Blooms, Butterflies and More: Uncovering a Western North Carolina Gem at The North Carolina Arboretum

The saying “April showers bring May flowers” is particularly true in Western North Carolina. The early spring months of March and April brought us inches of much-needed rain followed by days full of radiant sunshine – a perfect recipe for many spring plants, lawns and flowers. In May, visitors to The North Carolina Arboretum, a 434-acre public garden located just south of Asheville, will enjoy a wide variety of beautiful blooms, including native azaleas, hydrangea, viburnum, mock orange, peonies, violas, catmint, dianthus, heather and native wildflowers.

Butterflies to Bonsai

Throughout its formal gardens, the Arboretum features containers full of annuals and perennials that perfume the air and attract many pollinators, including butterflies. In an effort to raise awareness for these fluttering insects, this year, the Arboretum’s seasonal landscape exhibits contain plants and flowers that attract and support butterflies. Additionally, its signature Quilt Garden is designed in a butterfly quilt block pattern and its Forest Meadow garden contains several new butterfly-focused plantings and interpretative signage.

In addition to its outdoor plantings, the Arboretum will host a seasonal live butterfly exhibit, Winged Wonders, from May 13 through October 29. The walk-through butterfly house will showcase a variety of native butterfly species, including monarchs and swallowtails, along with their host plants. Visitors can also see the magic of metamorphosis before their very own eyes inside the exhibit’s butterfly nursery, which demonstrates the insects’ life cycle, from caterpillars to butterflies. The exhibit is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. inside the Baker Exhibit Center Greenhouse.

May 13 also brings a celebration of the spring season at the Arboretum’s annual Nature Play Day. This family-friendly event is a celebration of Western North Carolina’s wide variety of outdoor destinations and activities, and educates families about the positive physical, mental and emotional benefits of exploring and playing outdoors. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., visitors will have the chance to build their own fairy houses or gnome homes, make a mud pie and a fort, and explore various critter habitats, including salamanders and other reptiles.

Hiker and bikers enjoying the NC Arboretum

If gnome homes or insects are not your cup of tea, then perhaps tiny trees are. For the first time this year, the Arboretum’s highly popular Bonsai Exhibition Garden will reopen its full bonsai display on May 13 in conjunction with World Bonsai Day. Bonsai curator Arthur Joura will offer two half-hour guided tours at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. and educate guests on the art of bonsai, as well as provide information about specific species in the Arboretum’s collection. The Bonsai Exhibition Garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the full collection will be on display through October, weather permitting.

A Rose is a Rose

Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses, literally. On May 27 and May 28 the Asheville-Blue Ridge Rose Society will host its annual rose show. Award-winning roses will be featured and experts will be on site to answer questions and provide information about the selection, care and history of roses. In addition, a variety of beautiful, fragrant container roses will be available for purchase. The rose show is open on Saturday, May 27, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday, May 28, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. inside the Education Center.

Exploring Art, Nature and History

With more than 200 permanent art pieces on display, the Arboretum is a go-to destination to enjoy the works of many prominent local, regional and national artists. According to its mission, the focus of the Arboretum’s art program is to “honor the unique cultural and natural heritage of the region.” This can also be seen through its temporary exhibits. On display through July 9 inside the Arboretum’s Education Center, #themountainsarecalling is an art exhibit by local photographer Camilla Calnan that focuses on the unique and diverse ecosystem of Western North Carolina. On May 27, the Arboretum will open its summer art exhibit, A Spirit of Place, which features the work of Bryson City-based painter and papermaker Elizabeth Ellison. The exhibit runs through September 4 and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. inside the Baker Exhibit Center.

Butterfly Quilt Garden

Beyond the programmed events and exhibits, the Arboretum offers endless opportunities for visitors and members to get outside and simply enjoy nature. From casual walking paths to more strenuous options, the Arboretum has more than 10 miles of groomed, dog-friendly hiking and biking trails that are designed for all ages and abilities. Many trails within the property also lead to other area attractions, such as Lake Powhatan, Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

All aboard! A great outing for kids (and adults) is a visit to the Arboretum’s Rocky Cove Railroad exhibit. The G-scale (garden scale) model train runs on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. through October, and spectators can learn about the coming of trains to Western North Carolina at the turn of the 20th century, along with seeing some familiar favorites, including Thomas the Train.

Whether it’s gawking over the gardens or trekking on a trail, there are plenty of things to do at The North Carolina Arboretum this spring – it’s simply up to you on how you will enjoy this gem in Western North Carolina.

The North Carolina Arboretum is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., April through October, and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., November through March. A standard $14 per vehicle parking fee is required for non-members. For more information, please visit

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker