For years, Patsy Kuipers drove by the sign for the Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw and wondered what was at the end of the one-lane driveway.
“Like a lot of people who come here, I said, ‘I didn’t know this was here!’ when I came in,” said Kuipers. “It’s a hidden gem.”
When Kuipers lost her corporate job two years ago, she went back to horticultural school, and last year, she interned at the gardens off Pine Mountain Road. She is now a volunteer, answering questions about the more than 3,000 species of trees and plants that abound on the property. Docents also answer queries about the history of the property that dates back to the early 1800s, when it was part of 4,000 acres of farmland. In the 1880s, a one-story brick home was built, and that structure, along with the 16 acres around it, attracted accountant Richard Smith and Robert Gilbert, a periodontist, who purchased it in 1970.
Doug Davis, who became the gardens’ executive director four years ago, knew the owners.
“I was a landscape contractor for 33 years, and Richard was my accountant,” said Davis. “Robert had a great interest in horticulture. They had the foresight to put plants where they knew they’d grow and sculptures where they’d fit in. I got to watch this property evolve.”
In 2004, the property was sold to the city, which opened it to the public in 2009. The site is still a work in progress, with new areas and attractions being added. But there is plenty to enjoy, including a children’s area, a bonsai collection, sculptures, a wildlife sanctuary, an apiary and a picnic area. The rose and conifer gardens have been hailed by national plant organizations for their excellence. Throughout the property are benches and lawns where visitors can kick back and enjoy the bucolic setting. It’s also become a popular spot for events and weddings.
A large part of the gardens’ mission is education. Classes for adults and children are offered on a range of topics, including beekeeping, tai chi and oil painting. Plans are currently underway to offer classes on vegetable gardens that will include a 4-by-4-foot plot, seeds, materials and instructions on how to grow edible goodies.
“We started out to do it just for kids, but we’ve had so many adults who wanted to come we decided to expand,” said Davis.
About 150 volunteers pitch in to keep the grounds and sculptures in shape. Work is underway to reclaim an old mill and creek on the grounds. Much of the work is funded by the Smith-Gilbert Foundation, which will host its annual Rose Garden Gala on April 27. Davis hopes the event will bring in about $60,000 that will go toward improvements.
“In a lot of ways, these gardens have been intact for years,” he said. “Little’s been changed because we’re challenged by our limited facilities. Last year was the first time we counted, and we had 6,000 visitors, and we’ll exceed that this year. So we have big plans to make things better, like turning the house into a visitors’ center and adding more parking.”
Each Saturday, we shine a spotlight on a local neighborhood, city or community. To suggest a place for us to visit, e-mail H.M. Cauley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 404-514-6162.
2382 Pine Mountain Road, Kennesaw
Hours: 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sundays.
Admission: $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and active military, $5 for children 6 to 12.
Rose Garden Gala
6 to 10 p.m. April 27
Information: www.smithgilbertgardens.com; 770-919-0248.