Review of Airlie Gardens: Best for Blooms in Any Season

You know me and flowers. My love for them blooms eternal. So, when I read a review on Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina, I grafted a daytrip while visiting Wrightsville Beach. And I am so glad I did — that was the best bouquet of beauty I’ve seen in a while!

North Carolina Blooms All Year Long at Airlie Gardens

Airlie Gardens, as we know it today, had its origin in a 640-acre land grant to the Ogden Brothers from King George II in 1735. Pembroke and Sarah Jones purchased the property in 1884 and began cultivating the grounds. Fast forward to 1999, when a consortium of public and private organizations bought and began restoration on 67 acres of space.

The website uses the phrase “A Century of Gardens by the Sea,” and that only hints at the variety of gardens waiting to be explored.  The website also instructs that all General Admissions tickets must be purchased in advance and online. However, I learned you can pick up your tickets at the Gift Shop. Be sure to stop by the Gift Shop, too. Lots of fun things there.

Be sure to hop on the seven-seater tram tour, it is extremely informative and included with the price of admission. I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much if I had done a self-guided one. Docent led tours also are available, and it’s best to make your reservation two weeks in advance.

Y’owl Gotta See This

Wise up! “It’s Owl Good” is the Airlie Gardens art exhibit for 2021 running through December. There are 10 fiberglass owls created by 10 different artists throughout the gardens. The owls are big and colorful, so it isn’t difficult to spot them. I like that the garden has an annual exhibit, and the theme changes each year.

Join the Holiday Tradition

Airlie Gardens really sparkles in the holiday season. The lights and sounds mixed with festive greenery create the celebratory Enchanted Airlie each year. Guests are encouraged to take the self-guided walk to take in as much holiday cheer as they can. The dates are Nov. 26 and 27 along with Dec. 3 to 22. Tickets sell out in advance, buy them as soon as you can.

Springing into Color

A heart of gold — that’s how I feel about Airlie Gardens and this statuary. (Notice how my dress complements the colors beautifully.) I marked my calendar for a spring visit, when more than 60,000 tulips and 75,000 azaleas are to be in bloom between March 1 and April 15. A definite must visit for 2022. I’ll call ahead to ensure best viewing opportunities.

There’s a Sculpture Garden, Too

A garden of flora is beautiful and so are sculpture gardens, especially Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden. Minnie worked as a garden gatekeeper from 1949 through 1974, when she created many pieces. The sign at Airlie describes her work with the inscription saying, “Spiritual images, bright colors, symmetry, flowers, and varied shades of green dominate her work.” The Bottle Chapel by Virginia Wright-Frierson was completed in 2005 to represent Minnie’s painting and other artists’ works to complete the sculpture garden.

Since You Asked, This is My Favorite Garden

I can see why the Pergola Garden is the most popular location for weddings and photo shoots. It is equally romantic and beautiful — seasonal blooms, the jasmine vine-laden pergola, and a four-tiered fountain with a lake in the background. Made of tabby (a mixture of concrete and crushed oyster shells), the pergola was built at the request of Sarah Jones in the early 1900s.

Parties, Balls, and Bashes

Given the gorgeous grounds, it’s no surprise that Airlie Gardens has a long history of entertaining and celebrations. According to its website, one tradition dates to 1905 and that is the extravagant oyster roasts, a local dish. The oyster roasts went silent for some years but they were brought back in 2000 and serve as a fundraiser for educational programs.

Flutter Over to the Butterfly House

The Butterfly House is 2,700-square feet of native North Carolina Rhopalocera living space. These native species — including Monarch, Gulf Fritillary, Common Buckeye, and Black Swallowtail, among others — fly around the open-air house. Time your visit, as the Butterfly House is open seasonally from mid-May through the warmer fall months. The entrance fee is included in the General Admission. You can also experience the joy of Butterfly Releases with an educator to learn about the butterfly life cycles and different types of butterflies that come out each week.

As I mentioned, I hope to catch the Spring bloom next year. If you want to visit this area in the Fall, you can still set your eyes on the historic Airlie Oak and enjoy the calming, pristine beauty of the garden. I recently visited and Autumn is a beautiful time to visit. You can find my find my top recommendations for Fall activities to inspire your visit here.

Learn more about Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington here. Let us know what you think and share a picture of what you saw. See you on the road.

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