There are more than 2,000 varieties of ornamental plants and specialty beds at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, a 77-acre nature haven located at the junction of the Cape Fear River and Cross Creek.
Yet no picture, memory or experience is the same for the 54,000 people who annually walk the hallowed grounds of the facility, which has grown into the landscape of Fayetteville’s downtown revitalization. Once the All-American City’s best kept ‘wow,’ the Garden has blossomed into one of its finest attractions.
“The garden is important, but what we really care about is how people interact with it,” said Kensley Edge, director of development marketing. “We understand that people are different and while some my enjoy digging in the dirt, others come here with a totally different perspective. They come here to paint or to listen to music or to get away from their busy and noisy lives. What we offer here is a variety of experiences for children, adults and older people. The beauty of this place is not so much in what is blooming as it is in the flowering of experiences for so many different kinds of people.”
And that experience changes with the seasons. The transition into summer is nearly completed, and is signaled by the arrival of ducher, perle d’or, penelope, Marie Daly and mutabilis roses.
“They perform well without a lot of chemicals,” said Carol Fleitz, director of horticulture and facilities. “They are very earthy roses.”
The color yellow pops from large flowering lotus blossoms, which sway in the water feature in the children’s garden.
Violet, lavender and deep purple hues radiate from Japanese, Louisiana and Virginia irises that adorn the main lawn and lake area.
Also on the marquee are hydrangeas, snapdragons, poppies and peonies, which dot the landscape in luxurious man-made beds befitting of five star garden suites. Their lush vines adorn the various gazebos and arbors.
Don’t know the names of flowers, plants or trees? Fear not. There are plenty of signs that inform visitors of both common and horticultural names.
And you hardly have to be an expert to enjoy an up close look at the hummingbirds that bounce and float through the garden. While they appear to be the biggest family of fowl, they are but a small percentage as robins, bluebirds, great heron, chipping sparrows enter and exist at their own pace.
The heritage garden is a throwback to the 1870s. Most of the buildings were relocated to fit into the time capsule, including a general store that begs memories from years gone by.
This area is also the breeding ground for 50 varieties of herbs, vegetables and fruit trees.
The garden features trees of all shapes, sizes and colors, including the city’s signature dogwood. A recent donation of 2,000 azalea trees has also made a significant impact.
But the garden showcases a natural beauty that has the thumbprint of Mother Nature. The outdoor garden and forests are linked by a few miles of trails. The forest is filled with loblolly pine trees, which act as a protective border in keeping the garden areas cooler and less humid.
“One-third of our space is a garden but the other two-thirds is an urban forest,” Edge said. “We feel it’s a very one-of-a-kind place, where much of what our staff does year round is guarded by the more edgy forest area.”
There is a paved loop around the main lake that features two new signature gardens and most of the trails are packed earth surfaced with gravel or mulch. The trails, with the exception of the River Trail, are all wheelchair accessible.
“The River Trail is huge, nearly half of our total acreage,” Fleitz said. “It’s a perfect backdrop for the garden. We really couldn’t have asked for a better framing.”
Next year marks 25 years of botanical beauty at the facility, which has 15 full-time and 14 part-time employees, and a volunteer staff of about 200 people, who annually supply 6,500 hours of muscle, sweat and nurturing care.
Other Fayettevillians show their support in other ways.
The facility’s new $6.8 million visitor’s center, which was completed in 2011, came about because the county donated $500,000, but the rest of the money came from green-thinking residents.
“Fayetteville can do anything its people believe in and this is a prime example of how our community valued the idea of standing behind a project to make it happen,” Edge said. “We’re not in competition with anything here, and the facts are people want robust cultural attractions. We have a great working relationship with every arts organization and work in conjunction with every major group around the community.”
The Botanical Garden has grown in many other areas in the past five to 10 years. The Spring Concert Series has expanded from four to five events. This year’s remaining four concerts are: Bluegrass band Old Habits on May 3; Beatle tribute band The Backbeat on May 24; tropical rockers Coconut Grove Band are slated for June 14; and R&B band Fantasy is on the calendar for June 28. Last year the events drew crowds between 250 and 400 per event. The Fall Concert Series includes a performance by the Fayetteville Symphony.
Another option is to have lunch at the Garden Café, located inside the Wyatt Pavilion complex. New Deli, which provides the catering, offers sandwiches, salads, baked goods and desserts. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The garden can be rented by for weddings and private parties throughout the year.
“While most people tend to think about having a wedding or shower here, it’s also an excellent choice for Christmas parties, business meetings, reunions and many other gatherings,” Edge said. “I feel an event here offers a unique experience regardless of what you are doing while you are at the facility.”
Edge said the Botanical Garden Board of Directors made a commitment to excellence.
“The scope of the board seven years ago came down to deciding whether it wanted to have a community garden or a regional cultural attraction. I think they made the right decision by stepping up to make it a place that draws traffic from throughout the state, actually all 50 states and 17 countries. We’ve also been working on health fitness, edible gardening, arts and culture and nature as our increased areas of emphasis.”
Fleitz, who perhaps does the most planning in terms of arranging the garden, agreed.
“The master plan was to make it one of the top gardens in the southeastern U.S.,” she said. “We’ve made great progress toward that goal. I think we’re well on our way.”
The garden is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $2.50 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for anyone under the age of 6. Members of the military receive a $1 discount. For information about the garden, call 910.486.0221 or visit www.capefearbg.org.