Today is National Public Gardens Day, but next week, from 13-19 May, is National Public Gardens Week. For many of my readers, the Atlanta Botanical Garden may seem like the obvious choice of gardens to visit that week, but my nearest public garden actually is Smith Gilbert Gardens (SGG) in Kennesaw.
Years ago (2007-12) I worked in that garden, because it provided a space in those years for the Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) garden for which I volunteer. The PAR garden is on another property now, but SGG is still a great place to visit, especially for people whose yards are shaded by numerous tall trees and who are looking for inspiration about how to enhance those wooded areas.
Woodland plants at Smith Gilbert Gardens
Dr. Bob Gilbert, a former owner of the property, told us (volunteers in the early days) that he and his partner had planted small fruiting trees and shrubs below and around the existing trees to support the annual bird migration, especially of warblers. Each spring, when I see black-throated blues or other warblers in my backyard, I am reminded of the nearby SGG.
Some of the fruiting trees and shrubs planted for birds provide fruit that people can eat, too. Along the trails through the woods you can find hawthorn and the less common parsley-leaf hawthorn. A sparkleberry, with its tart but gritty fruits, is growing in the rock garden.
Growing in the shade are also many non-edible “spring ephemerals” – plants that die back in summer, but re-appear each spring.
Unusual dogwood species at SGG
Some of my favorite plants at SGG are the dogwoods.
Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa, makes its flowers later than our native dogwood tree, Cornus florida. Kousa dogwoods resist the disease that has been killing our native dogwoods, making it a good alternative small tree for suburban yards. Even better, the fruits are edible. Like most new foods, it takes a few tries (trust me on this one) before they are a loved-fruit, but anyone looking for a “stealth fruit” for the yard might want to try this tree.
Cornelian cherry, Cornus mas, is another unusual dogwood growing as SGG. The flowers are yellow instead of white, and the leaves tend to hang downward. This small tree is growing in full sun at SGG, but it can also grow in partial shade. Fruits of this plant are edible, and are reported to taste somewhat like tart cherries, but I have not tasted these. According to Stark Brothers nursery, two trees are needed for good pollination, to make the fruit.
Our native silky dogwood, Cornus amomum, is my other favorite dogwood at SGG. It is a shrub, not a tree. The fruits are not edible (for people), but it is great for birds, and the flowers attract many kinds of native pollinators. The specimen at SGG is along one of the woodland trails. When I saw it last week, the shrub had been heavily pruned, so it might be hard to find this year for anyone who doesn’t know where to look.
The silky dogwood in my yard is about to bloom. The flowers will be small and in clusters. When they open, the flowers will be white. The fruits, when they form, ripen to black.
Even if you are not super-fond of dogwoods
A visit to either SGG or your nearest botanical garden in National Public Gardens Week is a good idea. Each garden has its own mission and design aesthetic. Seeing how someone else chooses the plants and then places the plants with regard to their form, color, and other characteristics can spark ideas for our own gardens.
Smith Gilbert Gardens does not have special programs planned for National Public Gardens Week, that I know of, but check the website for hours of entry. If your nearest public garden is not SGG, consider visiting that nearer garden, instead.