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Atlanta Botanical Gardens are worth the drive


May 05, 2017

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Atlanta is known for a lot of things, including, unfortunately, its traffic. (A 2011 study by Texas A&M determined that Atlanta ranked seventh in the nation for worst commute behind Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York to name a few.)  I grew up on the outskirts of the ever-expanding Metro-Atlanta area, a mere 45 minutes from the city center, but we visited probably once a year on average. It was always something special that brought us there: the zoo, the aquarium, Turner Field, the World of Coke, Fernbank Museum, the beautiful Fox Theatre (be still my heart), or the HIGH Museum of Art. Yes, on occasion Atlanta looks like that one poster for “The Walking Dead” where all of the cars are gridlocked on the outbound highway leaving the inbound lanes shockingly empty, but it’s so worth it.

A late discovery for me was the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, a 30-acre green space in the middle of Midtown. It’s disappointing to me now that I didn’t find it sooner because it quickly shot to the Top 5 of my favorite Atlanta places to spend an afternoon. A team of staff and volunteers roughly 150 people strong maintains the garden’s carefully curated displays. And it truly is a display. On my last visit in early April, the garden was full of pink and yellow tulips and the last azaleas of the year. The special exhibit at that time was one they fondly call “Orchid Daze,” and it is truly dazzling. The garden has an impressive collection of orchids of their own, some of which are very rare and part of ongoing conservation efforts, but for Orchid Daze they bring in even more, filling all of the empty space in the Fuqua Conservatory and Orchid Center with blankets of delicate flowers. Walking into the conservatory feels like walking into another world or, to be more accurate, worlds.  You can experience South American jungle, the deserts of the American West, and the mountainous cloud forests of the Andes, all just by walking through a few doors.

Everything in the garden is aesthetically pleasing, a living art exhibit, something the garden’s curators hope to emphasize with an exhibition called The Curious Garden starting May 6 and running through October 29. The installation hopes to point out how art can complement a natural landscape and how nature inspires art. In fact, the relationship between nature and art is something the Atlanta Botanical Gardens is passionate about, offering weekly classes in drawing and painting taught by local artist Carol Anne Sutherland and hosting various short-term exhibits. Last year the garden hosted, and served as the backdrop for, the intricate glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly, but drawing and sculpture aren’t the only types of art the garden offers. June 18 kicks off the garden’s summer concert series with a performance by Atlanta’s own “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight with her hometown’s glittering skyline as a backdrop.

The garden’s interaction with the city is something special, often exploring the complex relationship between urban and organic environments. The new Skyline Garden, opening to the public in May, will provide visitors with spectacular views of downtown Atlanta as they stroll among a garden populated by hundreds of plants native to the state. The 1.5-acre expansion is replacing an old gazebo which overlooked Piedmont Park with a modernized, more visitor friendly space.

Speaking of modern renovations, Longleaf restaurant, opened earlier this year, is the garden’s new full-service dining option. It joins the Quick Café and the Snack Bar, both of which provide food grab-and-go style. Longleaf was built to compliment the beauty of the garden, and to allow guests to feel as close as possible to the outdoors. Two whole walls are made of sliding glass panels, allowing the staff to open them as weather permits, making the space light and airy. All of the food is locally sourced, some of the veggies even provided by the garden itself. The menu changes seasonally based on what vegetables are available, but I recommend the GA Beef Burger and, for dessert, the Ricotta Terra Cotta. (I suggest making reservations early in the day, but I didn’t have to wait too long for a table. Reservations can be made in person or online at http://atlantabg.org/visit/longleaf )

The Atlanta Botanical Gardens are open Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Parking is available on site. For information about ticket prices or special offers and events, visit http://atlantabg.org/visit/tickets.


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