Situated on the shoreline of Lake Hamilton is the beautiful Garvan Woodland Gardens. It is a beautiful 210-acre botanical garden that is also a department of the School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas that encompasses four and a half miles of the shoreline of the lake. It operates as a non-profit organization wherein its mission is for it to be “a resource for people desiring to improve their aesthetic, cultural, and scientific knowledge of plants, gardening, architecture, and landscape architecture, within a woodland environment.”
Malvern businessman Arthur Cook purchased the land in the 1920s in order to harvest the timber to provide timber for his mill. The company, Wisconsin-Arkansas Lumber, manufactured hardwood flooring. The land was transformed into a large peninsula when Arkansas Power & Light (AP&L, now Entergy) constructed Carpenter Dam that created Lake Hamilton. His wife and two daughters acquired the land, along with his other two businesses Winsconsin-Arkansas Lumber and Malvern Brick and Tile Company, when Cook tragically died in a car accident in 1934. Cook’s younger daughter, Verna Garvan, along with her husband Patrick Garvan, successfully managed Malvern Brick and Tile until she sold the business to Acme Brick in the 1970s upon her retirement.
Garvan became a self-taught gardener and conservationist and began to develop the site as a botanical garden. What first began as a hobby soon became her mission. She wanted to highlight the beauty Arkansas had to offer and made the land her personal garden. She spent numerous years planting thousands of specimens and personally selected the location of each specimen to be planted. She named her creation the Twentieth Century Gardens.
Garvan continued to plant and develop the property even after the death of her husband. However, she soon realized that the beauty of what she created needed to be seen by the public. With the help of her employee Warren Bankson, they planted several more exotic trees and shrubbery on the property and constructed several infrastructures to help realize her dream of making the project public.
The dream of Garvan to release the garden to the public soon fell through as she realized that she and Bankson were not equipped enough to realize her dream in the scale she intended. This made her decide to sign over the property to the Department of Landscape Architecture of the University of Arkansas in the hopes that they would continue to develop the property and with the condition that she manages the property until her death. And in 1993, the property became part of UA.
Garvan Woodland Gardens Today
The University of Arkansas continued to develop the garden after the death of Verna Garvan. They commissioned the services of Arkansas’ best to design and layout several new features of the garden, including the Garden of the Pine Wind, a rock and stream garden, which also featured as a Japanese garden. It was developed in March 2000. On its third year, the Garden of the Pine Wind was ranked by the Journal of Japanese Gardening as the fifteenth highest-ranking Japanese garden in the continent out of 300.
In 2000, the name of the lakefront property was officially changed from the Twentieth Century Gardens to the Garvan Woodland Gardens as a tribute to Verna Garvan and her efforts to develop the property as a botanical garden for the public. The garden, along with its other facilities, was officially made available to the public after a dedication ceremony on April 7, 2002.
The picturesque setting of the garden, along with the numerous feats of architecture known as its different facilities, will truly leave the visitor in awe of its beauty. It features several dynamic architectural structures, a surrounding display of majestic trees, streams, and floral landscapes in a natural woodland setting. It also features a vast display of domestic and exotic trees and shrubbery that will surely offer a breath-taking view of the landscape.