Spring Garden at Airlie
Spring Garden at Airlie

Following the pathways at Airlie Gardens as they vanish around corners into garden landscapes crowned with live oaks, it’s easy to get lost in the experience. And so it was that John and I managed to orbit each other for more than a half hour before finding each other again.

Broadhead skink Airlie
Broadhead skink sunning in the garden

Airlie is majestic. Sitting on the banks of Bradley Creek, the sea breeze pouring off Wrightsville Beach, it covers a commanding 67 acres of an original English land grant.

Tranquility Garden at Airlie
Tranquility Garden at Airlie

Passing through the hands of just three families in the span of 250 years, it was first cultivated in the early 1900s for the enjoyment of family and guests. Public tours were infrequent until the final owners, the Corbetts, join in on the first annual Azalea Festival in 1948.

While we’re not in azalea season today, it’s apparent that Wilmington loves azaleas. Hugh McRae Park and Greenfield Park offer winding walkways among the azaleas beneath pines and cypresses.

Pergola at Greenfield Park
Pergola at Greenfield Park (John Keatley)

Downtown, the gardens speak to the city’s history. At the Burgwin-Wright House on Market Street, seven formal gardens surround the 1770 residence, including terraced gardens, an orchard, and a classic parterre.

Burgwin-Wright orchard and sundial
Burgwin-Wright orchard and sundial

The gardens surrounding the Bellamy Mansion were first laid out by Mrs. Bellamy in the 1870s. Southern magnolias planted that year still surround the imposing home, filling the air with their fragrance this time of year.

Bellamy Mansion magnolias
Under the Bellamy Mansion magnolias

And then there are the bog gardens. Hidden deep within the leafy forests of Bluethental Wildflower Preserve on the UNC Wilmington campus, the Insectivorous Garden is a series of raised beds showing off pitcher plant species and Venus flytraps.

Purple pitcher plants at UNCW
Purple pitcher plants at UNCW (John Keatley)

But for an immersive bog experience, there is no where else like the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden. On my first visit here years ago with Mom, it wasn’t obvious it was a garden. Now there is parking, an accessible path, boardwalks, and interpretive information.

Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden

Carnivorous plants found throughout the Southeast swarm this boggy swale between the pine ridges. Thousands of them.

Densely packed carnivorous plants
Densely packed carnivorous plants (John Keatley)

Stepping stones allow you to walk through the bog and simply marvel.

From azaleas to pitcher plants, Wilmington offers the most diverse spectrum of gardens we’ve seen in the South. Thank the thousands of gardeners who revel in making beautiful places.

Japanese Garden at the Arboretum
Japanese Garden at the Arboretum

Did we mention the county extension service has some pretty sweet gardens too? With themed sections like the Children’s Garden, the Bog Garden, and the Japanese Garden, the New Hanover County Arboretum is both a showplace and a learning space for the region’s gardeners.

We wrapped a day of garden-hopping with dinner at Indochine. It’s not so much a place where you dine as a sensory experience: Asian drumbeats create a background of sound, incense drifts through the air, exotic antiques fill every niche. And yes, they have a garden too.

The Back Garden at Indochine
The Back Garden at Indochine