Native Son: Between the Whataburgers…

I didn’t mean to cause a minor incident at the TSA checkpoint. Honestly, I didn’t. I had made a wild assumption that I was not the first guy who has tried to board an airplane at 5AM with three double-meat Whataburgers stashed in his carry-on bag. Fortunately, “the triplets” & I were assessed to present no threat to national security, so we proceed down the jetway. Three hours later, my son and I are sitting in his car, munching those burgers at a parking lot in Atlanta.

Still hungry for some horticulture, we head for the Atlanta Botanical Garden. (I visited the ABG once upon a time, in 1994, as a part of my thesis study trip. Time and development have taken a heavy toll on my memory, as little seems familiar to me as we approach the entrance.) Entering the garden proper, we immediately encounter a fork in the pathway, and opt for the woodland walk first. Trees almost bare, perennials withered, winter annuals still small—and the garden is gorgeous. Berry-laden hollies and lustrous camellias in full bloom kiss the pathway here and there, as if to remind visitors that everything has its season.

The woodlands feature the 600-foot Canopy Walk, huge specimens of camellias, and interesting art. All photos by Steven Chamblee.


Interesting art

Just ahead, a massive, suspended walkway leaps off the steep slope and gently winds its way down through a thick forest of tulip poplar, hickory, and oak—how did they build this without destroying the trees and everything else in the process? It’s almost like something out of Harry Potter. Serpentine pathways wind their way around the garden far below, and the only people I see are small squads of volunteers raking leaves and carefully trimming back herbaceous perennials. I try to guesstimate the height of the forest canopy…somewhere between 120 and 150 feet tall? Cardinals and better-hidden songbirds fill the air with Nature’s music as a leaf here and there softly swirls down to earth.

The Wooly Santoth and the Phoenix hold court in the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Continued Below


Emerging from the forest, we walk past a life-size Wooly Santoth, a 20 foot-tall Phoenix, and a colorful dragon on our way to the one sight that is instantly familiar to me…the Fuqua Conservatory. Poinsettias and poison dart frogs cheerfully greet us in the rather formal foyer but give us no warning of what lay ahead.

The Fuqua Conservatory is a total immersion environment.

I have been to a lot of botanic gardens, but I can’t recall a more dramatic portal into another world as the door of the Fuqua Conservatory. Instant and total immersion into the most dense rainforest you could ever imagine. Complete sensory overload. For a few long seconds, I can’t even breathe. Finally, I just burst into a fit of delighted laughter. It was worth the journey here, and I am only six feet inside the door.

Inside the conservatories, a bewildering array of plants provide constant delight for your eyes. Above, orchid and pitcher plant.


Prayer plant and orchid both happily in bloom.

Curtains of aerial roots descend from everywhere through an explosion of foliage rising up from the ground. Ridiculously-huge palm leaves hang mid-air like intricate green sculptures. Shafts of sunlight pierce the scene like thin stilettos. I can almost feel the eyes of little frogs and reptiles upon me, but never actually see one. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all…not a mosquito anywhere.

Bizarre forms of orchids and begonias intrigue even seasoned horticulturists.

I wander my way through a series of conservatories, themed from wild rainforests and elegant orchid exhibitions to brilliantly-displayed collections of epiphytes and the oven-like African desert succulent collection. The place is a little like Disneyworld…consciously, I know the massive amount of skill and hard work it takes to maintain this amazing place, but there’s not a trace of the people or tools who did all of this for me. Maybe it is all magic…

Also not to be missed when in ATL! Zoo Atlanta has some great opportunities to get close to amazing animals. The Georgia Aquarium has many features, but none is more impressive than the whale shark exhibit.

Four days of Atlanta and one return flight later, I walk into the same Whataburger restaurant to get another double-meat for the drive back home. Life is good.


I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come and speak to your group sometime. I’m low maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town to small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Come out and see me at Chandor Gardens! Located in the heart of Weatherford’s Historic District, Chandor Gardens is the perfect place to get away and enjoy the simple pleasures of life that can only be found in gardens. Call 817-613-1700 or visit for details.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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