you ought to seek out, if you were going to buy just one issue of one magazine for all of 2017….the new issue of Horticulture magazine.
Editor Meghan Shinn is a great believer in spotlighting the fine botanical gardens all across the nation, and in this year’s issue, has short features of the special plant collections which can be seen at a dozen public gardens.
The American Public Gardens Association sponsors the national plant collections, 129 of them right now, which are spread across 75 public gardens. Of course the British, who had lawns already in place in England when Davy Crockett was deciding whether to go to the Alamo, have many, many more. But unless you are planning a trip to the UK, these 129 ought to keep you and your camera busy for a while.
Among the featured gardens in this month’s Horticulture are several of my very favorite plants, and in gardens in reasonable driving distance. For instance, if you like the native azaleas, set your compass for the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, N.C. There you can see, up close and personally, 16 of the 17 native azalea species which can be found in the United States, and all of these are also growing in the wild and in private gardens within a hundred miles of Asheville. Only the western species, rhododendron occidentale, will not establish itself in the Southeast, and the staff has really tried. The Flame azalea is the easiest to establish in our area; the pinkshell and the plumleaf, the earliest and the latest to bloom, are possible.
OK, so your RV is already in North Carolina. Go next down to Raleigh, to the J.C. Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State.
Raulston established this arboretum chiefly to propagate the best specimens of woody plants that would grow in the Southeast. He gave away thousands of seedlings to individuals, to nurserymen, and to plant breeders, getting them out to the people in our region.
One of their earliest and most important plant collections here at NC State is that of the cercis, or redbud tree. Raulston’s goal, for this as for every woody plant he added to his roster, was to grow here every named cultivar of the redbud tree, and all known species.
The newest introduction from NC State is the longest blooming redbud they grow, the first to show color, the last to finish flowering, from early March through April. To honor the memory of NC State’s legendary basketball coach, Kay Yow, this new introduction has been named “Kay’s Early Hope.”
An easy drive from the Golden Triangle is Nashville (which offers the vacationing family everything) and at the Cheekwood Botanical Garden you can marvel at the nationally accredited plant collection of the dogwood. If you go to Cheekwood in springtime, look especially for its marvelous collection of Kousa dogwood, not planted nearly enough for those who stop with the basic Cornus.
If a skiing vacation takes you to Denver, take at least half a day to explore the Denver Botanic Garden, and marvel at its superb collection of alpine plants. Mary Price and I came home, in 1999, from a trip which included the Alpine Garden up a train ride from Interlaken, Switzerland. We loved the plants, so many of them blue - and knew we could never grow them in our climate. But at least there is somewhere else we can go.
And this is just a smattering of the possibilities. If you are deeply curious, check out the website: public gardens.org/programs/ plant-collections-network.