Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Callaway Gardens

Mountain Creek Lake at the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center. Photo© by Debi Lander.
Is something for everyone too much? We began to wonder that during a whirlwind but inclusive tour of Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA.

Watching the carp at Sibley Horticultural Center. Photo © by Debi Lander.
 Horticultural, Butterfly and Discovery Centers, Azalea Bowl, Chapel, vegetable garden, pioneer log cabin, bicycling and nature trails, are natural fits.

Succulents have replaced many of the orchids in the Horticultural Center.

Golf and tennis, fishing and boating, spa, sure, make it a full resort. The Fantasy of Lights display during the Christmas season has become an institution, but balloon festivals, beach with Masters Water skiing, Florida State University Flying Circus, laser tag, Birds of Prey show, triathlons, USA Wake Surfing National Championships, zip-lining and tree-top challenge course?

Entrance to Day Butterfly Center. Photo © Debi Lander.
Between them all you are surrounded by mobs of people, so many that the beauty of the gardens themselves seem in danger of being trampled. They aren't - most of the hordes congregate at the beach, restaurants and Inn lobby - but they could be.

Butterfly friendly plant. Photo © by Debi Lander.

I suspect it's the timing thing again. As travelers who gravitate away from crowds,  the dead of summer with whooping and squealing family reunions around every corner and area residents looking to cool off or entertain the kids is not the best time for us to contemplate the beauty of nature in blissful isolation and silence.
Photo © by Debi Lander.

If you like frolicking with the multitudes, you are going to love summer at Callaway Gardens. And if this is what it takes to ensure the continued existence of the plum leaf azalea, one of the reasons Cason and Virginia Hand Callaway bought the land in the first place and its symbol, so be it.


You never know where a butterfly will land. Photos © by Judy Wells.




Plum leaf azalea, the Callaway Gardens symbol. Photo © by Debi Lander.

From Raw to Awe

After generations of farming had left much of its soil eroded and sterile, the southernmost foothills of the Appalachian Mountains needed some TLC, which succeeding generations of Callaways have applied. From the summer of 1928, when Textile magnate Cason Callaway and wife Virginia picnicked with friends at a clear spring, Cason began buying land in the area, including the spring which he named Blue Springs. When brother Fuller married Virginia's sister, the couples built homes there and the weekend retreat became a home.

When Fuller took over management of the mills, Cason turned to reclaiming his 2,500 acres by developing better farming techniques. Not surprisingly, he excelled, becoming one of Georgia's leading agricultural experts. After a heart attack in 1947 at age 53, he turned to something the less stressful, gardening. To keep it so, he divided land among family members and a foundation named for his mother. Since his death in 1961, wife Virginia and a succession of Callaways have continued sculpting and developing what we now know as Callaway Gardens.
Virginia Callaway. Photo © by Debi Lander.

Education is still a policy and the variety and number of seminars held at the gardens attracts hobbyists year-round.

Blue Morpho butterfly. Photo courtesy Callaway Gardens.
Something is always blooming at Callaway, but the gardens are a riot of color in the spring, late March to early April, during azalea season. Only one color will be flitting around the Butterfly Center in September when the Blue Morpho butterflies hatch. According to a Callaway spokesperson, they corner the market on morphos. "Every one in the world we can find and buy."

Generations of Georgians have spent weeks there annually; summer family rates - two adults, two children - start at $99 a night. Accommodations are pretty basic. The Inn is a thinly disguised former Holiday Inn and a cabin's amenities and decor depends on the owner. Wherever they stay, overnight guests have unlimited access to the gardens, beach and Aqua Island and all of the other activities. That makes it a real bargain considering gardens admission alone is $18 per adult, $15 senior and $9 children ages 6-12 (AARP and AAA members also get discounts).

The crowds of summer may not have been our cup of tea, but they might be your root beer float.

Plum leaf azaleas grow only in this area. Photo © by Judy Wells.

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