Imagine wandering freely through acres of gardens, plant displays, and botanical beauty. Picture yourself seated on a comfortable bench in a quiet corner with the one you love, talking and sharing, deliberately unhurried.

JC Raulston Arboretum has become one of our favorite destinations. We prefer morning visits, and since we pass a Caribou, I treat Shawn to a cup of her favorite concoction. After winding through the usual fairgrounds traffic, we park along the comparatively quiet Beryl Road near the entrance to the Arboretum.

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This ancient Crepe Myrtle is a have-to-see. Those roots are amazing, and when I sit on the adjacent bench for contemplation, I’m reminded that a lasting marriage requires deep roots. To survive and thrive we need to pay attention to the health of the relationship and invest in the best ingredients. In a garden, there are few distractions and ample opportunities to communicate with each other.

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Be alert. Serpents have been slithering in gardens since Eden.

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The lath house is an ever-changing collection of ferns, hostas, and Japanese maples seated in raised beds. The path is constructed of pea gravel sprayed with a clear polymer to keep the stones in place.

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Outside the lath house visitors can stroll through a stunning Japanese Garden. Take your time and sit a spell.

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The gardens include several water features such as a large wall fountain outside the Ruby C. McSwain Education Center. Ribbet the frog waits to greet visitors.

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Many visitors miss the full-sized pond in the back corner of the arboretum. Look for the “Bees” label on the map.

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Take some time to sit on the rocks and discover the flying insects that patrol the pond. Give the bees some space as they are hard at work pollenating all the beauty in the garden.

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JC Raulston serves as a proving ground for new cultivars of bedding plants. Only the best performers are awarded status as All-American Selections. Home gardeners can find the names of varieties they just have to plant at home. Please do not remove any part of any plant from JC Raulston. Take a picture then ask your local garden supply store for that plant.

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In addition to birds, reptiles, and insects, the Arboretum is home to another creature, Sir Walter Snarleigh. He’s a long fellow and inspecting him from head to tail will require some walking.

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Benches abound in the gardens, offering perspective to anyone taking time to relax and absorb the ambiance. Find a favorite and use it often.

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Every bend of the path draws the eye. Whether spoken aloud or thought, one question pops up, “What’s next?”

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Visit the border garden during various seasons to see the full cycle of these perennials. Seed pods are often as interesting as the blooms themselves.

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JC Raulston’s White Garden is a popular wedding venue.

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Even the restroom, tagged The Necessary, adds interest to the tour.

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I have no trouble smiling in a garden and Shawn has commented that is the backdrop for my best pictures. She’s pretty anywhere.

Oh, yes, did I mention visiting JC Raulston Arboretum is free? What a great investment in anyone’s relationship.