Garvan Woodland Gardens: The Gem of Hot Springs


Kristy Alpert
Published October 14, 2016

When Verna Cook Garvan first set foot on her family’s land near Hot Springs, Arkansas, few would have guessed that the treeless landscape would become one of America’s lushest woodland gardens.

Garvan’s family had purchased the land along the shores of Lake Hamilton in the early 1920s. It was barren because it had been used for logging. Garvan immediately fell in love with the property, but it wasn’t until she inherited it from her father in 1934 that things really began to take root.

Under Garvan’s guidance, the grounds grew into an expansive oasis of soaring pine trees, more than 160 varieties of azaleas, and colorful local flora. Garvan hand-selected and placed each plant in its rightful spot in the garden until 1993, when she donated the more than 210 acres to the University of Arkansas’ Department of Landscape Architecture through the University of Arkansas Foundation.

After seven years of planning and fundraising, construction began on the gardens in 2000, and the grand opening was held on April 13, 2002. The university kept Garvan’s vision for beauty and education in mind when it decided to open the garden to the public, and today the garden offers a serene perspective on the region’s historic growth.

Home to more than 128 species of ornamental and native shrubs and wild flowers and an expansive Asian garden, the gardens can also be a venue for meeting groups and small events in five variable meeting spaces. Indoor and outdoor spaces are available.

Meeting and event spaces at Garvan Woodland Gardens are built right into the gardens, with an organic ambiance that makes them feel as though they are part of the nature that surrounds them. Impressive bridges, unique architecture and attention to detail make for a stunning backdrop for low-key yet spectacular events and meetings.

Meeting Space

Because of its numerous options, meeting in or around the gardens is a breeze. The Magnolia Room’s wall of windows look out onto the gardens and make the room ideal for organic indoor meetings and events of 120 guests or less, while the Garvan Pavilion, for up to 120 guests, and the Evans Celebration Garden, for up to 100 guests, are perfect places to meet outdoors. For ceremonies, performances and memorials, the Anthony Chapel seats 180 guests and is a favorite venue with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Lake Hamilton and the adjacent Millsap Bride’s Hall, a cozy reception area for 60 that also has a small-scale serving kitchen.


The garden’s onsite Chipmunk Cafe, operated by independent vendor Classic Creation Catering, is a concession-style dining option with outdoor seating. Its menu features fresh-made gourmet sandwiches, wraps, salads, snacks and desserts and a wide selection of beverages. All meals are made fresh to order, and groups of 10 or more can preorder boxed lunches. For other dining needs except for wedding cake and punch, planners choose from a list of preferred caterers, and alcohol is allowed if it is purchased and supplied by an insured caterer with a liquor license.

Before and After Events

Event and meeting groups are welcome to explore the gardens in their free time. The event staff offers docent-guided tours for an additional fee with reservations or groups can take self-guided tours. Educational events and concerts are held at the garden throughout the year, and there is always something fun and exciting going on in nearby Hot Springs. Guests who stay in town can hop over to historic Bathhouse Row, take a ride on the Belle Riverboat, relax and unwind at a day spa or spend the day hiking, boating, golfing or shopping.


Aside from being home to one of the most iconic wedding chapels in America, designed by architects Maurice Jennings and David McKee, Garvan Woodland Gardens also has a boat dock on the lake, which is one of the many stops along the guided golf-cart tours that roll regularly through the gardens. For guests looking to bring home a piece of the gardens, a lovely onsite gift shop is stocked with gardening books, scenic postcards and pictures of the gardens, as well as decor for all seasons and holidays.

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Location: Hot Springs, Arkansas

Type of Venue: Off-site, Garden

Capacity: 180+

Nearby Accomodations: The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa

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