Bentonville has certainly been getting publicity, and rightfully so. This fast-growing community in northwest Arkansas has a rich arts scene, vibrant downtown and historic neighborhoods, plus an abundance of restaurants, parks and trails. And if you are a garden lover or just need to get out of a hotel for a bit, you have many free gardens to discover in Bentonville, Arkansas. In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will tempt you with images of the gardens that await you.
Let’s start with Bentonville’s downtown square (actually, I would start with a coffee, which is easy to find in Bentonville). The square itself is a garden, and two public gardens rich in native plants are a short, delightful walk north.
1. Compton Gardens and Arboretum
Compton Gardens and Arboretum cover six acres and is a short walk north of downtown Bentonville. The main building was the home of Dr. Neil Compton, an obstetrician, photographer, and author, and now houses an exhibit room that explains his many contributions.
Dr. Compton was key in organizing the protection of the Buffalo River from the construction of dams in the 1960s. He served as president of the Ozark Society to Save the Buffalo River for 12 years. Thanks to dedicated volunteers, the Buffalo River of Arkansas became the first designated “National River” in the National Park System in 1972.
Dr. Compton was also interested in native plants. His property houses many state champion trees and native species of trees, shrubs and perennials. The majestic trees are inspiring – just look at the White Oak trunk I am standing beside!
This garden manages to be both calming and an active community hub at the same time. The garden stays open from sunup to sundown.
Walk the path north another five minutes, and you will reach Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Although there is a main entrance to this museum, there are also many foot or bike paths into the property. Each one offers different views of the stunning setting and architecture.
2. Bentonville Square
The Bentonville town square has the historic county courthouse commanding one side and historic storefronts completing the square. Part of that houses the Wal-Mart Museum, in the same building where Sam Walton ran a store in the 1950s. It was 1962 when the first Wal-Mart Discount City opened in nearby Rogers, basically the same time and place my family arrived in Northwest Arkansas. We spent many allowances in that first Wal-Mart.
Today the square is a shady spot that softens the square and houses the Saturday farmers’ market and the town’s Christmas tree. What surprised me were the many interesting plants in the courtyard – ‘Tiger Eye’ Sumac and many unique conifers, native plants, and more. What delighted me was the number of benches and conversations happening in the park.
Downtown Bentonville would be a great place for residents to take out-of-town guests for lunch, especially if they bring older children. Then the group can break into the shopping/ sitting/ grab a coffee and walk on to Crystal Bridges Museum to meet up later interest groups, and everyone is happy.
While you are in Bentonville, check out these impressive coffee shops.
3. Peel Mansion & Botanical Garden
Colonel Samuel West Peel, the first native Arkansan elected to the United States Congress, had this house built from local bricks in the 1870s, shortly after the Civil War. This home represents this family’s life in the late 1800s and is well worth taking the free tour.
One of the Peels’ nine children was married in the parlor in 1891. One hundred years later, the newly formed Peel House Foundation acquired the house after a few owners lived there and created the house museum through restoration and furnishings (some loaned from other museums). My wedding was under a huge tree in the Peel garden a few years later.
The entry and gift shop are in an Antebellum log cabin moved from another part of the county. It gives a glimpse of life from another time and social status in the area. The gift shop is filled with history, décor, and locally made items and food products. It is a few steps from the parking area, convenient to drop in and pick up unique gifts.
The gardens are laid out to be continuous discovery and delight. My last visit was in the summer. I went from a vibrant riot of blooms covered with butterflies and bees to the shade of a majestic tree to a bench looking at the front porch to a secluded garden with a fountain, grapevines and fruit trees, to herb and vegetable gardens.
This garden is surrounded by a Walmart Supercenter, a busy street and Walmart HQ offices (hey, this is Bentonville). There are moments when the juxtaposition is poignant and moments when the outside world disappears.
4. Crystal Bridges
Yes, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a fantastic museum housed in dynamic architecture. Do not miss the opportunity to view the galleries or enjoy a meal in their superb restaurant – it is one of my favorite places to meet up with a friend.
Crystal Bridges is on 120 acres typical of the Ozark landscape. It is enriched by trails, impressive native plantings, pedestrian bridges, and outdoor art.
On the Crystal Bridges property is a Frank Lloyd Wright house, which does require purchased tickets, which are best purchased in advance to ensure admission. They recently moved this house from Pennsylvania, but it looks like it has been in place for years.
The Tulip Tree Shelter is also on the property, which was initially created as a scale model to study the structural engineering of the museum’s architecture.
One of my favorite hidden spots is Quartz Crystals—a grotto created by boulders covered in natural quartz crystals excavated from west-central Arkansas. I love crystals, but I did not know stones made up of hundreds of them even existed. Arkansas has some of the largest and most transparent quartz crystals in the world. Cool.
5. Garden City Nursery
Garden City Nursery, family-owned and locally operated, has been a part of Bentonville for almost fifty years. Decades ago, they created a beautiful garden next to their business and are delighted to have customers explore it. I always ask first – it’s a Southern thing.
Walk past the fenced pond and you will see a white arbor that leads you into a nice escape, with many blooming plants and benches to sit.
Of course, you will want to spend time in the garden center filled with many plants, bonsai, sculptures, tools, supplies, and gifts. Certainly, a purchase would be the polite thing to do when visiting their garden. Yeah, I know, that’s justification for what we would do anyway.
This article was written by Connie Cottingham of Love Notes From the Garden.
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