With 313 acres of gardens, trails, and even play areas, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia are a must-see if you’re in the Athens, Georgia area. And it’s under two hours from Greenville, SC.
As a garden, flower, and plant lover, I was excited to check out the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which is part of the University of Georgia. I’ve somehow managed to convince my kids that botany is cool so they were also excited to see what was in store for us there. Turns out, there were a lot of neat things to explore here and many unexpected finds at these neat gardens in Athens, Georgia, less than two hours from the Upstate of SC.
We started at the Visitors Center, a huge glass-enclosed building with a cute gift shop and an indoor tropical garden. It was beautiful. The tropical garden has huge trees you’d find near the equator that are growing papayas and cacao (where chocolate comes from). Most of the trees and plants are labeled for you to take it as a learning opportunity!
There is also a cafe here although it wasn’t open when we went due to a lack of staff. There are plenty of places to sit inside and just enjoy the beauty before heading outdoors to explore the rest of the gardens. Be sure to pick up a map here, too. It will save you from wandering around as we did. There are nice bathrooms here as well.
The Porcelain and Decorative Arts Museum
Once we exited the Visitors Center, we headed outdoors to explore the other gardens on our way to find the Children’s Garden, which was our true aim of visiting the botanical garden.
We got completely lost and wandered into the Porcelain and Decorative Arts Museum for directions. This misdirection turned out to be the best mistake. We were warmly greeted as soon as we walked in and the nice employee started telling us the history of the building (it’s very new, only having opened in 2021) and the art we were looking at. I didn’t have the heart to ask about the Children’s Garden because she wanted us to know all the things so we listened and learned and it was fascinating!
The building houses exquisite porcelain art of animals, flowers, and birds plus an astounding collection of porcelain plates, cups, vases, pitchers, and tea sets. The entire building was designed for this collection, which was originally housed in the Days Inn Corporate headquarters. Why? Because Deen Day Sanders’ family founded the corporation and she has been an avid gardener and supporter of the arts, This was one of the ways she decided to share her love. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 am – 3:30 pm and Sunday from 12:30-3:30 pm.
There are two floors in this museum – the lower one has porcelain animals that make noises if you press the buttons plus some carved flowers and birds (bathrooms are also downstairs). Upstairs is a massive collection of porcelain plates and vases and plant and flower art. The people who work there are a wealth of knowledge and are happy to answer any questions – including where the Children’s Garden is located! I only asked after we had spent a half-hour looking at all the interesting collections there.
The Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden
After an unexpected lesson in porcelain china and where I got a map to the gardens, it was onto the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden, which we finally did find (it was very close to the Visitors Center, next to the statutes of kids wouldn’t you know it). There are two-and-a-half acres for kids to explore here and everywhere we turned, it was like discovering another world. They have misting mushrooms, a small sandpit, spinning chairs, and a rope bridge that connects to a slide which allows kids to then either choose a little cave to explore or to see what it looks like under the roots of plants. So cool.
I thought we were done at the Children’s Garden when I saw the edible garden and lots of kale, broccoli, and herbs but then my kids saw a big tunnel that looked like it went through the remains of dinosaur bones. We followed it to a hidden natural playground that is totally shaded and consists of rope hammocks, sawed-off trees for sitting, huge sticks for building, and climbing apparatuses. This place was awesome.
Visiting the Gardens
The gardens have several miles of trails through the woods as well. We saw some people getting in their morning runs, which just looked lovely. It was really hot when we went so we didn’t walk through the trails but most of them did look shaded.
There is no admission to the Botanical Garden. The gardens are open daily 8 am – 7 pm.
Need other things to do while visiting Athens, GA? We have a guide of where to stay, eat, and play in Athens to help you out.
2450 S Milledge Ave, Athens, GA