Staying home doesn’t mean you can’t visit the spectacular public gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina. You probably know Wilmington as a favorite beach playground. But here’s a secret: Wilmington also has breathtaking public gardens. Surprised? Follow along from your armchair and immerse yourself in the garden beauty of Wilmington.
Airlie Gardens is the jewel of Wilmington’s gardens - 67 acres of pure botanical bliss. Massive moss draped trees, including the 475-year old Airlie Oak, line the paths leading to over a dozen themed gardens. The Pergola Garden showcases a circa-1900 pergola of native tabby, a mixture of lime, water, sand and Wrightsville Sound shells. The Tranquility Garden is filled with seasonal plantings next to the butterfly house. The Spring Garden is stunning with seasonal blooms.
Greenfield Lake Park & Gardens is a serene setting of water and gardens that is especially beautiful in spring when the azaleas are in bloom. Rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboat to explore the lake surrounded by cypress trees. Until then, enjoy a virtual eco-tour of Greenfield Lake.
The Harbor Island Garden Club maintains Harbor Way garden in Wrightsville Beach Park. While small at one acre, it has a rose garden and a Plant It Pink garden that honors breast cancer survivors.
Sculpture in Gardens
Historic Oakdale Cemetery is 100 acres of Darlington oaks and landscaped burial plots added by the families of the deceased. Early grave markers gave a nod to gardening. One unique style is the tree stone; a tree-looking stone marker carved with ornate garden symbols to tell a story about the deceased. Other funerary art on headstones includes plants, a handshake, stars, and open books.
Mid-summer through fall, a Squirrels! art exhibit featuring large fiberglass squirrel sculptures made by local artists will be placed throughout the grounds of Airlie Gardens. Other garden sculptures can also be seen at Airlie, including the iconic Bottle Chapel made from over 2,800 empty bottles and the stunning pergola fountain (as pictured in the header photo by Beverly Hurley).
Many historic gardens are in the downtown historic district. The Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens has seven garden areas, including an orchard with figs and pomegranates and a crabapple espalier.
The Latimer House Museum is surrounded by a restored Victorian garden.
Large 150-year old magnolia trees anchor the landscape of the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History & Design.
A horse-drawn carriage ride or walking tour in the historic district will take you past charming homes where lovely gardens beckon you to look over their garden gates.
The New Hanover County Arboretum has over a dozen different sections in the 7-acre garden, including roses, aquatic, Japanese, herb, butterfly, children’s, and vegetable gardens, plus several greenhouses, a koi pond, and an ability garden with raised beds.
The Heritage Garden at the Lower Cape Fear Hospice has meandering paths connected by a series of charming footbridges over bubbling water features lead to various themed garden rooms. Of special note is a labyrinth created in the shape of a tree.
Carnivorous Plant Gardens
Wilmington is world-renown for its carnivorous plants. You won’t find these growing in the wild anywhere else in the world. Carolina Beach State Park has a large collection of Venus flytraps. Their tall white flowers bloom in May, making them easy to see along the park’s Flytrap Trail. When not in bloom they look like clam shells with teeth.
The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden has an observation deck that overlooks thousands of Venus flytraps and pitcher plants in the garden. Venture into the garden via stepping-stones for up close views. Take note: It’s a felony crime if you remove a Venus flytrap in North Carolina.
The Blockade Runner Beach Resort on Wrightsville Beach includes the beach and gardens. A team of talented gardeners has installed several lush collections of plants along the hotel’s pathways overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The arboretum campus of UNC-Wilmington has the Bluethenthal Wildflower Preserve tucked into the woods near the student union. Level paths wind through towering pines and a forest floor filled with wildflowers. The Heritage Garden near the quad has stately live oaks that stand like sentinels on either side of the great lawn.
These related links will help you plan a future trip to visit Wilmington’s parks and gardens.