Botanical Beauty

Horticulture magazine praised it as “one of 10 gardens that inspire.” HGTV calls it “one of 20 great public gardens across America.” Well you don’t have to drive across America to see it. A 30-mile drive will take you to the Riverbanks Zoo Botanical Garden, across the Saluda River from the zoo proper.

Now’s a good time to go, although something is always blooming at the garden. The gardens are so lush, so beautiful that weddings and other events often take place there. The gardens are themed too. There’s the Collection Garden where 100 different milk and wine lilies grow. There’s the Old Rose Garden where you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Noisettes. Kids love the Play Garden, which features a playhouse and secret play garden.

The Walled Garden is a show stealer. This 34,000-square-foot garden features a maze of seasonal and themed gardens. Don’t be surprised if you go home with new concepts and ideas for your garden. It’s an inspiring place.

At the West Columbia entrance you’ll see the Bog Garden with is large waterfall. See too the carnivorous pitcher plants and water lilies. The large boulders will give you a sense of being in the mountains too. In a corner of the Bog Garden you’ll find the Asian Garden. Built in 2009, the Asian Garden quickly developed into a lush and botanically diverse space. Here, a short boardwalk overlooks a small pool. You’ll find benches to rest on and listening to the soothing white noise of trickling water will put you at ease. See the Asian trees, shrubs, perennials and bamboo in this garden.

The walk from the zoo proper across the brick span uphill can be taxing, but no worries. A tram can take you there with ease. Once you’re at the garden be sure to walk the nature trail. To me, trail highlights include the ruins of the old Saluda Mill ruins and its lonesome but winsome stone keystone arch, testaments to Sherman’s march through Columbia.

Once your garden stroll is over you can always take the tram back to the zoo proper. Over 2,000 animals will keep you enthralled, amused and outright surprised. Between the zoo’s wildlife and the gardens flora, a day here is like a trip around the world.

Each year I purchase a family membership to the zoo. I like to stroll through the gardens on cooler days, and I’m planning to go there with my laptop and work now and then. Seventy acres of botanical beauty makes for an inspiring place to write. And as for you? Well I have no doubts this place will bring out the gardener in you. It did in me and I have a themed garden of my own in my back yard as a result.

If You Go …

Riverbanks Zoo

& Botanical Garden

500 Wildlife Parkway

Columbia, S.C.


Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected].

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