Go green at Atlanta's public gardens

If you're looking for a different afternoon getaway, tour a public garden. There are plenty just a short drive away.

Here are five local gardens that hide in plain sight.

ATLANTA HISTORY CENTER

Six gardens and two historic homes are showcased across 33 acres of woodlands. The AHC's Kenan Research Center and archives gallery traces more than a century of Atlanta's history.

Popular feature: The Swan House boxwood garden and landscape designed by famed architect Philip Trammel Schutze. "His focus was not flowers or to have a lot of colors," says AHC curator John Manion. "It was more subdued. He used a lot of plants for foliage, ferns and ivy."

Another gem: The Cherry Sims Asian Garden, adorned with classic statues and a gazebo, pairs Asian and American plants. Nearby the Quarry Garden is a 3-acre garden with the state's most comprehensive collection of native plants and lies 25 feet below ground in a rock quarry, abandoned in the 1920s. The garden is home to a Franklin tree, crowned state champion this year by the Georgia Forestry Commission as the largest of its species.

Hours and admission: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-5:30 p.m. Sundays. (Gardens close at 5:15 p.m.) $12-$15.

Info: 130 West Paces Ferry Road N.W., Buckhead, 404-814-4000, www.atlhist.org.

FERNBANK

At Fernbank Museum of Natural History visitors can learn Georgia's geographical history and get a peek at the world of dinosaurs. And over at the Science Center's observatory and planetarium they get a sense of other galaxies.

Popular feature: The Rose Garden is a maze of rose beds located on the museum grounds. The garden showcases nearly 1,500 roses.

Another gem: Fernbank Forest, located a few blocks away behind the Science Center, spans 65 acres of natural forest and wildlife, and includes two miles of walking trail. Great shady refuge for an afternoon walk on a hot summer day.

Hours and admission: Museum, 10 a.m. -5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Science Center, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays; 2-5 p.m. Sundays. Free admission to the Rose Garden and Fernbank Forest.

Info: Museum, 767 Clifton Road N.E., Atlanta. 404-929-6400; www.fernbankmuseum.org. Science Center, 156 Heaton Park Drive, Atlanta. 678-874-7102, fsc.fernbank.edu.

CARTER CENTER GARDENS

A serene garden landscape surrounds the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, which includes a replica of the Oval Office, documents and memorabilia from his administration.

Popular feature: The Rose Garden is a meticulous space of plants with more than 40 colorful varieties decorated with circular sidewalks and garden benches to take in the scene.

Another gem: A Japanese garden, two lakes, waterfalls and a natural forest collectively create a quiet park setting behind the museum. Large and small waterfalls represent President Carter and Rosalynn Carter, respectively, and flow into the Japanese garden, which contains Japanese maples, rhododendrons, azaleas and other plants. Visitors occasionally fish for bass, catfish, mud carp and brim in the lake and can picnic at tables in the native oak forest or the grassy area nearby.

Hours and admission: Rose Garden and trail use to the other gardens behind the museum (near bus parking and the research entrance), 6 a.m. to dark, daily; museum access to the gardens, 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-4:45 p.m. Sundays. Free admission to gardens.

Info: 441 Freedom Parkway. 404-865-7100, www.jimmycarterlibrary.org or www.cartercenter.org.

SMITH-GILBERT ARBORETUM

Now owned by the city of Kennesaw, former owners Bob Gilbert and his late partner Richard Smith started the gardens in 1975 to attract birds. Many had begun to perch outside their historic home. Today the 16-acre property contains more than 120 species of birds and 3,000 varieties of plants throughout its formal gardens and shade gardens.

Popular features: Guided tours that wind through towering trees, ponds and waterfalls and flowers in bloom.

Another gem: A fallen white mulberry tree that re-rooted itself into the ground. It lies in a wide forest pocket, which the former owners called the bowl. "Dr. Gilbert had guests during the Fourth of July — more than 20 years ago — and discovered it playing softball, when the ball rolled down to the tree," says Michele Brown, administrative coordinator.

Hours and admission: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. first Fridays and third Saturdays of the month. (In October, the garden opens the fourth Saturday instead.) $5; $4 for children 12 and under.

Info: 2382 Pine Mountain Road, Kennesaw. 770-427-2117 (ext. 3059), www.kennesaw-ga.gov/sga.

ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDEN

Set beside Piedmont Park, the 15-acre garden is a haven of thousands of exotic and eclectic plant varieties. Next spring the garden will unveil 15 additional acres in its woodland area. The expansion includes a 600-foot-long and 45-foot-high canopy walk.

Popular features: The Children's Garden has a splash-around water fountain and educational and interactive activities. The Fuqua Conservatory includes plants from equatorial regions in its Tropical Rotunda and varieties native to Southern Africa and Madagascar. The Fuqua Orchid Center showcases a few kinetic sculptures from the current exhibit "Sculpture in Motion: Art choreographed by Nature." The entire exhibit features 25 sculptures that move with the surrounding flow of natural energy.

Another gem: Water plants throughout the garden grounds include water lilies in various sizes and other colorful plants.

Hours and admission: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays and Fridays-Sundays; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursdays through October. Open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sept. 1. (Cocktails in the Garden 6-10 p.m. Thursdays through September.) 9 a.m.-5 p.m. November-March. $9-$12 adults; free for children age 2 and under; $8-$11 for guided and self-guided tours for groups of 10 to 50 people.

Info: 1345 Piedmont Ave., Midtown. 404-876-5859, www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org.

GARDEN ATTRACTIONS FARTHER DOWN THE ROAD

Callaway Gardens, 17800 U.S. 27, Pine Mountain. 1-800-225-5292, www.callawaygardens.com.

State of Botanical Garden of Georgia, located at the University of Georgia, 2450 S. Milledge Ave., Athens. 706-542-1244, www.uga.edu/~botgarden.

Barnsley Gardens, 597 Barnsley Gardens Road, Adairsville. 1-877-773-2447, www.barnsleyresort.com.

Oak Hill Gardens, located at the Martha Berry Museum, 24 Veterans Memorial Hwy, Mount Berry. 706-368-6789, www.berry.edu/oakhill/gardens.asp.

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