By Natasha Anderson
As winter comes to a close, The North Carolina Arboretum is a great place to get outdoors. The need for social distancing has made this an especially isolating season for many, and there are numerous locations on the 434–acre grounds that offer safe distance as well as environments in which to find inspiration in solitude.
“It’s pretty amazing the tucked away places you can go along Bent Creek Trail,” says The Arboretum’s director of education Jonathan Marchal. “Like the benches found creekside beneath the rhododendron canopy, where there’s the constant babble of the stream. When I’m there, I feel like I’ve dropped away from the rest of the world.”
In addition to the sights and sounds of water cascading over rocks, the trail offers opportunities to spot a variety of woodland plants and flowers. Spicebushes typically bloom here in March, with trillium blossoms and Christmas fern fiddleheads making an appearance soon after. In April, also look for blooming sassafras, Carolina allspice, wood anemone, foam flower and yellowroot.
At the Forest Meadow, set square in the center of the gardens, one can take in both the manicured grounds and the tree line. This is a great spot to lounge in the grass and enjoy the blue sky and surrounding mountain ridges. It’s also a perfect place for children to play, explore and expend pent-up energy. Spot a host of ground cover plantings and a variety of trees here. Yellow-flowering magnolias may be in bloom by late March, followed by dogwoods and redbuds in April.
“You don’t usually find a lot of people in this area and it’s very peaceful year–round,” says The Arboretum’s guest experience and events manager Mary Rose Ridderbusch–Shearer. “I love to find a patch of grass and eat my lunch in the meadow, enjoying the sounds of the birds and the sights of butterflies making their rounds.”
The National Native Azalea Collection is a favorite spot for many visitors. In addition to a profusion of colorful azalea blossoms beginning in April, the area is also home to other early spring blooms including Oconee bells, trout lilies, mayapples and flowering pawpaw trees. Cinnamon ferns along the back loop of trails here typically send up new fronds in April. The Azalea Collection is a great place to observe birds and pollinators as they visit the bushes and blossoms.
The newest of The Arboretum’s spaces, Willow Pond, contains a seating area overlooking two placid pools. The garden and ponds provide important animal habitat, not to mention offer sustainable stormwater management. They are also an out-of-the-way place to stop and rest. In the spring, look for willow trees in bloom and wildflowers all along the adjoining banks and hillside.
“Late winter is a beautiful time at The North Carolina Arboretum,” says the gardens’ communications and marketing manager Brian Postelle. “And with fewer visitors this time of year, guests have their choice of inspiring places to linger, breathe and find their space.”
The North Carolina Arboretum is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 393. Admission is free. A standard $16 per vehicle parking fee is required for non-members. Special events and after-hours activities may require additional fees. For more information, call 828.665.2492 or visit NCArboretum.org.