Even if you aren't a gardener, there's nothing more pleasant than strolling the many gardens to just enjoy nature and being outdoors. When the sun shines and weather is fine, locals go to the free public gardens at three major universities — North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
See private gardens that are open for only a few days each year or by appointment. Plant collectors will enjoy visiting the all the gardens, especially the gardens associated with nationally known nurseries. When the weather is chilly, warm up inside a huge butterfly conservatory that is filled with exotic tropicals.
With ten gardens, all located less than one hour from Raleigh—how many will you see?
Raleigh GardensJC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
If you want to see the perfect plants to grow in the southeast, start at Raulston. In addition to the plant trials and huge perennial border, there is a fabulous Lath House, a butterfly garden, a Japanese Garden, a Xeric Garden and so much more. Every Sunday at 2:00 PM, March-October, you can take a free, guided tour. Admission free.
This garden is a must see—but is open only eight weekends a year during the open house days for Tony Avent's Plant Delights Nursery. Group tours can be arranged by calling ahead "WAY in advance." Although admission is free to visit the gardens, you'll have a difficult time leaving the nursery without taking home a plant or two or three...
Rose Gardens of the Raleigh Little Theatre
If you can sneak into this "almost secret" garden between weddings and events, you'll be treated to 56 varieties of roses in the 60 beds at the Rose Gardens. Accredited by the All American Rose Society, the gardens include "hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, miniatures and antiques." Admission free.
Durham GardensNC Museum of Life and Science
Not a garden per se, the NC Museum of Life and Science has a glorious butterfly conservatory. The Magic Wings Butterfly House® is home to over 100 species set in a tropical garden. Outdoors, there are wildlife habitats, a rain garden, wetlands and too many children's activities to mention. This is definitely the place to go if you are bringing your children along, but you don't have to be a kid to enjoy the museum. Admission fee.
Known for one of the best spring color displays in the terraced gardens, there is so much more to the famous Duke Gardens throughout the year. Set among 55-acres, locals stroll the paths through the Asiatic Gardens and the Garden of Native Plants. Admission free.
Chapel Hill Area GardensCoker Arboretum at UNC Chapel Hill
Quietly tucked away on the campus of UNC, Coker Arboretum is the perfect place to picnic and stroll the paths to view native plants and special hybrids. A mix of evergreens, dogwoods, azaleas and the famous wisteria arbor serve as garden walls that separate this garden from the hubbub of campus and town activity. Admission free.
To see North Carolina natives, visit the Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. Native wildflowers, trees and grasses are in both natural settings and display gardens to enthrall and educate gardeners and visitors. There are also acres of hiking trails adjacent to the gardens. Admission free.
Fearrington Village and Gardens
Just ten minutes south of Chapel Hill, Fearrington Village and Gardens are reminiscent of an English country village. Set in the rolling countryside with Belted Galloway cows grazing the pastures, the gardens are perfect for a stroll after lunch or coffee at one of the restaurants. A home and garden decorating shop is filled with garden items while the grounds include folk art sculptures from local artists. Admission to the gardens is free.
Wander the streets of Historic Hillsborough and stop in at Montrose Gardens of 19th Century origin. The Garden Conservancy is planning for the future of these gardens, that may be toured on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings by appointment, so call ahead. There is a fee to tour the gardens.
The nationally known mail-order nursery, Niche Gardens, is also open to the public. Native plants are the specialty of this nursery, open seven days a week from spring and fall. On Saturday mornings, visitors can take a free garden walk or groups can schedule an in-depth paid guided garden tour.
More information about the gardens can be found at www.visitnc.com Gardens & Arboretums. If you are interested in visiting the Triangle, download the free itinerary Love our Triangle of Gardens: 3-day itinerary for the Raleigh area, written by Freda Cameron. The itinerary also includes suggestions for restaurants and lodging, many with a garden theme.
Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights/patents owned by those respective companies or persons.