Issue Features

Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge

Apr 01

A Community Passion

Elizabeth Man

Each season brings forth its own beauty, but for Hamilton Gardens, located in Hiawassee, Georgia, it is in summer when the miraculous takes place. By mid-May everything is in bloom. From the native azaleas to the large collection of rhododendrons, colors and scents abound.

“The blossoms are what really bring the garden to life. It’s really beyond description,” said Grace Howard, president of Hamilton Gardens. When words fail for describing the garden’s beauty, the flowers have the capability to say it all. Visitors and volunteers turn their focus towards the rhododendrons as they start blooming early April through June with peak season being in mid-May. The beauty is in the staging of blooming. Different species of rhododendrons from around the world flower at different times. Spring also brings forth splashes of color and fragrances as Dogwoods, Redbuds, Hydrangeas, and a variety of wild flowers native to the Appalachian Mountains bloom.

In 1982, Fred Hamilton, an executive of the Sears Roebuck Company and resident of Towns County, and his wife, Hazel, donated their personal collection of rhododendrons and native azaleas to the county. Today, the collection the Hamilton’s began cultivating in the 1950s includes 1,500 rhododendrons with more than 400 varieties. Eventually, the Hamilton’s collection found its permanent home on a 33-acre parcel of land located at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds.

As a non-profit, volunteers are relied on to help keep the gardens alive and thriving. These aptly named “friends of the garden” spend hours cultivating plants and help to maintain the garden’s natural beauty. Master gardeners, gardening club members, and those that simply have a passion for gardening are among the volunteers who put in more than 3,000 hours between March 1 through October this past year. “We want to celebrate the beauty of the gardens, promote a positive image in the community, help provide education for the county, while creating a sense of community,” said Carol Townsend, vice president of Hamilton Gardens.

Because there is such strong community involvement, restoration efforts are underway, including infrastructure initiatives to restore a 125-foot bridge to its former glory with the help of a Home Depot volunteer team. Local college students from Young Harris College have created a new logo for the garden, while Nelson Tractor in Blairsville donated a Gator Utility vehicle. “We are really seeking to change the face of everything and reach the entire state through community involvement,” said Howard.

As event season rolls around, great changes are in store for this hidden beauty of the southeast. On April 15, Hamilton Gardens’ A Blooming Affair kicks off, bringing six weekends of events for people to experience the beauty of the rhododendrons and learn more about the stewardship programs in place.

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