Airlie Gardens is 67 acre public garden of historical significance located in Wilmington, North Carolina. Originally Airlie Gardens was included within a small part of a 640 acre plot of land granted from King George II in 1736 to the Ogden brothers. The gardens then known as ‘Seaside Park’ were purchased and worked upon by the wealthy industrialist Mrs. Sarah Green Jones and her husband in 1886. The gardens were renamed to Arlie and over the years even saw Minnie Evan,s a local artist as the gatekeeper in the 1940’s. One owner later, the Corbetts and then in 1998 the gardens were bought by New Hanover County. The gardens were designed originally as a truly Southern style garden with flowing form and natural features. To this day it is still filled with an abundance of wisterias, azaleas, camellias, oak and pine trees. The grounds house several lakes, fountains, creeks, statues and busts. Benches line the paths and the gardens are aligned with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Visitors often come to the grounds to spot butterflies and birds both of which commonly found. A tour of the gardens is 0.9 miles and combined with the 0.3 mile nature trail results in a 1.2 mile walk which lasts around an hour. The gardens charge an admission fee aside from children under four who enter for free and are open from Tuesday through to Sunday.

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Exhibits and attractions

Airlie Gardens is full of attractions as well as groves of trees and gardens with flowers of historical interest. The garden includes a Spring Garden where a fountain and stone pergola are placed and azaleas and seasonal bulbs have been planted and a Seasonal Garden where the areas are replanted every season such as tulips and sunflowers. Other gardens are the Camellia Garden which contains a grove of old oaks, a 150 ft trellis and a collection of camellias dating back many years and also the Pergola Garden featuring a 3 tiered fountain, seasonal flowers and steps that lead to Airlie lake. The Tranquility Garden features Charleston garden, the CF Garden Club, Centennial Plaza and Sam’s garden. Within this area is also the Airlie Butterfly House. The Butterfly House is a much visited feature of the gardens and is inhabited by eleven species of native butterflies. Visitors can get close to the butterflies and learn about their life cycles and habitat in a tactile environment.

A popular attraction which is the focal point of many events and visits is the ancient Airlie Oak. The tree is believed to date all the way back to 1545 and is the largest in the Carolinas of its kind. Nestled near the Season Garden is the Seaside Park Motel, a model house representing Airlie House before and after its renovation. The model is of particular interest of visitors who are interested in the history of the local area. The grounds also includes Bradley Creek Pier, a pier which is used privately for kayak eco tours and educational programs. Bradley Creek Overlook is a viewing platform where visitors can observe both a freshwater lake to one side and a tidal creek ecosystem on the other.

An unusual attraction is the Bottle Chapel (The Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden). Composed of more than 2,800 bottles plus mosaics and sculptures created by local artists in the garden. The garden is devoted to the artist and previous gatekeeper Minnie. Further attractions are the Mystery Grave where “John Hill” allegedly the marshal of Napoleon is buried and the Lebanon Chapel which dates back to 1835 and is still used on occasion by St. James Episcopal Church in Downtown Wilmington.

The lobby of the Garden Services Center sees historical photos and timeline of the gardens with the center also housing the gift shop, Bug Zoo classroom and other amenities.

Ongoing programs

Airlie Gardens hosts regular environmental and cultural programs within its grounds. The Airlie Gardens Concert Series runs from May to October and sees musicians perform in the area of the Airlie Oak Tree. October means the Lowcountry Oyster Roast event and Airlie’s holiday light show and festive flower display named ‘Enchanted Airlie’ begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving and continues on specific days until Christmas. The gardens often host yoga sessions within the grounds for beginners to advanced level individuals.

On the third Thursday of each month Airlie’s education staff set up interactive activities and displays according to the season. On the second Wednesday of each Month Airlie Gardens hosts Bird Hikes where attendees can watch out for hundreds of species of bird due to the gardens positioning as included in the North Carolina Birding Trail.

Back to: Things to Do in Wilmington, North Carolina

300 I Rd, Wilmington, NC 28403, Phone: 910-798-7700