A more manageable, mini-version of Asheville, North Carolina’s sprawling Biltmore Estate, Barnsley Gardens Resort sits on a relatively modest 3,300 acres in Adairsville, Georgia. Like Biltmore, it has its own historical patriarch, its own gardens, and a tranquil, rustic setting in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that makes it an ideal weekend getaway for residents of Georgia and Tennessee, or a longer jaunt for those looking for a peaceful Southern idyll.
The Barnsley Gardens Resort is centered around the 19th century ruins of Englishman Godfrey Barnsley’s Italianite estate Woodlands, whose grounds were designed by landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing. The ruins of Woodlands are a poetic backdrop for events and weddings, flanked by a 300-year-old Chinese elm imported by Barnsley from China and a majestic cascade of roses that spill over the exterior wall of the estate.
Guests at Barnsley stay in cozy houses divided into duplexes that line the village green spaces. Cottage guest quarters feature two large bathrooms, bedroom and living room, a working fireplace and allow for a very pet-friendly policy. The resort encourages walking and lounging, with Adirondack chairs placed throughout the village green. On-site restaurants are also walkable, like the Rice House Restaurant — whose skilled chef focuses on seasonal fare including a superb pumpkin risotto — with its cozy stone fireplace and comfortable dining room and the Woodlands Grill just a short walk away.
The garden itself is presided over by Barnsley’s resident gardener Sandy Sanders — orchestrating a gardening staff of just six — who had an inspiring late in life transformation from a mill worker laid off from her job and went back to school to study horticulture. She is now the director of all of Barnsley Garden’s programs including the historic parterre created by Godfrey Barnsley as a tribute to his Savannah-born wife Julia.
The parterre — with its clipped, formal boxwoods — is a stunning illustration of why Barnsley Gardens Resort doesn’t have to be in full bloom in order for guests to appreciate the peaceful setting. A variety of sporting opportunities including clay shooting, on-site golf course, over 10 miles of hiking trails and horseback riding mean even fall and winter offer engrossing activities.
SANDY SANDERS’ GROWING TIPS
Part of maintaining a destination garden is keeping it accessible, and also beautiful, year-round. Sanders has some great tips for keeping your garden lovely throughout the seasons.
- When designing a garden space or playground for children, get down on their level. Understand that they will play, hide and otherwise interact with the landscaping in a way adults won’t, so keep scratchy, pointy, poisonous plants, flowers and shrubs away. Observing how much children love to climb, Sanders included several large boulders at the children’s playground for Barnsley’s littlest visitors to scramble across. Integrate this idea into your own garden.
- Plant ornamental kale and cabbage right now for a dose of color in the winter landscape. “The colder it gets, the brighter the colors,” says Sanders.
- Don’t overlook winter interest. Yes, hydrangeas this year are nothing but sepia balls, but can still make beautiful winter interest either in your garden, or in a lovely fall/winter flower arrangement. American winterberry is another great source of graphic seasonal interest.
- If you can get a palm tree through the first winter, you’ve got it made says Sanders, who has had good luck with sago palms even in the cold-ish Georgia winters.
- If you know you are going to have to dig up and overwinter some of your more fragile plants in a greenhouse or indoors, bury the whole pot into the ground to make the transition from ground to shelter easier.