I have traversed most of the roads in and around Ball Ground, Ga., have fished many of the trout streams in the area and have written about numerous things near this part of Georgia for more than 30 years. Nevertheless, it seems that I had missed the most beautiful jewel in the whole area – Gibbs Gardens!
Without my knowledge, Jim Gibbs, a well-known and successful landscaper built what has to be considered one of the most beautiful gardens in the Southeast! This fertile and extremely colorful valley and mountain is continually fed with pure water from a myriad of tiny springs. Native azaleas, dogwoods, mountain laurel and rhododendron are highlighted by millions of naturalized ferns. In the midst of all this natural beauty, Gibbs has designed and built 24 ponds, 32 bridges, 19 waterfalls and a unique English Manor House. The finished Gibbs Gardens consists of 16 gardens – including three special gardens – Manor House Gardens, Japanese and Waterlily Gardens.
The garden near the Manor House was begun in 1980 and was planted with much older plants and trees to provide instant age and character to the property. Gibbs put Japanese maples, American hollies and willow oaks close to the house which sits on one of the highest places in Cherokee County. The house itself is about 150 feet above the water gardens and 30 feet below the crest of the mountain allowing air currents to flow through the summer house.
One of the most admired sections of the immaculate setting is the Waterlily Gardens with five ponds that highlight the waterlilies’ vibrant colors. Despite these natural and colorful water flowers, visitors remember the bridge that was inspired by French artist Claude Monet’s famous Giverny Garden near Paris. The bridge is painted the same color as Monet’s Japanese Bridge and even has the identical purple and white wisteria growing above the bridge.
When asked by a writer from Atlanta Magazine about his favorite place in the gardens, Jim Gibbs replied: “That’s easy. The Japanese Garden. It has plants with texture and color, water for reflections and sound to evoke the senses and stones that are all symbolic. One symbolizes longevity. Another is supposed to make you think of vacations you took with loved ones. I go there every day to meditate because it’s a great place to let your mind go free.”
Even during the hot summer months, millions of flowers put on a show that includes annuals and perennials planted throughout the gardens which provide bursts of color, varied shapes, sizes, heights and petals. Many varieties show off their range of color, unique forms and velvet-soft petals as their flamboyant show peaks during the dog days of summer. Also, during late summer the Wildflower Meadow comes to life with displays of native grasses, goldenrods, asters and other wildflowers.
Before building this masterpiece, Gibbs traveled for many years covering the nation and the world viewing gardens of every style and decided that he wanted to design and build a world class garden near Ball Ground. He spent six years looking for a suitable site with a strong source of water and beautiful mature trees covering a rolling topography. It was truly “a dream come true” when he found the most beautiful site in the nation to construct the garden. The property is 376 acres, but the house and gardens are actually about 300 acres making it one of the nation’s largest residential estate gardens.
It took me a long time to discover this unforgettable place that was in my own backyard, but is certainly a destination everyone should have on their list! All of the staff here are very friendly and helpful, including a black snake that I found on the Manor lawn, which I petted. Check out their website: www.gibbsgardens.com.
Photos: by Bill Vanderford