Nestled along the shores of Lake Chatuge, just two miles south of the line that divides Georgia and North Carolina, is one of the most spectacular gardens the Southeast has to offer. People from every corner of the map travel the meandering roads of Appalachia to 96 Pavilion Road, Hiawassee, Georgia to admire the beauty that is Hamilton Gardens. Year-round, this botanical refuge is a sight to see for nature lovers, but as April drifts towards May, it really starts to shine.
The warmth of springtime brings the gorgeous colors of this 33-acre woodland garden paradise into brilliant focus. Mid-April to late-May is peak season and has been celebrated annually as “A Blooming Affair,” a six-week window that brings out the garden’s most vibrant colors and biggest fans. Dogwood branches adorn themselves with pearl-to-pink petals; trillium open to reveal their burgundy and pink treasure; Solomon’s seal cups dangle in pairs; trout lilies, shooting stars, wild ginger, and more cushion the forest floor in every direction. With the serenity of the Lake Chatuge shoreline and the Blue Ridge mountains beyond, the garden’s charm is further emphasized by the surrounding scenery.
Take in the Beauty and Even Take Some Home
Springtime means the Greenhouse Plant Sale is in full bloom, too!
Weekends, 10 AM-4 PM, April 11-May 17
From its covered pavilion with picnic tables to the various garden paths, guests are invited to explore the grounds on their own or even schedule a guided tour with a master gardener. Benches are scattered throughout the fragrant garden trails and provide ample opportunity for rest and reflection. And, like the petals of spring blossoms, the Hamilton Gardens Greenhouse opens its doors during these warmer months for visitors to purchase native azaleas and rhododendron for their home gardens. Many come for the plant sale alone!
Record Rhododendron Collection & Garden History
Hamilton Gardens’ staple exhibit and the people who made it bloom
Perhaps the most alluring feature of this idyllic destination is the Southeast’s largest collection of rhododendrons—more than 1,500! A close second are the gardens’ gorgeous native azaleas. Both of these staple plant collections come from the original gardens of Fred and Hazel Hamilton, who donated the entirety of their two thriving home gardens to Towns County to be maintained and enjoyed in perpetuity. Since then, the gardens have grown in more ways than one. In 2018, a dedication ceremony was held to welcome the addition of 600 daffodil bulbs as part of The Daffodil Project, an international campaign to plant 1.5 million daffodils in a sunny, worldwide tribute to the children lost in the Holocaust.
Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge Inc., a 501C3 non-profit, is the largest rhododendron garden in the Southeast. This spectacle bloomed from nothing more than the Hamiltons’ love of rhododendrons and azaleas and the sheer joy of giving these beautiful plants a happy home. Once a Sears, Roebuck & Co. executive, Fred and his wife, Hazel, maintained two luscious gardens, one in Atlanta and one in Towns County at their summer home. The couple travelled frequently and would use their expeditions as chances to add new rhododendrons and azaleas to their large collections, resulting in some hybrids that can now only be found at Hamilton Gardens. Later in their lives, as maintenance became more challenging, the couple donated their incredible collection of flora to the citizens of Towns County, where it still lives for the public’s enjoyment today. Upon their donation in 1981, the Hamiltons’ only request was that the gardens be cared for and remain accessible to the public. Decades later, entry to Hamilton Gardens is no more than a suggested donation of $2 and the grounds are maintained by volunteers incentivized purely by a love for the natural beauty of the flora and fauna within this sanctuary, just like the founders for whom the garden is named.
Beyond Hamilton Gardens
You’ve seen the Gardens, but there’s more to do!
Whether Hamilton Gardens is your destination or simply a lucky find while visiting the area, you’ll find no shortage of natural and man-made amenities nearby. In the shadow of Brasstown Bald Mountain, where Lake Chatuge is located, there are many wonderful hiking trails and opportunities for adventure. Brasstown Bald itself is only a short drive away and, as Georgia’s highest peak, serves as the perfect observation deck to watch as spring blooms in the mountains. If looking for a full day outside, ample opportunities for hiking, fishing, boating, golfing, camping, and more are all close by. For casual campers, outdoor enthusiasts, or just the occasional family tripper, Hamilton Gardens offers an easy and affordable way to beautify your quick getaway or mountain vacation. And with Spring just around the corner, there’s no better time to tend to this blooming affair.