The Atlanta Botanical Garden
Our plane descended into the pillowy morning clouds — blurring the sky as we navigated toward the runway.
I was flying to Atlanta, Georgia to visit my childhood best friend, Kathryn. Every year we would take a week-long trip to visit each other — whether that was our small northern town in New Jersey, or in the cool air of Massachusetts. I was excited this year, that I could visit her home in Georgia.
The Atlanta Botanical Garden
After our morning coffee stop, we took a twenty-minute ride north of the airport to our first adventure — the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Since I flew in on a weekday, we found parking easily and there was no line at the ticket window.
The warm Georgia weather meant that the flowers were blooming — so the displays and exhibits would be extra spectacular.
Adult Ticket | $22.00
I believe my ticket was $20-$22, which is fair. Considering how much I paid in New York City during my birthday — $22 was a bargain for the miles of flowers we were about to wander through.
After paying for our ticket, we entered the high-ceiling lobby. A young man scanned our tickets and gave us a map. To the left was the gift shop (which we saved for the end). We climbed up the tall wooden staircase on the right and outside onto one of the higher-level paths.
Canopy Views and Walking Paths
The plants grew in layers — with sections of tall bushes and blooming flowers. Tall trees shaded the pathway and we stopped to read the metal plaques for each plant. I saw plants from Africa, Japan, and familiar bushes and flowers from my own part of northern, New Jersey.
Amazing plant sculptures were featured among the pathways, like this wholly mammoth. I stopped to photograph everything as Kathryn pointed out baby bunnies and lizards which hid under the shadowy leaves.
We followed the path without using the map, making turns here and there. The next major exhibit included a pond and waterfall.
The woman sculpture reminded me of Te Fiti from Moana with her flowing hair and pose.
We stood at the water’s edge, taking in the textures and colors. Birds rustled in the thick leaves to the left of the pond. To the right, guests sat under a long pergola, listing to the sound of the waterfall. It was cool and peaceful.
The walking path continued in a long loop away from the pond. We stepped up a stone staircase to the canopy walkway. I leaned my head over the railing to see how far down it was. It was a long enough drop to make me dizzy. From this high up, we could see the top of the Te Fiti-style exhibit in the distance.
Eventually, the path led us around past the wholly mammoth. We passed a restaurant across from this Phoenix, before the pathways opened to a paver sitting area.
Despite the overcast sky, I was sweating in the afternoon humidity. It felt like I had a hairdryer on my ears and neck. I worried that my fair skin would burn since I hadn’t put on sunscreen before leaving for the airport.
Every space and exhibit in the Botanical Gardens were thoughtfully arranged and artistically designed. I loved this sitting area around the blown-glass fountain. The red and grey stone pavers laid in a decorative pattern. Everywhere we looked, the hedges were immaculately bright and maintained and beds of flowers created a rainbow of textures.
Off this path, twisted Georgia trees knotted their limbs to form a shaded canopy. We stepped off the concrete path and onto gravel to walk towards the Japanese gardens.
We passed through a circular archway. A small house of stone and straw was to my left, looking out on a raised pond. I expected to see Koi swimming in the water, but there wasn’t. I suppose having fish would be an additional item to maintain in already complex gardens.
A red Japanese maple — larger than the one I have in my garden at home — grew in a fluffy canopy. Small stone temples sat at the base of the tree. A large Bonsai-shaped tree grew in the center of the display.
No other guests were back in this section of the display, so we wandered without direction. We went to the left and almost missed a path that was our first introduction to the Alice in Wonderland exhibit.
A small hill showed a sleeping Alice laying among red and white mushrooms. The creepy Cheshire cat watched over her from the corner with his bright blue eyes and wide grin.
At first, it was difficult to tell that the blue flowers were Alice’s dress — but the Cheshire cat was so striking that it made up for it.
We followed the path around the bend, through tropical gardens. The white and pink flowers were the size of dinner plates, with thin petals. Hidden among their leaves were different brass sculptures, like the flute player and a boy catching frogs.
I was excited to see the edible gardens. Obviously, we weren’t allowed to touch anything — but I was still impressed with the herb and vegetable selections.
Asparagus, tomatoes, sunflowers, basil, parsley, and teas grew in organized lines. Even a vertical wall of plants framed the area like a fence.
Handwritten signs poked inside the rows of vegetables, informing guests that all produce was picked and donated to the community, which I thought was awesome.
Retracing our steps, the pathway opened into a lush courtyard. Schoolchildren abandoned their bags and chased each other through the grass. Hoola-hoops laid like colorful bangles around the feet of their parents who stood chatting in groups.
We stepped around their belongings and up the other side of the horseshoe path towards the dragon arrangement.
It was an unbelievable display. The flower details were blooms of pink and orange. Around the dragon’s feet were thick layers of flowers. Its long tail stretched down the rest of the pathway towards the entrance to the greenhouse.
Raised stone ponds separated the greenhouse from the courtyard. We peeked over the edge where lily-pads and bright lotus flowers grew.
The summer days drew dragonflies who balanced on the reeds. Fat frogs floated with their jelly-limbs, soaking in the sun. Kathryn picked out the bubbles of turtles creating ripples across the pond’s surface.
The Botanical Greenhouses
We stepped into the entrance of the greenhouse facing a vertical wall of plants. We were nervous that the humidity of the greenhouses would be worse than the outdoor temperature. But it was surprisingly cooler inside the greenhouse than it was in the afternoon humidity. We were able to take our time moseying along the paths without sweating to death.
Three tanks of poisoned frogs, bright blue with black spots, sat in the corner of the room. We read about their diet and climate before going through the glass doors of the greenhouse rooms.
It was like stepping into a rain forest. Large palm leaves blotted the sunshine from the glass domed ceiling. Long thin wooden vines hung like cable while thick greenery grew around the walls and fire escape.
I couldn’t believe how large the trees grew. I leaned my head back and looked up towards the ceiling. The branches were longer and wider than a car. It was unbelievable.
Through the Desert
After leaving the room of dense rain forest we entered a sloping room of cacti.
Not all the plants were considered cacti. Some were just spiked trees — like the photo above. Though familiar succulents and Aloe vera grew along the pathway and in large pots. In the corner of the room, three fat tortoises ate salad from large blue-rimmed bowls.
The hallway leading us back to the courtyard had pots of trees. Their plaques told us about their produce — from teas to cocoa; most of the trees produced edible goods. The foodie in me loved seeing their different features.
Other Flower Sculptures
I say sculptures when referring to the flower displays — since there is an artful method of creating these exhibits.
We passed the mermaid and the unicorn on our way toward another building. We weren’t sure if that was a new greenhouse or the exterior of the rooms we just walked through.
Past a display of (what seemed like) The Three Kings, we turned left, and a staircase went down towards the main specialty exhibit.
Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland is one of my all-time favorite stories. I adore the movies with Johnny Depp, too.
It must’ve been fate that during my visit to Georgia, that the Atlanta Botanical Gardens would have a specialty exhibit dedicated to one of my favorites.
We looked down at the White Rabbit fountain from the top of our staircase. He sat in an upside-down umbrella, balancing the Hatter’s hat. It was whimsical and hard to believe that it was made of plants.
Down the steps and to the left of the rabbit was a chess board with the Red Queen’s soldiers and heart-shaped trees.
You can see how wide and full the plants are with me in comparison. It seemed like the sculptures were out of a video game, they were so perfect.
Out of all the Alice in Wonderland displays, the chess board was probably my favorite — though the fountain captured the White Rabbit’s character.
Since we had paid for parking on location, we decided to find one of the Botanical Garden restaurants for lunch.
We followed the path back up the stairs, past the Three Kings, and towards the greenhouses and Phoenix., where a cafe was open for lunch.
Click here to read more about our afternoon lunch at Longleaf Restaurant.