In early October, my husband and I took a two-week-long road trip to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. When planning the trip we thought we would take the opportunity to see what gardens and arboretums provide reciprocal benefits with our Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory membership. We found that the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC and the Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC offer discounts for FOPCON members.
The North Carolina Arboretum is located near the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway National Park. The North Carolina Arboretum’s admission is based on the parking fee. With our FOPCON membership, the parking fee was waived and we got in for free. We decided to spend the morning driving the Parkway and then go to the Arboretum for lunch.
Originally we thought the Arboretum would be a repeat of the Parkway but we were happily surprised to be wrong! The gardens of the North Carolina Arboretum were absolutely stunning even in early October. The salvia was still in full bloom and full of honey bees. The display of mums in the quilted garden was beautiful. We had a delightful lunch at the bistro cafe, which hosts live music every day during the lunch hour. After lunch, we walked through the bonsai garden, which, in my opinion, rivals the bonsai garden at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. There are bike and walking trails throughout the Arboretum.
Several days later we went to the Magnolia Plantation, which is located about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston. There are several different options for admission. We chose the garden admission only option saving us $29 each.
The Magnolia Plantation has been owned by the same family since the 1600’s. Following the Civil War, the family turned the property into a public garden, in order to preserve it. It’s one of the first public gardens in America. The Plantation’s mission today is to preserve wildlife and horticulture and educate the public about the history of the property.
While exploring the property we saw alligators, turtles, peacocks and many other different birds. While walking through the gardens, it is what I thought the south would look like: oak and magnolia trees dripping with Spanish moss. The gardens at the Plantation were not formal gardens, embracing the wildness of property. To our surprise we learned azaleas bloom twice a year in the South, once in the spring and once in the fall. While walking around the Plantation we saw the azaleas in their second bloom. It was such a romantic garden.
I encourage each of you to take advantage of the reciprocity benefit as a member of The Friends. There are so many lovely gardens that our FOPCON membership gives us access to throughout the country. These two visits alone made our membership fee well worth it.
Ramona Ramos Sullivan, Membership Co-Chair
Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory