The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina, area is a green community with some of the world’s leading botanical gardens (Click here for these public gardens). It is also home to many other treasured, lesser-known public gardens as well. Pack a lunch and plan to picnic at one or all of these family-friendly places.
Appropriately so, the side paths at the Coker Arboretum are made with Chapel Hill gravel, winding through mature hardwoods, across petite bridges, with the sound of the water rushing and birds chirping right in the heart of the University of North Carolina. It’s hard to believe this five-acre arboretum sits in the middle of a very busy campus. Cultivation of the Coker Arboretum began in 1903 when the Dr. William Chambers Coker, UNC-Chapel Hill’s first professor of botany, began the project with students from his class. Today, it boasts 580 species of trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plant life. Expanding the entire length of one side, an arbor built of native black locust logs features 10 native vines. Coker Arboretum (399 E. Cameron Ave, Chapel Hill) is free and open daily dawn to dusk. ncbg.unc.edu/coker-arboretum.
Ellen Mordecai Garden
Just down the street from downtown Raleigh’s Krispy Kreme is another historic garden next to the Mordecai neighborhood. The garden was recreated from first-hand descriptions of the Mordecai kitchen garden in the 1830s. It contains vegetables, herbs, and flowers that were grown through the 19th century and is arranged in squares of raised beds. Lessons can be learned from the simple and charming garden design. Complete your visit by taking a tour of the buildings. Ellen Mordecai Garden (1 Mimosa St, Raleigh) is open daily, sunrise-sunset. Admission is free. raleighnc.gov/mordecai.
Historic Oak View Park
Originally founded in the 1830s and once encompassing more than 900 acres, Historic Oak View County Park is a historic farmstead listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Along with five 150-year old buildings, there is a kitchen garden filled with useful and flavorful herbs surrounded by a picket fence to keep out the family livestock. Visitors are welcomed to stroll through the pecan grove, the orchard, and you will even see cotton growing in the field. Pack a picnic and bring your finishing pole since fishing is allowed in the pond. Historic Oak View Park (4028 Carya Dr, Raleigh) is open daily. Admission is free. wakegov.com/parks/oakview.
North Carolina Museum of Art
The NC Museum of Art is a place where art meets nature. On a recent visit to the museum park grounds to see the garden art, I noticed families gathering, sharing a meal on the picnic tables, and enjoying the sunshine as they admired the art. The museum buildings are surrounded with gardens throughout the 160 acres of fields, woodlands, and creeks creating interesting pairings of art with plants. One of my favorite gardens is the water lilies in Cantor Court. These lilies are considered living art at the museum with conservators to help keep them beautiful and blooming. NC Museum of Art (2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh) park grounds are free and open daily from dawn to dusk. ncartmuseum.org.
Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden
My first experience visiting this garden was when it was recommended as the setting for our family photos. Since then, I’ve walked the gardens alone, had picnics, and even had garden club meetings there when we needed a built-in program with a place to gather. The garden, part of the Raleigh Little Theatre, features 1200 roses of 60 different varieties blooming from late May until autumn. Plus, there are seasonal flowers, including bulbs, annuals, trees, and shrubs to complement the roses. Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden (301 Pogue St, Raleigh). raleighlittletheatre.org/about/rosegarden.
For years I would drive by WRAL-TV 5, but I never stopped in to see the azalea gardens the TV studio was so famous for. Located behind the studios, plan to visit mid-March to mid-May when the azaleas are peaking. But don’t stop there. These gardens showcase a full range of flowering and non-flowering plants typical in Southern landscape, including dogwoods, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas. The gardens were created in 1959 by the Capitol Broadcasting Company founder AJ Fletcher. Fletcher loved azaleas, so he decided to share that passion with the general public. WRAL Gardens (2619 Western Blvd, Raleigh) are free, open daily from dawn until dusk. wral-gardens.com.
More Treasured Gardens
Cape Fear Botanical Garden
536 N. Eastern Blvd, Fayetteville. capefearbg.org.
Haywood Hall House and Gardens
211 New Bern Pl, Raleigh. haywoodhall.org.
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd, Raleigh. jcra.ncsu.edu.
Joel Lane Museum House and Gardens
728 W. Hargett St, Raleigh. joellane.org.
2431 West Lake Dr, Raleigh. raleighparks.org.
Juniper Level Botanic Garden
Plant Delights Nursery, 9241 Sauls Rd, Raleigh. plantdelights.com.
Magic Wings Butterfly House and Garden
Durham Life and Science Museum, 433 Murray Ave, Durham. lifeandscience.org.
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd, Chapel Hill. ncbg.unc.edu.
Sandhills Horticultural Gardens
3395 Airport Rd, Pinehurst. sandhillshorticulturalgardens.com.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
420 Anderson St, Durham. gardens.duke.edu.
Witherspoon Rose Culture
3312 Watkins Rd, Durham. witherspoonrose.com.
Helen Yoest, author of “Plants With Benefits” and “Gardening With Confidence,” is an award winning garden writer and sustainable gardening caring for her ½-acre wildlife habitat, Helen’s Haven.