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Entrance to Garvan Woodland Gardens

Sunday morning, we decided to spend at Garvan Woodland Gardens on the shores of Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs. An expansive spread of 210 acres, owned by the Fay Jones school of architecture and design belonging to the University of Arkansas, these gardens are a great delight. They formed the nature portion of our trip and although we walked a good three hours covering the gardens, it was worth every step and all the sweat we worked up.

Just about a 12 minute drive from our hotel, we found the parking lot empty except for a couple of people who were returning from their visit, and it was barely 1030 am in the morning! The garden entrance is to the left just beyond the parking lot. The gardens are open daily from 9 am to 6 pm from Feb to Mid-Nov and closed all month long in January.

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Varieties of flowers and shrubs add color to Garvan Woodland Gardens

The Pratt Welcome Center, where we got our admission tickets is beautifully done in stone and wood. Restrooms are located here as well as in three other locations in the park. The tickets cost $15 pp. The garden rents out a golf cart for an hour to cover the vast area and the cost is $15 pp with a guide. Originally that had been my plan, but it didnt seem reasonable to spend $60 for a golf cart when we could have an enjoyable walk. So that’s what we did!

A staffer handed us a map and explained the different sections and we set off. The entire path was well canopied by tall trees. Dappled sunlight accompanied us on that cool morning. The Bonsai garden of juniper pines, elms and other plants against the tall sandstone slabs and on boulders made a good contrast.

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Bonsai Garden, Garvan Woodland Gardens

I was eager to visit the Garden of the Pine Wind, said to be the fifth best Japanese garden in North America. The brainchild of designer David Slawson, this garden was enthralling with its pines, maples and dogwoods. The many water features along with the bridges kept the visitor captive. The terrain was easy to navigate, rocks and boulders were set in such a way as to be able to cross from one side of the garden to the other with ease. There was a little koi pond with colorful fish and one can buy food from the visitor center to feed them. We enjoyed the playfulness and majesty of this garden so much that we forgot to pay attention to the bridges along the main path here.

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Waterfalls at the Garden of Pine Wind
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Bridge of the Full Moon, Garden of the Pine Wind

The vibrant Southern Inspiration Garden was colorful and tranquil in the morning sun. It would have been easy to sit there and read a book or share some gossip. But time was marching on and we had to leave soon enough.

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Southern Inspiration Garden, Garvan Woodland Gardens
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Southern Inspiration Garden, Garvan Woodland Gardens

The Camellia trail was beautiful with a wide variety of blooming flowers and shrubs, set in the shade of tall trees, with a walkpath in the middle. Strategically placed benches offered a place to rest and admire the handiwork of the designers, a visual delicacy.

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Camellia Trail, Garvan Woodland Gardens
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Camellia Trail, Garvan Woodland Gardens

At this point, we took a detour cutting across the Singing Springs to reach the Fern glade. But it took us much too farther along the path than we wanted to, so back we went to the Perry Overlook, a flagstone terrace overlooking a profusion of wildflowers in the foreground and views of Lake Hamilton in the distance. Charming, really! This area featured a restroom and water fountain that we made use of.

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Perry Overlook, Garvan Woodland Gardens

On the way back to the Fern glade, we saw signs reading Trails closed, but that seemed to be where the trails were barred. A gravel path led off this area and much against Missy JJ’s advice, we took the path hoping to hit the Camellia Trail soon. We had seen golf carts use this path and so we walked on and on. It was hot with little shade and dusty.  Soon enough, we saw a staffer in a golf cart who told us the path was only for the vehicles, but since we were already nearly 3/4 of the way, he assured us we would be back on the right path soon.

Back on the paved trail, and with Missy JJ’s ” I told you so” ringing in our ears, we made our way to Millsap Canopy Bridge. This snaking bridge offers great views of the Singing Springs Gorge and we spent some time in the shade here, enjoying quality family time.

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Millsap Canopy Bridge with Singing Springs

We were all excited to view the Bob and Sunny Evans Treehouse, so we made our way to the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden. At three stories high, the treehouse doubles as both a playhouse and a learning center for dendrology, or the study of trees. The treehouse is unique in its symmetry and design and embodies beautiful workmanship. There is a long bridge just outside the treehouse that offers a panoramic view of the children’s garden and the treehouse.

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Bob and Sunny Evans Treehouse
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Inside view of the Treehouse

By now, we were sweating profusely despite the shade and the cool weather and starting to get hungry. We decided to lunch at the Chipmunk Cafe on the grounds. Walking towards it, we stopped to enjoy the Garvan Pavilion with its oculus surrounded by glass and steel skylight. The sandstone and wood structure pavilion had several large fans blasting away cool air and we took advantage for a bit.

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Garvan Pavilion, Garvan Woodland Gardens
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Oculus and skylight, Garvan Pavilion

At the Chipmunk Cafe, we first spent some time enjoying the Model train garden, that sits across from it. A lovely peacock stood in the center of the train garden, as incongruous as possible and yet, as if truly belonged there!

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Suggs Model Train Garden

For lunch, we ordered veggie burgers and this time, they were juicy with just the right amount of flavor and taste and totally soothing for our famished stomachs. They were served with a side of potato chips.

After lunch, we made our way back to the Welcome Center from where we walked the short distance, in the opposite direction, to Anthony Chapel. It was designed by Maurice Jennings (who also worked on the pavilion) and David McKee, both alumni of University of Arkansas, if I am not mistaken.

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Inside Anthony Chapel
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Natural light fills the Anthony Chapel
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Anthony Chapel, Garvan Woodland Gardens

Built on a quiet lot and surrounded by woodlands, this glass and pine structure is a masterpiece! The symmetry of the building, the complicated truss system that braces the roof, the glass skylights and windows that bring the outdoors in, the wall sconces, the herringbone pattern of the pews, all make for one terrific chapel! No wonder then, this is one of the most sought after places for weddings.

As we strolled back to the parking lot, we thought of a few tips to share.

  • Plan a trip earlier in the day to take advantage of the cool weather.
  • Take the golf cart, if the grounds are too extensive to cover, $15 per rider and a staffer accompanies the group
  • Wear sturdy shoes, if you plan to explore the gardens
  • Carry water in a refillable bottle, drinking fountains are available at the Welcome Center and the Perry Overlook
  • Stick to the paved trails
  • Bring a good camera
  • The Chipmunk cafe offers salads, wraps and sandwiches and burgers, including vegetarian options.
  • Plan to spend about 2 to 3 hours to fully explore the gardens
  • Wear comfortable, loose fitting, airy clothing

And dont forget to have fun!