As winter departs and spring arrives with its bouquet of nodding daffodils and sprays of forsythia and dogwood blossoms, builders and decorators will be putting the finishing touches on the new pavilion complex at our city’s communal backyard, the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens. Just in time for the springtime show—and springtime weddings—the Gardens will throw open its new front door and welcome in a new season. The completion of the 28,500-square-foot pavilion will enable the Gardens to expand its educational programs for children and adults, and it will offer the community a new venue for meetings, conventions and special occasions such as wedding receptions, corporate retreats and family reunions. The new $6.5 million pavilion will be unveiled to the public in grand style on Saturday, April 2 after more than a year of construction. The grand opening festivities will include live music, food and drinks, children’s activities, special speakers and tours of the new facility. In the meantime, however, workers will be tidying up the landscaping, hanging the pictures and arranging the furniture to make ready for the great reveal. With the construction of the pavilion complex, the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens takes a leap from being a small community garden to being a regional cultural attraction, said Jennifer Hanes Sullivan, the Gardens’ executive director. A few years ago, the nonprofit organization’s board of directors decided to help the Gardens grow and expand into a botanical destination that would rival other gardens in larger metropolitan areas, Sullivan said. That decision launched a $10 million fundraising campaign to pay for the construction of the pavilion complex and expand programs and exhibits. Fayetteville will start to see programs, such as a summer concert series, that reflect that decision. The idea is to entice local folks to come out and enjoy the Gardens many times throughout the year, Sullivan said. “We really want people to experience nature on a more regular basis,” she said. “It will be a true destination for people who are visiting friends or family in the community or for those who are just passing through. The offerings in the Gardens will be unique and special and will bring people to Fayetteville. I really do believe the community will be proud of it.” The pavilion will serve as the new gateway to the Gardens but it will also make the Gardens a more secure area, which will open up the possibility of hosting special traveling exhibits. The Gardens has already lined up an exhibit called “Big Bugs” by artist David Rogers, which is scheduled to open this fall. If you can imagine an ant that is 12 feet tall by 10 feet wide, you will have an idea of the scope of this colossal collection of 10 super sculptures. Sullivan also said a Christmas lights display is being planned for the holidays. The highlight of the new pavilion complex is a large, airy, octagonal-shaped room called the Orangery, which will accommodate 900 people for a standing event or 400 for a sit-down gathering. Its high, peaked wooden ceiling and arched windows give the room a spacious, greenhouse feel, and a series of French doors will connect the interior space to a paved patio and provide an expansive view of the broader garden beyond. That indoor space is something that has been lacking at the Gardens until now, Sullivan said. The Gardens hosts about 50 outdoor weddings a year. With the opening of the Orangery, a bride and groom can now choose to hold an elegant reception on site as well. A catering kitchen and flower room, as well as a bridal suite, are situated off the main room of the Orangery. An indoor fountain along one wall will lend even more of an outdoor mood to the interior space. A wide hallway connects the Orangery with a smaller meeting room and rental space, where an exterior wall made entirely of glass brings the garden view right into the room. Sullivan said local artists from the Cape Fear Studios will display their artwork in that hallway. A space has also been designated for the volunteers who generously donate more than 5,600 hours to the garden each year. The complex will open up new office space for the Gardens’ staff, which until now has worked elbow-to-elbow in the garden’s historic farmhouse. A larger gift shop will sell nature-inspired trinkets, souvenirs and artwork on consignment to visitors and local shoppers. Food service—soups, salads, sandwiches—will be offered on the Gardens’ busy days, and bistro tables will accommodate those who would like to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee after a stroll down the Gardens’ winding paths. Wireless Internet will be available to those who would like to get some work done or just surf the Web in a beautiful setting. A large classroom will enable the Gardens to offer 8,000 school children each year — twice as many as the Gardens has previously been able to host — a place to learn about the Gardens and the plants and animals that live there. The Gardens offers educational programs for all ages, from a preschool craft and story time to adult classes on such topics as how to build a rain barrel, how to make a Christmas wreath or how to grow a bonsai. The public fundraising effort for the project continues. About $7 million of $10 million has been raised in the campaign so far, Sullivan said. The pavilion complex, which was designed by Fayetteville architect Gordon Johnson and was built by Fayetteville’s own M&E Contracting, will allow the Gardens to diversify its operations and its revenue, something that is important for any nonprofit, she added. The money that will be raised in the months and years to come will be used to create special spaces in the Gardens itself. A 450-foot butterfly stroll garden and a belly flop deck on which children can plop to look at fish and frogs and flowers are already being planned. The Gardens, like the plants it is known for, continues to grow.