Thank goodness for the big dreamer-doers – the ones who want to do something bold, and can’t be bothered about the reasons why it shouldn’t work: Something bold, for instance, like purchasing nearly 300 acres of land to live on, and spending three decades turning it into one of the country’s largest private gardens. And, calling your well bedazzled home “The Manor House.” And then, opening the whole thing up to the public (for a fee, of course – dreams are free, but reality comes with bills!).
Such is dream turned big, green, leafy reality that is Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Georgia, the home of landscaping company owner Jim Gibbs.
I got on a kick to see it after my Mom flashed me a picture of a field just bursting with daffodils. I hesitated briefly because I wasn’t sure if it was something that Hushpuppy would enjoy, but I finally decided that every adventure we have doesn’t have to be expressly for the 3 year old, and we picked a gorgeous Saturday to drive over. Then, my Mom decided on the very reasonable season’s pass, so being budget minded, I thought she ought to get her money’s worth, and we went back a week and a half later.
It is an impressive place. We were lucky on the first trip to hit it at the height of daffodils (half of Georgia had the same idea on that day) because even 10 days later, “Daffodil Hill” was far less emblazoned. But, in return, we were canopied by the most beautiful cherry blossoms on path to the Japanese Gardens, which hadn’t been nearly as spectacular before.
It would seem that the season pass really is the way to go, if you life close enough, because the show is a little different every time.
On our first day, we took the tram ($5 for a day pass) to see the daffodils, then came back down and explored the Japanese Garden, which they advertise as the largest in the United States. On the second outing – a pretty big day – we took another look at the daffodils, then walked the trail down for lunch at the cafe (get the chicken salad sandwich), hiked up to the “Manor House” (sorry, I have to put that in quotes – I can’t say “Manor House” seriously), and then came down for one more look around the Japanese Gardens.
The whole place is just lush, with something to look at around every turn. I like that you’re still immersed in a good bit of the natural forest, and a creek with a few installed waterfalls dots the landscape. There’s enough variety that you never get fatigue over one type of flower or style of garden. A large crew of volunteers are gushingly friendly (this is the South, y’all) and know a lot about the plants.
As for Hushpuppy, well it wasn’t a day at Disney for her, but I think she enjoyed herself, especially running on the trails and taking the trams. Her favorite were the “grandchildren” sculptures, based on Gibbs’ grandchildren, and really sweet for children.
I’d call the place “child-welcoming,” but not specifically catered to children. The volunteers all made Hushpuppy feel welcome, asking her if she liked flowers or making little jokes with her. However, I’d advise parents that the paths are not paved, and while I did see people with strollers, I’d want a sturdy one – you won’t get far on the gravel with a cheapie umbrella stroller. Kids will also need good supervision, especially around the ponds and creek, as well as the sculptures in the Japanese Garden.
If that all sounds manageable, then my recommendation is, by all means, make a day of it. Or, two days, like us. It’s a verdant dream come to life.
If you go…
Gibbs Gardens – Website
1987 Gibbs Drive, Ball Ground, Georgia
Regular adult ticket: $20
Children under 6 are free
Optional tram ticket: $5
No outside food or drink (aside from water) allowed.
The cafe serves sandwiches, salads, drinks, and snacks.