Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Behind A Garden Wall: The Cape Fear Botanical Garden

Spring calls for a walk in a garden or wood. The Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville, NC provides both. Conceived in 1989, it is fairly young, without the history, grand specimens and patina that older gardens gain with time. Much remains undeveloped, but there is a feeling of freshness. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon in spring.

From the Wyatt Visitors Pavilion, we strolled, garden map in hand, through the Wellons Arbor. Planted with immature vines, it will eventually become very beautiful, though it's not unattractive now. My wife remarked that she wants me to build one like it.

If we had followed the map, we would have turned to the left and taken a clock-wise course around the garden, but we didn't. We passed the fountain, a naturalistic spring set in stone, admired the tulips and viola, and headed toward the river. Along the way, we enjoyed glimpses of Cross Creek, a tributary of the Cape Fear.

I'm drawn to rivers, creeks, lakes and oceans, so the prospect of walking along the Cape Fear River was too much to resist. The Cape Fear was a principal means of transportation into the interior of North Carolina, especially before the advent of railroads. It's still navigable as far inland as Fayetteville.

The walk to the Cape Fear River begins on high banks where wildflowers such as Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) and Fawn Lily (Erythronium americanum) were appearing. Then the trail winds through its floodplain, crossing a well-built footbridge. Typical regional species on the forest floor include Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum), Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava), Gray's Sedge (Carex grayi), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) and Cleavers (Galium aparine). There was also a good population of non-native Japanese Stilt Grass (Microstegium vimineum). We saw a good many fiddleheads, including Christmas Ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) and Southern Lady Ferns (Athyrium asplenoides) as we ascended.

Views of Cross Creek and the Cape Fear River were pretty good that time of year when arboreal foliage was still unfledged. I expect it's different in summer. Perhaps garden plans include providing better vistas without compromising the natural appeal. Apart from the sound of distant traffic, it seemed like the city was far away. But it wasn't.

At the upper edge of the forest, we came into the McLaurin Camellia Garden. Our camellia season in south Georgia was over. Most here were in full bloom: 'Imura', 'Gigantea' (see photo above), 'Pink Perfection', 'Fashionata'. We found a little extra pleasure in the fragrance of Variegated Winter Daphne (Daphne odora 'Aureo-marginata').

Almost every contemporary botanical garden has popular theme gardens: rain gardens, friendship gardens, water-wise gardens, and children's gardens. This one has them, too. Judging from the approaching clamor, it seemed the children's garden was going to be a happening place in a few seconds. We escaped to a more idyllic spot - the Great Lawn and gazebo, where a young mother and daughters were enjoying a quiet tea party. Star Magnolia (M. stellata) and a rhododendron were in bloom.

We were slow to leave the garden, though the day was waning and we had many miles to drive. Still, I had to pause to snap pictures of great ground covers such as Dark Dancer Clover (Trifolium repens var. atropurpureum) and Creeping Veronica.

The Cape Fear Botanical Garden is a member of The American Horticultural Society Reciprocal Admissions Program. Which means a membership in one participating botanical garden will provide benefits in another. In this case, a membership in another will get you free admission to the Cape Fear Botanical Garden.

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