Airlie Gardens was created in 1886. It is a private family garden. It was named Airlie after the Jones’ family home in Scotland. The garden has a lush and naturalistic design. Some of the plants and flowers in the garden are;
The gardens are part of the American Horticultural Society.
The garden was owned by the Pembroke Jones family.
It was transformed by a German landscape architect. His name is Rudolf Topel. He gave it a picturesque design and gorgeous outlook.
New Hanover County bought the garden in 1999.
Hurricane Florence destroyed almost 300 trees when it hit in 2018.
Minnie Evans, an African-American folk artist was the admissions gatekeeper in the 1950s. Evans created an oil painting in honor of the garden. The painting is named Airlie Oak and is displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The painting is an ode to a 500-year-old tree at the gardens. The tree is also named Airlie Oak. It was registered in the Live Oak Society in 1967 as member number 238.
The tree was last measured in 2007 by the North Carolina Forest Service. The measurements were as follows;
· Height: 128 feet (39 meters)
· Trunk circumference: 21 feet (6.4 meters)
· Crown: 104 feet (32 meters)
Airlie Oak was the largest North Carolinian live oak at the time.
The chapel is located in the gardens. It was built in 1835 by Thomas H. Wright. It is the oldest church structure in New Hanover County that still stands. The chapel is part of the St James Church parish.
The gardens have various natural sights. They include:
1. Native Wildlife Exhibit
This is found in the Guest Services Building. It is an educational display that is put out seasonally. There are an aquarium and terrariums filled with nature and wildlife. Some of the animals available for exploration are:
The exhibit opens between June and October 8th.
2. Butterfly House
The Butterfly House is a beautifully constructed building. It houses all kinds of butterflies. All the butterflies found here are native to North Carolina.
The building is an open-air structure and the butterflies roam freely.
Some of the species found at the house include;
· Gulf Fritillary
· Common Buckeye
· Black Swallowtail
An Environmental Educator will release the butterflies and tell you about the species. They will discuss the life cycles and give additional information.
The exhibit opens between June and October 15th.
3. Pollinator Garden
This is behind the Airlie House. The garden has various colorful flowers. The flowers were planted to attract pollinator species to the area. These include bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and moths.
The pollinators and flowers help each other to grow and flourish.
All the plants in the garden are hardy enough to withstand changing climatic conditions.
Some of the flowers found at the pollinator garden are;
· Butterfly Weed
· Purple Coneflower
· Passion Flowers
Airlie Gardens holds many events to attract visitors. Some of these are;
1. New Hanover County Resident Free
On the first Sunday of each month, residents of New Hanover County access the gardens for free. Tickets to the gardens are reserved in advance to control the population. The tickets always sell out. You must bring proof of residency on the day of the event.
2. Monthly Bird Hikes
This happens monthly on the second Wednesday. Tickets need to be bought in advance.
3. Spring Bloom
Warmer temperatures allow flowers to bloom. In the spring, Airlie Gardens has more than 60,000 tulips and 75,000 azaleas. The event is a must-see.
4. North Carolina Azalea Festival
The annual Azalea Festival is held in April. It is the largest festival of its kind. The festival showcases the beauty of the state.
5. Summer Concert Series
It is a summer tradition to have the concert series at Airlie Gardens. There is live music in the beautiful garden. The event is family-friendly.
6. Butterfly Releases
Visitors can take part in the butterfly release at the gardens. An educator is available at the event to provide information. Learn about the life cycle of butterflies. You will also gain information on the various butterfly species in the garden.
7. Oyster Roast
The gardens host a spectacular evening on the banks of Bradley Creek. There is an oyster roast feast to look forward to. The event supports Airlie’s Environmental Education Programs.
Airlie Gardens offers many educational opportunities for all ages. Some of these include;
· Airlie Gardens Tree Walk
Walk around the gardens and learn from Airlie Gardens educators.
· Nature Discovery Kits
These include books and activities. They are items that help you understand the different species in the garden. It allows for exploration and adventure.
· Tuesdays with Airlie
This is a weekly web series by the garden educators. It is on every Tuesday at 2 p.m.
· Birding Mornings
Airlie Gardens has many bird species all over. It allows visitors to guide themselves as they explore the different species available.
· Airlie at Home
These are educational videos that you can watch at home. The Environmental Educators record videos on various topics. They then post them on the Airlie Gardens YouTube channel. People of all ages can watch the videos.
· Garden Bingo
You can play a round of Bingo as you explore the grounds. The Bingo chart has different animals and items that can be found in the garden. The challenge is to spot all of them as you walk through.
Airlie Gardens receives more than 120,000 visitors per year. There are many exploratory opportunities that are fun and educational. There are many species of plant and animal life to choose from. The gardens aim to protect these species for future generations. It is a great place to teach children about the environment and to pique their interest. The gardens have a rich history, having been started more than three centuries ago. It showcases the natural beauty of the community and county at large.