Outdoor Life: Six gardens to improve your mood

May 26, 2014 

The Triangle offers many gardens for those who need a respite from their day-to-day cares. Many are nationally known, such as the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, the N.C. Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill and the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham. Others are local favorites, such as the Raleigh Rose Garden.

We’re also lucky enough to have homeowners with green thumbs who open their gardens to the public at different times of the year.

Here are just a few of the many spots that offer a tranquil stroll, a nice place to relax with a good book or a chance to learn more about the area’s native beauty.

Penny’s Bend

An 84-acre natural area surrounded on three sides by the Eno River is in northeast Durham.

The nature preserve encompasses mature forests and remnants of glades and prairies with regionally rare plants. In the spring, the blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis) is in full bloom.

Good to know: There are two short trails – one easy and one moderate. Expect some uneven terrain. Wear sturdy hiking footwear and bring a walking stick, insect repellent and water.

The preserve is U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property that is subleased by the state’s Division of Water Resources and managed by the N.C. Botanical Garden through its Botanical Garden Foundation. The foundation occasionally offers guided tours of the preserve and other natural areas that it manages.

Getting there: From Interstate 85, take Exit 177C, Roxboro Road (north). Follow Roxboro Road north for 1.5 miles and turn right onto Old Oxford Road. Follow Old Oxford Road for 3 miles, and turn left on Snow Hill Road, just after crossing the Eno River (over a small bridge). The entrance to the gravel parking lot will be on your left, before Wanderlust Lane. The trailhead begins in the parking lot.

Details: 919-962-0522 or http://nando.com/pennybend

Mason Farm Biological Reserve

The North Carolina Botanical Garden has more than 1,000 acres, including 10 acres of display gardens and a number of natural areas. Too many people go no farther than the Display Garden around its Education Center off of Old Mason Farm Road and the U.S. 15-501 Bypass in Chapel Hill. Those are wondrous, but it’s worth exploring some of its other sites, particularly the Mason Farm Biological Reserve, more than 300 acres of forests and old fields that support about 800 species of plants, 216 species of birds, 29 species of mammals, 28 species of fish, 28 species of reptiles, 23 species of amphibians and 67 species of butterflies. The site’s “old farm trail” travels through 260 years of natural history.

Good to know: Research projects are ongoing at the reserve, so no pets are allowed.

Worth getting: “A Guide to the Old Farm Trail,” which tells the history and natural history of the fields and forests of the biological reserve, and includes a map and text for a walking tour of the trail. It’s $5 at the North Carolina Botanical Garden Shop in the Education Center.

Getting there: Mason Farm is east and south of the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s display gardens and Education Center. Access is by permit only. The permit is free, but a key card for the gate costs $5. Obtain permits and key cards at the Education Center.

Details: http://nando.com/masonfarm

Pollinator Paradise at Chatham Mills

Wild indigo and columbine, beard’s tongue, catmint, bluestar, blanket flowers and yarrow are among the blooms at this pollinator garden started by North Carolina agricultural extension agent Debbie Roos. In all there are 145 species; 85 percent are native to the Piedmont.

Free tours are offered on Wednesdays: June 11, July 9, Aug. 13, Sept. 10, Oct. 8. They start at 5:30 and last about an hour.

Details: http://nando.com/pollinator

Larkspur Party

For almost two decades, Frances Alvarino and her husband have held a larkspur garden party each spring to showcase their garden and area artists. This year will feature 34 regional artists. The free event is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 31 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 1.

Don’t expect just larkspur. The garden is eclectic with flowers and vegetables. Expect lavender foxglove, blue anemone, bachelor’s buttons, spiky milk thistle, speckled lungwort, Jerusalem sage, cosmos, purple Mexican sage, and much more.

Good to know: This is a private home. No early birds, please.

Getting there: It’s located at 6401 Litchford Road in Raleigh.

Details: http://larkspurparty.com

JC Raulston Arboretum

The gardens are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. April through October; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through March.

Visiting is free, but donations are nice.

You can stroll, you can view exhibits, you can take pictures. Just remember this is a research garden, not a park. Don’t pick the flowers, don’t trample.

It’s also a great place to take your kids so they can learn about nature. The best way is at one of the garden storytime events. For an hour, you and your child will hear garden stories, sing, make a craft and move around. Geared toward ages 3 to 5.

The next one is at 10:30 a.m. May 30. Cost is $5. Advance registration is required.

Getting there: The arboretum is at 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, near the State Fairgrounds.

Details: 919-513-7011; see a full calendar at jcra.ncsu.edu

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Fifty-five acres of gardens on the Duke University campus with four distinct gardens, including the Terrace Gardens, which opened in 1939, and the Bloomquist Garden of Native Plants, which has more than 900 species on 6.5 acres.

The gardens are open from 8 a.m. to dusk every day of the year.

You can enjoy them on your own or take advantage of special tours. While visiting the gardens is free, there is a fee for the guided tours.

Getting there: From Raleigh, take Interstate 40 to the Durham Freeway, follow the freeway to the Swift Avenue exit, turn left onto Swift Avenue, turn right on Campus Drive and then right on Anderson Street. The main entrance is on the left. Parking costs $1 per half hour between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. You can park for free on the weekends at Duke University H Lot at the corner of Yearby Avenue & Anderson Street. The lot is a 5-minute walk from the gardens.

Details: 919-668-1707 or gardens.duke.edu.

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