updated 4/3/2008 6:00:26 PM ET 2008-04-03T22:00:26

For northerners, it's about time for spring gardening chores again. But before you haul your tools out of the garage, consider taking some travel time down South to see what a few of the region's big gardens are doing to welcome spring. Maybe you'll get some ideas for your own backyard planting.

Haven't been to Alabama before? The Spring Festival of Flowers at the Huntsville Botanical Garden is a good reason for a visit. The festival runs until April 30, with demonstrations, a plant sale, and a workshop and contest for photographers. There's a link to last year's photo contest winners at the bottom of the page. Go to the top of the page and click on "Garden Tour" for guides to the park's sections and a slick virtual tour, and hit "Visitor Info" for directions and fees. And if you can be there late in the month, the garden's Butterfly House and Nature Center will be opening for the season.

While you're there, the Huntsville visitor's bureau can show you around to the sights and help you find places to eat, shop and spend the night. Take a look at the "Huntsville Passport" to see if the savings coupons interest you, and then try "Virtual Tours" for a look-around. Before you move on, click on "Maps & Transportation" and the "Attractions" map; the botanical garden is southwest of the city center, before you get to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

If you're not going to any other garden spots in the Southeast on this trip, at least spend some more time in the surrounding part of Alabama. The Alabama Mountains Region has a map of the area, with suggested spots to visit and a search function where you can dig for other things to see and do, from hiking and camping to museums and antique shops.

Eager for more gardens? Drive 200 or so miles southeast of Huntsville to Pine Mountain, Ga., and the Spring Celebration at Callaway Gardens. This sprawling development boasts 20,000 azaleas along with dogwoods and other spring flowers. Click on "Gardens" for profiles of the three main garden areas, and take your walking shoes so you can try their "Nature Trails," including rhododendron, azalea and wildflower trails.

As long as you're in the area, go to the state's Georgia Travel put your cursor on "Discover" to open the menu and then click on "Presidential Pathways" for details on the travel region that includes Pine Mountain.

If you want more without leaving Georgia, head south to Thomasville and the 87th annual Rose Show & Festival, April 24-26. Thomasville also boasts antique and other shops, so click on "Downtown Directory" to see what's available.

Thinking of adding a vegetable garden? Head northeast from Thomasville to Vidalia and the Vidalia Onion Festival on the same weekend as the rose show. Check out the Vidalia Area for places to stay and more things to see and do.

A little farther to the northeast, the Festival of Flowers runs until May 18 at the Biltmore the palatial estate built by George Vanderbilt more than a century ago in the mountains of North Carolina. As a bonus to seeing the gardening display, you get to see Biltmore. And then you can explore the city of Asheville and its scenic surroundings.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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