A quiet oasis in the middle of a bustling city, Airlie Gardens is a historical treasure in coastal North Carolina. One of the most beautiful places in Wilmington; it is a great way to spend a leisurely morning or afternoon. Located on Bradley Creek, this 67-acre garden is full of native plants, numerous gardens, a bottle house sculpture, a chapel, a butterfly house, the historic century old Airlie Oak and hosts many great events.
In 1886, affluent couple Pembroke Jones and his wife Sarah bought a 150-acre piece of land in Wilmington. The Joneses named their estate “Airlie,” after the ancestral Scottish home of the family.
Socialite, Sarah Jones, began planting the property and in 1906 hired German landscape architect Rudolf Topel to transform her land into formal gardens. At the height of the garden in the 1920s, over half a million azaleas and 5,000 camellias were planted on the property, where the Joneses hosted elaborate parties. The wealthy couple frequently entertained friends on the expansive estate and were known for their extravagant entertaining. They used Airlie as a way to accommodate their parties and treat their guests.
The Airlie property was bought by the Corbett family in 1948. The Corbetts allowed the gardens to be viewed by the public and it was an attraction for many years. The gardens were sold to New Hanover County in 1999 at a cost of $10.5 million. The lands have since been restored and preserved and the County now opens the property year round as a public park.
- Over 100,000 azaleas, a sculpture garden, tranquility garden, spring garden, pergola garden, and camellia garden.
- A magnificent 462-year-old Airlie Oak, one of the largest trees of its kind in the Carolinas
- A self-guided .9 mile walking tour; or a tram service for those who would prefer transportation
- The Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel, constructed with over 4,000 recycled glass bottles, metal sculptures and mosaics. Dedicated to the popular African American folk artist who served as Airlie’s gatekeeper when it was a private estate.
- The Butterfly House, a 2,700-square foot open-air structure where hundreds of butterflies can be found flying about inside.
- The Tranquility Garden surrounded by private spaces and areas for reflection.
- The Pergola Garden built of coquina and surrounded by seasonally changing flowers.
- The Camellia Garden, a vast collection of antique camellias planted in the 1900s.
- The Spring Garden, featuring spring flowering bulbs, colorful azaleas, towering oaks and a fountain.
- Mount Lebanon Chapel built in 1835 by Dr. Thomas Henry Wright.
- Bradley Creek and Airlie Lake, featuring a tidal creek ecosystem on one side, and a freshwater lake on the other.
The staff at Airlie Gardens offers cultural and environmental education year-round in this natural learning space. Airlie’s Environmental Education Program provides learning opportunities for both youth and adults. The garden’s website explains that the program “teaches concepts in horticulture, wildlife, soil stewardship, water quality, sustainable development, citizen science, history and more. Education offerings are diverse and range from curriculum correlated field trips to summer camps, from kayak tours to bird hikes.”
- Airlie Gardens Concert Series– Bring a blanket and a cooler and relax under the trees as the area’s premier musicians perform every first and third Friday, May through September from 6-8pm.
- Enchanted Airlie– Airlie’s annual holiday light show begins the Friday after Thanksgiving and runs select days until the Saturday before Christmas. Enjoy beautiful holiday flowers, festive lights, and live musical entertainment.
The Gardens are open 7 days a week during regular season hours from 9am-5pm. If you can schedule it, the best time to visit is in the spring when thousands of azaleas are in bloom.
Located at 300 Airlie Road, Wilmington, NC 28403
Admission: Adults $5, Children $3 (6-12 years)
You can contact 910-798-7700 for more info or visit their website.