A New Jewel in the North Georgia Mountains - Gibbs Gardens
Beautiful in Every Season
Tucked away in the north Georgia foothills, at the foot of the great Smoky Mountains, is a once secret garden. It is not in a convenient place. But it is worth the trip. It is not yet well known. But it will be.
More than thirty years ago a professional landscape designer built his home at the highest peak in northeast Cherokee County Georgia, just off the historic Trail of Tears. Here the Cherokee Indian Nation endured the heartbreak of being forced off their land. If those souls could see their land today, there would be tears again, but this time, they would be tears in awe of great beauty.
After completing his home, Jim Gibbs spent the next three decades planning, designing, imagining, and dreaming of a garden that would wind its way through his 300-acre estate. For the last five years, he has built that dream into reality including 24 ponds, 32 bridge crossings, and 19 waterfalls: The Gibbs Gardens.
The Fall Season features Mother Nature at her best in the Georgia foothills, entry way to the Great Smoky Mountains. The northeast is known for its patchwork quilt display of colors, but the southeast throws in just enough evergreens to the mix to make the colors really pop. The leaves are usually at their peak around mid-October, though in recent years that autumn highlight has crept closer and closer to the end of September. The residents of Georgia's northern counties would advise the wise leaf-watchers to make the trip during the weekdays and avoid the metro traffic jams that migrate into the mountains along with the changing colors. Remember though, Gibbs Gardens is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The largest display of daffodils in the United States unfolds in a 50-acre sweep of woodlands, paths, ridge lines, and valleys. The only word to use for the best way to view the 60 varieties is "to meander" through them, taking in the pallet of color from saffron to orange, to blush pink, to white. But if you miss this seasonal treat that only lasts until mid-April, there is still more on which to feast the eye.
A replica of the Monet Bridge at Giverny is the focal point for 140 varieties of lilies in the Waterlily Gardens. Here they bloom in five ponds from May through November when the gardens close for the winter.
My personal favorite feature of the gardens, where no detail is left unattended, is the vast, virgin woods that have been left to the imagination of God. A fern garden leads down a path that takes the walker through nature as it was originally intended. At the right time of year the primary color against the bark and leaves is the splattering of wild Dogwoods. These trees create a snowstorm of white each year in early spring through the untouched forests of the south.
According to the history of the garden's design, the greatest effort at carving out of the landscape something not native to the region was the creation of the Japanese Gardens. Seven spring-fed ponds, bridges, boulders, pagodas, and lanterns fill the 40-acres piece d' resistance of Gibb's masterpiece. Wind your way through the largest Japanese Gardens in the county, down its twisting paths and zig-zag bridges, free of evil spirits who are known to travel only in straight lines.
Only those with a heart made of stone will be unmoved by the charming statues set creatively throughout the Grandchildren's Garden. This simple space invites youngsters (of any age) to climb and pose for pictures, blending into the ambiance created by endearing statues that seem to come to life in the welcoming setting.
On my first visit I bought a ticket to tour the gardens for the day. Before hesitantly leaving at the end of the day, I traded my daily pass for a season pass for two. I went back the next weekend to share this treat with my husband. We've been back time and time again when the hydrangea and roses are blooming. Gibbs Gardens has become our own special retreat from the hectic pace of everyday life, no matter how large the crowds of visitors have become now that the word is out.