Natural Element

Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs Arkansas is magical all year, but especially during the holidays
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Anthony Chapel Exterior; Photos by Sarah George

When self-taught gardener Verna Cook Garvan created a private garden on her property facing Lake Hamilton outside Hot Springs, Arkansas, she chose every plant, picked the locations and designed each pathway throughout her oasis. During her lifetime, Garvan planted thousands of flowers, rare trees and shrubs, including more than 160 different azaleas. In spring, hundreds of daffodils, tulips and azaleas cover the hills with vibrant colors and year-round the garden’s water elements provide dramatic backdrops to special events.

Garvan had no heirs so she left her earthly masterpiece to the University of Arkansas’s Department of Landscape Architecture. In 2002, Garvan Woodland Gardens opened to the public.

“We’re still pretty young compared to other botanical gardens but we’re considered a real gem,” said Kristin Mangham, membership and special events director at Garvan.

Because Garvan Woodland Gardens contains forests as well as flowering plants and shrubs, it’s an ideal spot for fall foliage. But flowers are still in abundance, as well. Garvan’s trails beckon for those who desire fresh air, fall hues or holiday adventures.

Get Color
Drive the short distance from downtown Hot Springs to Garvan Woodland Gardens and enjoy the display of mums that begin blooming in mid- to late October, depending on when temperatures cool down, Mangham said. Summer annuals — such as hostas, begonias and coleus, to name a few — will bloom until the mums show up, so visitors can always expect constant color. By November, the Japanese maples turn vibrant oranges and deep reds.

“It’s beautiful all year,” Mangham said of the gardens. “But it’s super beautiful in the fall because of the Japanese maples.”

“Celebrate Fall” events for kids are Saturdays in October and November. For the holidays, Garvan hosts special “Winter Wonderland” events during daytime hours, to continue safety precautions by social distancing. Holiday workshops, concerts and reindeer parties with live reindeer are on the calendar, but be sure to call ahead for updates.

Take the Waters
Caddo and Quapaw tribes, then European settlers, came to Hot Springs for the rich mineral waters. Those waters flow throughout the Arkansas town, which is why Hot Springs National Park and the town coexist. This year, the nation’s second smallest national park, and the country’s only federally controlled hot springs managed for public health and consumptive use, celebrates its centennial.

Visitors may “take the waters” at any of the bathhouses located on Bathhouse Row, the buildings also designated a National Historic Landmark District. The bathhouses date back to the turn of the 20th century, when people flocked to Hot Springs for its allegedly healing attributes. The Quapaw Baths & Spa, for instance, offers several pools filled with the mineral waters that have taken hundreds of years to reach the surface.

Downtown Hot Springs has several hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts to choose from, with a price point for every budget. The Arlington Hotel Resort & Spa is like a trip back in time, with a thermal bathhouse that utilizes spring water the same way they did at the turn of the 20th century. New to town is Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, which opened in May, adding its hotel, spa and event center to the thoroughbred racetrack that dates to 1904.

The region surrounding the town, which includes Lake Hamilton, offers cabins, cottages, campsites and resorts. For more back-to-nature, Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa offers elegant accommodations on nearby Lake Ouachita, along with its relaxing Turtle Cove Spa.

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