HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Historical Society hosted a full house of guests interested in learning the history of Hamilton Gardens, a botanical paradise tucked away beside the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. Executive Director of Hamilton Gardens, Grace Howard, offered a lively presentation of how the gardens were in the past, and what the board of nine members hope for in the future.
Howard, a fifth generation Towns Countian, began by sharing the fascinating foundation of the legacy gardens. Founded by Fred and Hazel Hamilton, the couple were collectors of native azaleas and rhododendrons, and propagators as well. “Many of the plants located in the gardens are hybrids from their work,” Hamilton Gardens’ website reads. “The traveled extensively and added to their collection whenever possible, and maintained two spectacular gardens, one in Atlanta and one in Towns County. As they got older and maintenance of the gardens became more challenging, Mr. Hamilton began searching in Towns County for a location large enough to house the plants from his gardens. The perfect spot was found on property donated by the Tennessee Valley Authority to Towns County to be used by the county as a park. The present location is what became known as Hamilton Gardens, and was planted in 1981 with an initial 1,091 plants, most of which were rhododendrons and native azaleas. His only request was to maintain the gardens in perpetuity and to keep them open to the public.”
Christened official botanical gardens by state legislature in 2000, Howard said that the gardens now boasts between 1500-1800 plants. The mission of the gardens is to “restore, preserve, and enhance” the 33 acre land.
Howard deemed Feb. 2016 historic, as the non-profit assumed the management of the hidden paradise, and began immediately reaching out to the community for involvement. Clay County Master Gardener Volunteer Association redesigned the rugged entryway, Enotah Garden Club freshened overgrown beds, and repairs on bridges, paths, and a water wheel ensued. The gardens now flourish, but Howard said that it is an ongoing project of updating and maintaining the land.
Future plans include greenhouse restoration, updating the irrigation system, building a concert stage, improving trails, and advancing plant identification efforts.
“We want to be a year-round garden,” Howard explained, describing the beauty of each season while showing photo slides. The executive director informed of upcoming events, and touched on the strategic plan that the board recently created. Sustainable funding is a major goal, Howard said, adding that she hopes that the community will join in support. “Truth be told, it belongs to all of us.”
Additional information can be found on Hamilton Gardens’ website.