Reasons to head to North Georgia foothills ASAP

Two autumnal wonders await those willing to journey north of metro Atlanta, but time is running out to experience either.

Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Georgia—approximately 60 miles from DeKalb County—is a 300-acre public garden that is awash in color year-round but showcases bursts of fall shades during autumn.

Ball Ground is located in Cherokee County at the foothills of the North Georgia mountains and is currently putting on quite a show with it surrounding hills and mountains exhibiting brilliant fall hues.

However, within weeks Gibbs Gardens will close until spring, and area trees that were highlighting dramatic shades of red, yellow, and orange will be bare.

Gibbs Gardens began as a 300-acre private family estate, but today is a public garden. Photos by Gale Horton Gay

Recently I combined a visit to Gibbs Gardens with an afternoon of leaf peeping and wine sampling at one of the area’s many wineries, Fainting Goat Vineyard and Winery. It was the perfect way to enjoy and appreciate a sunny fall day.

Leaves are still on the trees at Gibbs Gardens, but many are falling fast creating a constant shower of color as one walks along the meandering paths.

While it’s too late in the season to view the 500-plus crepe myrtles, 30,000 tulips and 3 acres of day lilies and hundreds of dogwoods in full bloom, there are still plenty of other trees, flowers, shrubs and art to see.

An all-season highlight at Gibbs, which features five main gardens, is the Japanese Garden that stretches over 40 acres with seven spring fed ponds and 50-plus-year-old bonsais. Another garden that’s worth exploring before Gibbs Gardens closes Dec. 3 is the 15-acre Inspiration Garden with azaleas and Knockout roses, dwarf Japanese maples, ginkgos and conifers.

The 30-acre wildflower meadow, a mix of perineal and annual pollinators, is past it’s blooming prime but was still attracting butterflies including Monarchs migrating to Mexico during my late October visit.

A few of the garden’s 1,000 hydrangeas are still in bloom. I came across several of the plant’s delicate petals in soft shades of blue in different locations on the grounds.
After leaving Gibbs, it was time for lunch and then on to taste local wines.

One of the seven terrace levels of garden surrounding the Manor House at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Georgia.

Fainting Goat Vineyard in Jasper is located 10 miles north of Ball Ground, giving visitors another opportunity to view the surrounding mountains’ vibrant color change.

For $13, Fainting Goat offers tasting flights of three selections dry and sweet wines as well as single pours of its wines and light snacks. I chose the sweet wine trio sampling muscadine, muscat canelli and blueberry wines and my husband elected to try their chardonnay, pinot gris and dry rose flight. Ending our afternoon on the winery’s outdoor wraparound deck with panaromic views of the mountains was ideal.

Explore Georgia, the official state travel website, notes in an article on vineyards and wineries that “there are dozens of award-winning, family-owned vineyards lining the back roads of North Georgia, with grapes ripe for the picking. These vineyards offer tours, wine tastings, and glasses and bottles of wine that you can purchase to sample there or take home to enjoy later.”

The Wildflower Garden is planted with zinnia and cosmos and attracts butterflies including migrating Monarchs.

It cites five award-winning vineyards:
• Wolfman Vineyard & Winery in Dahlonega
• Habersham Vineyard & Winery in Helen
• Frogtown Cellars in Dahlonega
• Tiger Mountain Vineyard in Tiger
• Three Sister Vineyard & Winery in Dahlonega

According to the American Winery Guide’s website there are 40-plus wineries in north Georgia, most within a two-hour drive of metro Atlanta.

For more information on Georgia’s wineries, go to exploregeorgia.com and search for vineyards.

Tickets to Gibbs Gardens are $10-$25 and more information can be found at gibbsgardens.com.

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