21 Enchanting North Carolina Botanical Gardens to Put on Your Must-Visit List

Harbor Way Gardens, fun for the whole family. (Image via Wilmington and Beaches CVB)

By Vanessa Infanzon

May 15, 2023

To germinate a healthy mind and body, check out some of these gardens across North Carolina.

A carefully manicured landscape is often the image that comes to mind when someone mentions a visit to a botanical garden. And North Carolina has plenty of gardens fitting the pristine description – and some of them are on this list. 

But there are also dozens of others featuring whimsical art and sculptures, memorials and labyrinths, where birds and turtles are the main event. Some focus on education and mental health by cultivating learning opportunities and wellness practices. There’s even one growing edible plants – yes, go ahead and munch.

Whether you’re already a plant enthusiast or want to nurture a new adventure, this list will get you going.

*Most gardens don’t charge admission. Please consider a small donation when you visit.

Airlie Gardens

Wilmington

Airlie Gardens (Image via Wilmington and Beaches CVB)

Wander paths lined with flowers and trees, walk under climbing vines and catch turtles sunning on logs floating in the pond. The Bottle Chapel and Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden are not to be missed.

Upcoming events: Butterfly Releases and the Summer Concert Series begin in June. Other events such as bird walks, yoga and guided history tours are available seasonally. 

Accessible: Airlie’s paved paths are wheelchair accessible. A seven-passenger tram is also available on certain days.

Arboretum of  New Hanover County

Wilmington    

Take a break from the beach and tour the Japanese Garden, Children’s Garden and Rose Garden. The arboretum’s herb garden attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and the carnivorous plant display and native plant garden are new. Admission is free.

Upcoming events: Ability Garden plant sale is May 20 and June 17.

Accessible: The Ability Garden has raised beds and offers therapeutic gardening workshops. Most of the paths are paved or have compact gravel.

Betty Ann Sands Memorial Healing & Artful Gardens at the Rose Haven Center of Healing

Washington

Find healing in these gardens. Walkways, arbors and bridges, featuring garden art created by women Veterans, lead visitors on a tour that includes a raised bed garden, council ring and garden labyrinth, finishing in a meditation sanctuary under the Tree of Life. 

Upcoming events: Follow the gardens on social media for information about a plein air weekend, garden concert and art exhibit. 

Accessible: Most paths are wheelchair accessible. The Center has two wheelchairs and an electric scooter for visitors to use.

Black Wall Street Gardens

Durham

Black Wall Street Gardens (Image via Discover Durham)

Public art in a pedestrian-friendly green space marks Durham’s former Black Wall Street. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the area served as the hub for Black-owned businesses like NC Mutual Life Insurance Company (the first Black-owned insurance company in the state) and M&F Bank (the second-oldest minority bank in the United States).

Accessible: The walkways are wheelchair accessible.

The Botanical Gardens at Asheville

Asheville

The Botanical Garden at Asheville (Image via ExploreAsheville.com and Mark File)

Learn about native plants and habitats of the Southern Appalachians while meandering through 10 acres of gardens. Admission is free.

Upcoming events: A variety of educational classes are offered throughout the year. 

Accessible: Most trails are wheelchair accessible.

Bullington Gardens

Hendersonville

Named for New York City policeman Bob Bullington who retired to Hendersonville in the 1970s, this 12-acre property incorporates many unusual trees and shrubs that he collected. It includes a greenhouse, dahlia field, pollinator areas, herb garden, therapy garden and shade garden. Admission is free.

Upcoming events: The annual Fairy Trail runs from June 1 through August 31.

Accessible: The Therapy Garden is wheelchair accessible.

Cape Fear Botanical Garden

Fayetteville

https://www.instagram.com/p/CroP7R5BNK3/

Immerse the entire family in nature with a Nature Trail Discovery Backpacks, themed kits with tools inside each to explore the trees, flowers, birds and insects while in the gardens. Visitors are also invited to participate in Therapeutic Horticulture, a series of programs to learn ways to engage in exercise, manage stress, communicate and build self-confidence. Accessible raised beds, containers, adaptable tools and resources are available as a part of the experience. 

Upcoming events: The Horticulture, Hooch & Outlaws in Fast Cars exhibit runs May through August. Sign up for Yoga in the Garden, Tai Chi in the Garden and the Floral Workshop. A Garden Gathering, a farm-to-table dinner event is on May 17.

Accessible: The Wyatt Visitors Pavilion Complex is fully accessible and ADA-compliant. For visitors with disabilities, the Garden offers golf cart guided tours. Please call (910) 486-0221 for more information and reservations.

Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden

Kernersville

An unexpected gem in this small southern town – seven acres of multiple areas including a tropical garden, a hillside boulder garden and kitchen and cutting gardens on tree-lined paths. Admission is free.

Upcoming events: Lunch and Learn events are held monthly

Accessible: Pathways are gravel and wood chip.

Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Park

Asheville

You won’t go hungry at this edible garden in downtown Asheville, the first edible public park in the United States. More than 40 varieties of fruit and nut trees grow in Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Park, named after the famous inventor and agricultural scientist. Admission is free.

Upcoming events: Tour Tasting is July 9.

Accessible: Paths run throughout the gardens; some are on an incline.

Eddy Merle Watson Garden of the Senses

Wilkesboro

Braille-labeled plants and sculptured music and alphabet walls make this garden a special place. Visit the two-hundred-year-old Whitley Cabin, Ruth Colvard Rose Garden, Sara Mills Japanese Garden and Vernon and Louise Deal Native Gardens with its one-mile walking trail. Admission is free.

Accessible: Paths are paved.

Elizabethan Gardens

Manteo

https://www.instagram.com/p/Cr6kF1Ntaqf/

No matter what time of year you visit this garden, there’s something to see. Queen Elizabeth I and Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas, provide a backdrop to the horticultural collections and annual color planted every season.

Upcoming events: A variety of classes and events are held year-round.

Accessible: Brick, woodchip and other surfaces form the pathways.

Harbor Way Gardens

Wrightsville Beach

Connect with those affected by cancer in the Plant it Pink Garden, a one-acre garden for quiet reflection in a garden filled with native plants and flowers. Kids can cool off in the Children’s Fountain, a spray pad made with stone and rocks. Admission is free.

Upcoming events: Art at Harbor Way Gardens Plant and Plein Air Art Show is on May 21.

Accessible: Paths are dirt and gravel with some brick walkways.

JC Raulston Arboretum

Raleigh

https://www.instagram.com/p/Cr3npOQhH4F/

Stop by North Carolina State University to see the arboretum’s newest theme, “Patterns!,” inspired by Mexican art form, alebrije (spirit guides). Local artists and students’ work may be seen throughout the 10-acre property. Admission is free.

Upcoming events: Southeastern Plant Symposium and Rare Plant Auction is June 16 and 17.

Accessible: All buildings are accessible and ⅔ of the gardens have hard surfaces. A paved path connects the Perennial Border to the Rose Garden.

Lejeune Memorial Gardens

Jacksonville

Honor the men and women who have served in the military by touring these six memorials. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the second largest in the USA. The national memorial for the Montford Point Marines pays tribute to the first Black Marines in America who served under harsh, segregated conditions during World War II and after. The gardens are always open and a night visit provides a distinct sight. Admission is free.

Accessible: Paved walkways and paths wind around and between the memorials.

Memorial Garden

Concord

Winding paths through a 200-year old cemetery and its oak trees, tulips and azaleas make for a unique garden. This three-acre space in historic downtown Concord, sits on the original sight of the First Presbyterian Church. Admission is free.

Accessible: The garden is accessible for people using a wheelchair.

North Carolina Botanical Garden

Chapel Hill

https://www.instagram.com/p/CrlsfqTu1qJ/

Walk through University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s display gardens featuring plants from the mountains, piedmont, sandhills and coastal areas of the state. The gardens attract birds, bees and butterflies. Admission is free.

Upcoming events: On Thursday evenings from now until June 15, the garden stays open until 7 p.m. Select days will also include live music and food trucks.

Accessible: All paths are gravel and a few are on an incline. Three wheelchairs and a walker are available upon request. 

Oak Island Nature Center and Dot Kelly Butterfly Garden

Oak Island

Within Malcolm Register Park, an herb garden and butterfly garden grow. Blooms and native plants bring butterflies and hummingbirds for visitors to enjoy. The Talking Tree Walking Trail features educational plaques to learn more about native trees in the area. This garden is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Admission is free.

Accessible: There are ramps and elevated platforms and nearby beach access for visitors that use wheelchairs. 

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Durham

https://www.instagram.com/p/CsPxgvVLRDL/

Don’t hurry through these gardens: more than 2,500 colorful plant species on 55 acres takes time to appreciate. The Asiatic Arboretum, an 18-acre collection of plants representing the floral diversity of Southeast Asia, is a must see. Admission is free but there is a parking fee.

Upcoming events: Classes such as “Building with Cob: Construction of a Decorative Arch”, “Planting for Hummingbirds and other Pollinators” and a “Bonsai Workshop” are offered.

Accessible: Wheelchair-accessible paths are marked on the garden map.

SEEDS Community Garden

Durham

Since 1994, Student Environmental Education and Discovery (SEED) has been teaching “young people to respect life, the earth and each other through growing, cooking and sharing food.” It’s a two-acre urban garden and kitchen classroom in the heart of Durham. Admission is free.

Upcoming events: Workshops such as how to grow mushrooms, how to landscape and how to humanely harvest chicken meat are offered throughout the year.

Accessible: Mulched paths run through the two-acre garden. The building and outdoor classroom are ADA-compliant.

T. H. Broyhill Walking Park

Lenoir

As you come into Lenoir, the “Walking Park,” as it’s known by locals, is 20 acres with two nature trails, a lake, a nature sanctuary and botanical gardens. See ducks and turtles from the observation deck by the pond.

Accessible: A ½ mile paved loop is wheelchair accessible.

Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary

Charlotte

Tucked into Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood is a tiny (less than ⅓ of an acre) piece of paradise. The garden’s design, brick walls and paths through native plants, promotes bird nesting and feeding.

Upcoming events: Wing Haven hosts a variety of events including Qigong in the Garden, Gentle Slow Flow Yoga and an Imbibe + Inspire Tour.

Accessible: Brick pathways are wheelchair accessible.

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Author

  • Vanessa Infanzon

    Vanessa Infanzon moved from New York to NC for college and never left. When she’s not writing, she’s paddle boarding at the Whitewater Center.

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