Spring brings May flowers: 5 gardens to visit in and around Atlanta

Staff photo by Jamie Poole / Atlanta Botanical Garden in July 2020.

James Gibbs sketches with waterfalls and paints with azaleas.

"He is an artist, and this is his canvas," said Carol Skapinetz, as we walk through allées of crepe myrtle and masses of Japanese maple.

We are in the Valley Gardens, the lower section of the 300-acre Gibbs Gardens, near Ball Ground, Georgia, in Cherokee County. The 20 million daffodils planted throughout the garden have mostly come and gone. In the meantime, here come the roses, hydrangeas, water lilies and encore azaleas.

Skapinetz, Gibbs Gardens marketing manager, has worked in this Eden for years, "but every time I walk through I see something new." All of this comes from the vision of James Gibbs, retired founder of Gibbs Landscaping, whose Tudor-style manor house is situated inside the garden itself, on a ridge 150 feet above the many ponds in the valley.

The garden's visitors, of which there are 250,000 a year, can walk through his front yard on their way to admire the Manor House Gardens and Inspiration Gardens.

Those of us who have been seeking ideas for our own planting can find inspiration here, and in gardens all over the region.

There are many green retreats in the region. Some, like Gibbs Gardens, require a short drive. Others are right in the middle of Atlanta.

Here are five gardens The Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests you visit this season.

Gibbs Gardens

photo Staff Photo by Jamie Poole / Gibbs Gardens in November 2020.

It's famous for its mind-boggling display of daffodils (most of which had spent their glory as of late April), but Gibbs Gardens has many other attractions, including the newest addition, Inspiration Gardens.

This section of the garden features an extensive collection of conifers and 1,500 Encore azaleas, which will bloom several times through the year.

In other areas are the wildflower meadow and, lower down, the lily ponds in the Valley Gardens. Throughout this expanse of botanical plenty are thousands of Japanese maple trees, with delicately perforated leaves that range from purple to orange.

Forty miles from the northern edge of the perimeter, Gibbs Gardens offers a cool respite from the city's heat, with its 24 ponds, 32 bridge crossings and 19 waterfalls.

Gibbs Gardens, 1987 Gibbs Drive, Ball Ground, is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Adults $20, seniors $18 and children $10. (Tickets must be purchased in advance; masks required indoors, not required outdoors.) 770-893-1880, gibbsgardens.com

Atlanta Botanical Garden

photo Staff photo by Jamie Poole / Atlanta Botanical Garden in July 2020.

There is always plenty to enjoy within the Atlanta Botanical Garden's 30 acres of outdoor bounty, and this spring brings a variety of new events at the attraction located smack in the middle of Midtown.

Beginning May 15, the garden will unveil "Supernatural," an art installation that will decorate the skies above with a shimmering network of fabric strips that undulate "like a flock of multicolored birds," as described by Patrick Shearn of Los Angeles-based Poetic Kinetics.

An installation called "Dream Flora" will be tethered to the treetops throughout Storza Woods and flow above and below the Canopy Walk.

Down below, visitors will see 150 outsized glass flower sculptures from Seattle artist Jason Gamrath.

In the meantime, roses and hydrangeas will be blooming. Visitors can also sign up for Fresh Plates outdoor dining experiences, prepared by chefs from notable Atlanta restaurants.

photo Staff Photo by Jamie Poole / Orchards at the conservatory at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in July 2020.

Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave., is open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Admission: $22.95 Tuesday-Friday $24.95 Saturday-Sunday; children: $19.95 and $21.95. 404-876-5859, atlantabg.org

Smith-Gilbert Gardens

photo Staff photo by Jamie Poole / The bonsai tree area at the Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, Ga., on June 4, 2019.

Art Blooms, presented by the Cobb EMC Community Foundation, is a two-month exhibit at the Smith-Gilbert Gardens that includes a series of weekend artists' demonstrations and workshops.

The 16-acre garden is highlighted by 31 outdoor sculptures in its permanent collection. Through May, those artworks will be joined by a temporary outdoor exhibit of sculptures created by students in the Master Craftsman Program at Kennesaw State University.

The exhibit will include weekend demonstrations and workshops by some of the artists.

Masks are required for indoor spaces but not while touring the gardens. Timed tickets will be sold online. Dogs and other pets are not allowed on the garden premises with the exception of service animals.

photo Staff Photo by Jamie Poole / A courtyard near the rose garden at Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, Ga., on June 4, 2019.

Smith-Gilbert Garden, 2382 Pine Mountain Road, Kennesaw, is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Admission: $10 general, $8 seniors, $5 youth and military. 770-919-0248, smithgilbertgardens.com

Atlanta History Center's Goizueta Gardens

In addition to the Atlanta History Center's main attractions - such as the Cyclorama, the Texas locomotive, the Swan House and the center's many exhibits - Goizueta Gardens is one of the most comprehensive collections of native plants in the city.

The 33-acre Goizueta Gardens offers nine distinct areas, from the wildness of the quarry to the severe formality of the Swan House landscaping.

Through May 16, the center will celebrate Go Public Gardens Days with educational events and author talks.

On May 9, the public is invited to Mimosas for Mom (the fizzy drinks are included in the cost of general admission), with specialty cocktails available for purchase.

Advance reservations are encouraged, though on-site tickets may be available, depending on the crowds. Tickets are timed entry; masks required inside buildings.

Goizueta Gardens, 130 W. Paces Ferry Road NW, Atlanta, is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Admission: $23.41 adults; $19.60 seniors and students; $9.80 youth. 404-814-4000, atlantahistorycenter.com

Cator Woolford Gardens at the Frazer Center

This handkerchief-size garden and the surrounding expansive woodlands are available at no charge to refresh the soul.

"Nestled in the heart of Druid Hills," this estate was once the home of Cator Woolford, a principal founder of what is now Equifax.

In 1949, his home became the nonprofit Frazer Center, located on the same grounds, which serves to enrich the lives of children and adults with disabilities.

The gardens help support the nonprofit by hosting private events, including weddings and corporate parties. The surrounding 39 acres of woods also serve as an outdoor learning center for the Frazer Center children and as an old-growth oasis for the rest of the community.

Frazer Center CEO Paige McKay Kubik said, "The property, sunup to sundown, is open for people to visit as long as we're not having private events. They can come visit the garden and hike in the forest trails."

Cator Woolford Gardens, 1815 S. Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta, is open daily (when no events are scheduled). There is no charge to visit, though donations are welcome. 404-377-3836, catorwoolfordgardens.org/