Great gardens of the South: Green spaces provide inspiring outside-the-box meeting venues

The South is in bloom. Known for its subtropical climate and lush flora, the South is home to some of the most beautiful gardens in the country. Inspiring spaces outside the box offer a breath of fresh air that take a meeting from functional to full-on fabulous, providing food for thought—and in some cases, food. With
the advent of spring and the continued desire for open-air gatherings, ConventionSouth takes you out to some of the great gardens of the South.

1 Hotel South Beach, Miami Beach, Fla.

“Nature changes the way we feel, and it changes our perspective,” says Marthica Galvis, director of marketing for 1 Hotel South Beach. The oceanfront Miami Beach property, like its sister hotels in the hip chain, takes a sustainable approach, including designs inspired by nature. This different kind of garden blends natural elements throughout an 18-story urban property. “Every element is curated with intention, and all in an effort to raise awareness,” Galvis says.

The sustainable-luxury philosophy is evident in many spaces of the hotel. The rooftop pool area, which appears on several lists of best rooftop pools in the area, features natural fabrics and reclaimed wood among the palm trees, grasses, and shrubbery.

Indoors, the natural focus continues with walls of live greenery throughout, including in the event areas. The mesmerizing 6,000-square-foot Terra Ballroom has a 20-foot green wall made of living moss. The smaller Poco Terra Ballroom also is anchored by a living green wall.

“Each space is beautifully designed but with an intention and a purpose,” Galvis says. “We’ve found that nature sparks conversations between innovators and guests as we educate and encourage them to live a more natural life and transform the world around us.”

With plant-based menus, Earth-inspired events, a farm stand in the lobby, and a children’s nature program called Seedlings, it’s no wonder the 1 Hotel chain refers to its new hotels as “sprouting.”

Audubon Park, New Orleans, La.

A calm oasis in the vibrant city of New Orleans rests a streetcar ride away from the rowdiness of Bourbon Street. Opened in 1898, Audubon Park offers several gathering locations and wide-open green spaces on 350 oak-lined acres.

Site of the 1884 World Cotton Centennial, the park features a bandstand, golf course, zoo, and a lagoon with an island housing hundreds of birds. Visitors might spot feathered friends made famous by naturalist John James Audubon, for whom the park is named. Audubon painted some of the most iconic bird images in his famous 19th-century series Birds of America while living in New Orleans.

The Tree of Life is a popular spot for engagements, weddings, and photo shoots. The massive spreading oak tree with low-hanging branches dripping with Spanish moss is estimated by some to be hundreds of years old. Legend has it the tree was planted as a bride’s wedding gift.

Near the center of the park, the Jerome S. Glazer Audubon Tea Room offers an opportunity to commune with nature and each other. The 5,000-square-foot ballroom is a gracefully curved structure with hardwood floors and double doors that open out to the 4,000-square-foot private Tea Room Garden.

“The indoor and outdoor spaces combine together to really create a beautiful venue that can be used for a variety of events, including meetings, dinners, and receptions,” says Perry Culbertson, director of special events for the nonprofit Audubon Nature Institute, which manages the venue.

A bonus: The Tea Room is attached to the Audubon Zoo. “It’s a fun opportunity for attendees to visit the zoo on their lunch break, and we can even have held-animals brought over to the garden,” Culbertson says. “It can be a fun breakout at a meeting or event.”

The Fearrington House Inn, Pittsboro, N.C.

The Fearrington House Inn also has a connection with Audubon: The New Hope Audubon Society in North Carolina certified the gardens at the Pittsboro, N.C., property as a Bird-Friendly Habitat Another thing that makes the spot special is that its gardens are practical as well as beautiful, producing herbs and vegetables for garden-to-table fare. The pastoral inn is part of Fearrington Village, an English-inspired community situated in the countryside of the North Carolina Piedmont. With more than 15 acres of manicured gardens and grounds, the property exudes luxury in the midst of a tranquil setting of rolling hills, flora, and fauna—including barnyard animals.

A dairy farm once owned by the Fearrington family, couple R.B. and Jenny Fitch later bought the property with the vision of creating a community reminiscent of the English villages they loved to visit. Today, Fearrington Village includes about 2,000 residents, the 32-room inn, a spa, several restaurants, and boutique shops.

The gardens got their start more than 40 years ago, when the Fearrington House Restaurant originally opened. Today, the grounds include approximately 60 different garden beds, all connected by green spaces and charming brick pathways. “They are all English-style gardens, and they wind all through the property,” says marketing manager Kerstin Lindgren.

In addition to the boxwood gardens typically associated with England, Fearrington includes manicured flower gardens, cutting beds for floral design, herb and vegetable gardens, pollinator gardens, lawns, and native plants. Restored farm structures dot the property, as do birdhouses, greenhouses, and water features. Honey from the onsite beehives is collected seasonally and sold in the village market and used in some of the restaurant’s dishes. Guests can enjoy the fresh honey at afternoon tea or visit another kind of garden: the Roost Beer Garden.

“It’s easy to combine the interior boardrooms and other meetings spaces with the exterior gardens to create a truly wonderful event,” Lindgren says.

The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa, Point Clear, Ala.

Nestled along the scenic Mobile Bay in Point Clear, Ala., The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa is an idyllic destination, thanks in part to its commitment to preserving the area’s natural beauty. Even as the resort grew during its 175-year history—expanding from its original 1847 two-story building with 40 rooms to a 550-acre resort with 405 rooms—a focus on the natural landscape remained.

The property’s extensive grounds feature native plants and more than 200 tagged trees, with 150 live oaks scattered throughout the Lakewood Club, which is part of the resort and includes two golf courses, tennis courts, a 20,000-square-foot spa, and dining options. The flora enhances a picturesque marina with bay breezes, sailboats, yachts, and fishing boats.

“We have a horticulturalist on staff, and she and her entire team do an amazing job,” says Kevin Hellmich, the resort’s director of sales and marketing. “From the moment you pull into the gates of the hotel, you realize just how lush and plentiful the resort is and how well manicured every detail of the property truly is.”

Another wonder of nature at the resort area occurs during a summertime full moon when a natural phenomenon called Jubilee has crab, shrimp, flounder, and eels entering the shallows of the bay, creating a bounty of sea delicacies. Every October, a kaleidoscope of monarch butterflies passes through The Grand on their annual migration to Mexico, roosting in the resort’s trees and blooms.

The resort includes 37,000-plus square feet of meeting space, some with names that reflect the natural setting, such as the Lagoon Room and the Azalea and Magnolia ballrooms. Multiple outdoor spaces include Julep Point, the magnolia-scented Lagoon Lawn encircled by azaleas, and the waterfront Grand Patio overlooking Mobile Bay and Spanish-moss-covered oak trees just a short walk from the onsite conference center. And the Chef’s Garden grows many of the foods used in the resort’s kitchens each day.

The Inn at Middleton Place, Charleston, S.C.

Situated along the Ashley River amid old pines, oak trees, and colorful terraced gardens lies the ivy-covered, minimalist architecture of The Inn at Middleton Place. The venue is part of an overall property known as Middleton Place National Historic Landmark. The 110-acre property in Charleston, S.C., includes what are touted as America’s oldest landscaped gardens, dating to 1741.

Visitors are immersed in 65 acres of manicured, sculpted formal gardens. The Parterre is the centerpiece of the grounds, with its classic marble urns and terraces that roll down to the Butterfly Lakes along the Ashley River. The Sundial Garden is home to the majestic Middleton Oak, estimated to be more than 900 years old. Four marble statues representing the seasons watch over two Secret Gardens surrounded by azaleas, dogwoods, and a Chinese fringe tree. The Inner Gardens are adorned with holly trees and include swans in the nearby Reflection Pool. Crane Pool blooms with more than 30,000 azaleas, while the Mount Garden overlooks Azalea Pond. The sunken Octagonal Garden features manicured Japanese boxwoods, oaks, and a central marble birdbath.

The property features three indoor venues: Lake House, The Pavilion, and Cypress Room. Along with the spectacular meeting spaces, the property offers a house built in 1755 that serves as a museum and the historic Stableyards where artisans practice centuries-old crafts amid peacocks, water buffalo, sheep, goats, and other working animals. For a unique tour, arrange for a private carriage ride.

Shady Villa Hotel, Salado, Texas

Situated in the heart of Texas in the village of Salado is the recently remodeled Shady Villa Hotel. While its name may have changed—at one time the property was known as the Stagecoach Inn—little else has when it comes to the hotel’s mission of hosting guests in the picturesque landscape that inspired its name. In fact, the hotel has provided a respite for travelers among its canopy of old Texas oak trees for more than 150 years.

Steeped in history, the town of about 3,000 and the Shady Villa are said to have hosted Texas hero Sam Houston and Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The Chisholm Trail also ran through Salado in the mid-19th-century, providing a route to drive cattle from Texas to Kansas.

The hotel property features a variety of meeting spaces, including five indoors, but the outdoor spaces with more than 61 plant varieties are what make it remarkable. The lushly landscaped pool is adjacent to an open-air pavilion and bar. The Heritage Oak Field offers abundant shade from the Texas heat. And Bent Tree Alcove has a unique history: The Tonkawa Native Americans once used natural markers on the land as a trail to the fresh drinking water of the Salado Creek. There’s even a pasture on the property.

“Luscious greenery and native Texas plants make for a no-fuss, beautiful backdrop to any event,” says Jayme Neider, sales and events manager for the hotel. “Outdoors you’ll have all the comforts of a conference room, minus the stuffy feel, with Wi-Fi access and an [audiovisual] setup.”

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and the Shady Villa Hotel offers space to spread out. “Having 10 acres creates an extra level of comfort for guests that might not have had the consideration for space pre-pandemic,”

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