Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Just outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas, lies an extraordinary botanical garden. Built on a peninsula on Lake Hamilton, it has everything one expects in a garden of its size—large rose bushes, perfectly manicured tulip beds, a Japanese koi pond, an area dedicated to local flora, and so on. What sets this garden apart is that a large section is left in its natural state. As it is a “woodland garden,” much of the peninsula has been set aside as a nature preserve. It also features numerous architectural features—several beautiful bridges, a unique bell tower, a vibrant fairy village, and a strange treehouse. 

While it may seem that this area has always been dedicated to natural and artistic beauty, it was originally purchased in the 1920s by Arthur Cook for timber harvesting. It was quickly transformed into a peninsula by the damming of the Ouachita River and the creation of Lake Hamilton. When Cook died in 1934, his wife Verna took possession of both the land and his other businesses. She successfully managed her companies with her new husband, Patrick Garvan, and decided to use her tract of natural land to create a personal garden.

Even after 30 years of work, Verna realized that she alone could not build the expansive botanical garden that she envisioned. In 1985, she signed a trust agreement with the University of Arkansas, whose landscape architecture program would operate the garden in perpetuity. Verna died in 1993, and in 2000 the site was named Garvan Woodland Gardens in her honor.  

Today, the small peninsula is covered with miles of trails, exploring both manicured gardens and natural woodlands. The University of Arkansas has also built beautiful structures here, including the iconic Anthony Chapel. Known for its soaring vaulted ceiling and predominantly glass design, this architectural gem serves as a highly sought-after wedding venue. Whether you’re seeking beauty, inspiration, or simply a moment of tranquility, this botanical wonderland offers an unforgettable experience for all who visit. 

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