The gardens were established in 1961 on eroded, abandoned timberland. Cleanup and trail-building took place from 1962-1963, and planting started in 1964 following an overall design by Doan Ogden, a nationally known landscape artist. At that time more than 5,000 plants were transplanted into the garden from private lands and national forests.
Although the Gardens is located on land belonging to the adjacent University of North Carolina at Asheville, the Gardens operate independently and are overseen by a Board of Directors elected from and by the general membership of the Botanical Gardens.
Today the 10-acre gardens emphasize plants native to the southern Appalachian Mountains, representing approximately 700 species of native and exotic trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, herbs, grasses, sedges, aquatic plants, ferns, mosses, and lichens.