Even though the temperatures are warming, the hellebores are still buried beneath the melting snow in my front yard. The only sign of botanical life are the gently unfurling tassels of the coppery-orange witch hazel outside my living room window. So it’s especially sustaining to remember my scouting trip last September to Hot Springs, Arkansas, a charming Victorian town complete with ornate bathhouses atop a system of 47 hot springs that produce thermal waters that originated from 4,000-year-old rainfall and flow out of the ground at a temperature of 147° F. and are rumored to have therapeutic powers. Smack-dab in the middle of the town is Hot Springs National Park itself—not only the oldest in our National Park System, but also the smallest. The park boasts 26 miles of walking and hiking trails and multiple public fountains where the thermal waters can be bottled and taken home.
Located on a peninsula on nearby Lake Hamilton, I was excited to hlke Garvan Woodland Gardens, Arkansas’ premier botanical garden. Originally a native pine and hardwood forest, more than 70 species of birds can be seen in the adjacent 60 acres set aside as the Hamilton Woods and Bird Sanctuary and Preserve. Everywhere I looked in this 210-acre preserve surrounded by 4 1/2 miles of lake shoreline, I could spy our native violet-fruited beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), above. Built upon the vision of Verna C. Garvan, who donated the property to the University of Arkansas School of Architecture in 1985, the gardens have grown to become a not-to-be missed botanical destination.
But the highlight of my too-short visit had to be my impeccable accommodations at Lookout Point Lakeside Inn. Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains overlooking a serene bay of Lake Hamilton, the inn—built in 2003 in the Arts and Crafts architectural style—is surrounded by pretty manicured gardens and pathways and waterfalls that lead to the lake itself, where turtles gently paddle near the water’s edge. Innkeepers Ray and Kristie Rosset have created a labyrinth for guests to explore, above. (Remember, you get lost in a maze and find yourself in a labyrinth.) While I slowly followed the twists and turns of the labyrinth, hummingbirds were busy sipping nectar from the many flowering shrubs and perennials that line the paths that crisscross this idyllic getaway. Like I said, it’s especially comforting to reflect on just such an escape at precisely this time of year.