North Carolina Arboretum is at Milepost 393, 9 mi. s. of Asheville, N.C. Fringed by the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the 434-acre arboretum offers 65 acres of cultivated gardens and 10 miles of forested hiking and biking trails.
The Baker Exhibit Center adjacent to the main parking lot houses temporary exhibitions and the work of regional artists. The center's small greenhouse opens out to the Baker Garden, filled with colorful perennials. From here you can make your way along the Grand Garden Promenade, a broad path through series of meticulously maintained themed gardens.
You'll know you've stepped into the Heritage Garden when you see the rough stone chimney and flagstone patio. It recalls the rustic cabins built by the area's settlers; surrounding it are beds with medicinal herbs and plants once used to make such practical items as brooms and baskets.
The adjacent Quilt Garden also highlights the area's heritage by re-creating traditional quilt block patterns in multihued flowerbeds. You can best enjoy this floral quilt from a raised observation area, which also offers a nice view of the other gardens. Western North Carolina's natural heritage is the subject of the Stream Garden where the focal point is a splashing water channel filled with boulders and lined with decorative shrubs. Benches throughout the gardens offer a welcome place to rest and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
The promenade ends at the Educational Center Entrance Plaza, where you'll find a pond and tiered waterfalls, container gardens and sculptures, both abstract and realistic. The most prominent is “Oh Great Spirit,” a 12-and-a-half-foot-tall, bronze statue of a Native American man with his arms and head raised toward the heavens. Nearby is the entrance to the Bonsai Exhibition Garden, a minimalist series of outdoor rooms dedicated to this centuries-old Japanese art form. Arranged on shelves along the bare, concrete walls are containers of dwarfed trees cultivated to create the illusion of miniature landscapes.
In addition to garden demonstrations, educational programs and guided tours, the arboretum offers cellphone tours, enabling you to dial the numbers on tour stop signs placed at various locations to learn about the arboretum's collections.
Guided tours are available. Picnicking is permitted. Food is available. Time: Allow 2 hours minimum.
Arboretum free. Parking: $12; $6 (first Tues. of the month).
Hours: Arboretum open daily 8 a.m.-9 p.m., Apr.-Oct.; 8-7, rest of year. Last admission 1 hour before closing. Closed Christmas. Bonsai Exhibition Garden, Educational Center and Baker Exhibit Center open daily 9-5; phone for holiday closures.