Airlie Gardens celebrates National Public Gardens Day, starts summer exhibit

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Local artist Andy Cobb works on one of the frog sculptures that make up "Ribbit the Exhibit." Courtesy of New Hanover County.
Local artist Andy Cobb works on one of the frog sculptures that make up “Ribbit the Exhibit.” Courtesy of New Hanover County.

Airlie Gardens is opening its gates free to the public from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. on Friday, May 6 in celebration of National Public Gardens Day.

In addition to free admission to the 67-acre historic gardens, there will be book readings and signings by author Anne Russell and illustrator Alexandra Morse, both locals. According to New Hanover County spokeswoman Jessica Loeper, the two are related and are both descendants of Richard Bradley, whose summer home along Bradley Creek, called Edge Hill, became part of what is now Airlie Gardens.

The duo will be showcasing their new children’s book titled, “The Mystical Magical Amazing Fantastical Gardens of Airlie.” Book signings will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with readings at 11 a.m. and noon.

Though the gardens usually close at 5 p.m., they will be closing early Friday to prepare for the first summer concert of the season. Reggae band Signal Fire will be kicking off the annual series.

Airlie’s summer exhibit also begins this week. “Ribbit the Exhibit,” which first came to the gardens three years ago, features 25 whimsical copper frog sculptures by Wilmington artist Andy Cobb. The amphibian statues have been featured in gardens in Florida, Chicago and Denver and have come home to New Hanover County for the summer. The exhibit opens on May 5 and will run through Aug. 31.

National Public Gardens Day brings awareness and promotes education in environmental stewardship and plant and water conservation. Airlie Gardens is operated by New Hanover County and is home to walking trails, sculptures, historic structures and wildlife in addition to thousands of flowers and the 471-year-old Airlie Oak.