With one of the largest collections of rhododendrons in the Southeast, Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge is a nature-lover’s dream. In bloom from early April until mid-May, the garden’s 1,500 rhododendrons and native azaleas color the meandering trails with swaths of blossoms.
“This garden is such a treasure and we’re fortunate to be its stewards and caretakers,” said Grace Howard, executive director of the 33-acre woodlands that border Lake Chatuge. “Each year we celebrate ‘A Blooming Affair’ because of the amazing flora that’s showcased here.”
This year’s dates for “A Blooming Affair” are April 11 through May 16.
The garden was planted in 1981 with nearly 1,100 plants on land leased in perpetuity by the Tennessee Valley Authority to Towns County to create a park. The rhododendrons and azaleas were donated by Hazel and Fred Hamilton, avid collectors, and hybridizers, and were moved from their home to the gardens as a living botanical legacy.
Four years ago, a group of Towns County citizens formed a nonprofit, Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge Inc., to manage and operate the gardens. Many infrastructure projects have been completed since then, including the new Rosebay Bridge, Paris Pavilion restrooms, a shoreline trail, and Celebration Plaza. A pollinator garden has been planted and an herb bed is planned.
Volunteers also recently completed clean-up from winter storms that damaged a half-dozen white pines and more than a dozen oak trees.
In 2018, Hamilton Gardens volunteers planted 600 daffodils to honor and remember 1.5 million children who were murdered during the Holocaust. They bloom each spring as one of the first harbingers of the season.
The gardens have 1.5 miles of mulched woodland trails that wind through the property. Native plants, trees, and wildflowers populate the forest floor.
Hamilton Gardens hosts a spring plant sale that takes place on weekends from April 11 until they run out of plants. It also hosts monthly moonlight concerts from May through October. An education series on the first and third Friday of June, July, and August called “Let’s Get Growing” brings novice and seasoned gardeners to the facility.
“This is such a beautiful and peaceful place,” she said. “And when it blooms, it’s so glorious that nothing else in the world matters.”
For more information about Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge, concerts, events, and classes, visit hamiltongardens.org.