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Exploring Garvan Woodland Gardens : On the Hunt for the First Bloom; Daffodil Days & Tulip Extravaganza | Hot Springs National Park Arkansas

Exploring Garvan Woodland Gardens : On the Hunt for the First Bloom; Daffodil Days & Tulip Extravaganza

An outing to Garvan Woodland Gardens, the 210-acre botanical garden in Hot Springs, Arkansas, helps our family mark the transition into spring each year.

We coordinate our visit with the annual Daffodil Days & Tulip Extravaganza. I’m half Dutch and tulips are my favorite flower, and the event—declared the biggest display of color between Dallas and Memphis—never disappoints. Over 250,000 daffodil bulbs of more than 260 varieties fill meadows and forest clearings along with 135,000 tulips of every type and color. Crocuses, hyacinths, dogwood, redbud and red buckeye add to the majestic beauty.

Last year’s trip had a different feel. My husband, Casey, and I took our son, Case, the week after the global pandemic led to the discontinuation of in-person learning in Arkansas public schools. It was spring break, and COVID-19 did not leave us with many options for adventure. The gardens provided a safe afternoon respite from the quickly-changing world.

Almost a year later—a period filled with cancelled plans, extended time at home and a strange new school year that was interrupted by a historic snow—we decided to return to Garvan Gardens and experience a different aspect of Tulip Extravaganza: looking for the first bloom. We had been to the festival in its peak and at its end. What does it look like at the beginning? If we could find the first bloom, what color would it be? I put my money on pink. Casey chose red, and Case selected yellow.

Daffodil Days & Tulip Extravaganza is highly dependent on the weather, and the ice and snow wreaked havoc on its original schedule of February 15 through April 15. We were there the last weekend in February, and no one was able to cash in on the family color bet since we did not see any tulip blossoms. But we did witness a marvel that moved me: thousands of green shoots pushing up through the soil. Burgeoning stalks were arranged in concentric patterns and strewn about under the canopy of the garden. After a year that has held difficulties for everyone, these emerging first sprouts of spring provided an almost spiritual experience of hope. The new growth reminded me of the words of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

And even without witnessing the sea of color, Garvan Gardens offered a myriad of serene sights. The artfully crafted iron and stone work that is incorporated impecably in the natural beauty greeted us at the front gate and throughout the grounds in many stunning bridges and architectural features. We had an audience with George, Ellie, and Sabrina, the regal peacocks who call the garden home. We took in the expansive views of 4 ½ miles of wooded shoreline of Lake Hamilton, which is a unique feature: Garvan Woodland Gardens is one of the few public woodland gardens nationwide, and it is the only one surrounded by water. The peaceful sounds of water flowing accompanied us in many corners of the gardens. We visited the bonsai garden, and we spent a lot of time at Case’s favorite feature: the whimsical treehouse in the children’s adventure garden.

As the circle of vaccine availability expands and spring is on the horizon, Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas helped me recognize the rebirth and renewal surrounding us. And I’m planning an additional visit for us to see those blooms.

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period –
When March is scarcely here

-Emily Dickinson

Sara Dacus was born and raised in Searcy, Arkansas, where she still lives with her husband Casey, their son Case and their puppy, Bode. She is an eighth grade English teacher and freelance writer who enjoys horse racing, reading and solving the New York Times crossword.

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