Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden a gem in Richmond, Va.
Two mockingbirds can be seen (and heard) chasing each other through the amber leaves of a maple tree at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Va.
The foliage is just beginning to turn, and the garden beds once thriving with annuals are being transitioned for fall. Pansies are in place and bulbs are being sunk into the cool earth where they will wait patiently to put on their spring show.
The property spans 80 acres, with 50 filled with stunning gardens. Beth Monroe is public relations and marketing director at the garden and has picked up lots of savvy gardening info over the past 20 years here. Walking through the garden, she points out hellebores in the Four Seasons Garden and a beautiful mahogany, maroon and white orchid called 'Sharry Baby' which exudes a rich chocolate aroma that fills the Victorian styled conservatory. With just a hint of Southern twang, Monroe talks about the garden she's been part of for two decades.
Around the next curve
"It's really designed with intimate garden spaces. There're garden rooms that invite you to walk out into the garden, to wander and explore," she says sitting in the shade outside the welcome center.
"You're invited to see what's around the next curve," she adds. "We want people to be surprised and find a place where they can relax and connect with nature."
The sound of running water drifts into the Healing and Meditation Garden from the Fountain Garden. The Meditation Garden is a place for reflection, but is also filled with medicinal plants. Fiery hot yellow peppers are barely hanging on to their stems as the season fades.
The Children's Garden is one of Monroe's favorite places as it's for kids of all ages. A 13-foot treehouse is wheelchair accessible and overlooks much of the garden and Sydnor Lake.
In the Asian Valley, fat bluegills follow visitors around a garden pond hoping for a handout as they cruise under a thread leaf Japanese Maple. The winding trails through the garden are serene, and the trees are beautifully reflected in the pond.
There's one place that doesn't require admission to eat along with the garden shop. Visiting The Robins Tea House requires admission to the garden.
The Kroger Community Kitchen Garden and Beehives grows fresh produce which is donated to the local food bank. There are peas sprouting and lettuce growing as well as cole crops mulched with a thick layer of straw, which all should continue well into winter. Two of the staff wearing white veils tend to the bees, carefully inspecting the hives.
"We're really emphasizing the importance of pollinators," Monroe says. "The importance of native plants and showing people good practices that they can use in their own yard."
There are other programs that reach out past the gates of the garden into local neighborhoods, too.
"We train Ginter Urban Gardeners to help that community where they live to be able to build sustainable gardens and greenspaces," she adds.
The Louise Cochrane Rose Garden is still pumping out blooms. There are more than 1,500 plants, many of them fragrant, filling the air with a mixture of sweet fragrances blending together in the fall breeze. The days are getting shorter, but this Zone 7 garden still looks great and when fall gives way to winter, it's much milder than what the north deals with.
"The longer that I've worked here and learned about gardening, the more I've come to appreciate the winter months," she says. "This garden was designed with all four seasons in mind."
This year's theme for the Dominion Energy GardenFest of Light is Bringing Art to Light, which is a winter tradition now for the garden that offers a nighttime presentation of a million lights. Famous works of art will be recreated throughout the show. The event runs from Nov. 23 through Jan. 7, 2019. (and closed on Dec. 24 and 25).
This is a relatively young garden, officially opened in 1984, but with a rich history. The land was originally a Powhatan Indian hunting ground and was once owned by Patrick Henry. Lewis Ginter though bought nine acres in 1895 and turned it into the Lakeside Wheel Club, a destination for Richmond bicyclists. He died two years later. In 1911, his niece Grace Arents bought the abandoned club. It was first converted into a convalescent home for sick children. When it was no longer needed for that purpose, she moved in with her friend Mary Garland Smith, calling the property Bloemendaal, and created gardens on the property. Bloemendaal means "valley of flowers."
When Arents died in 1926, she willed life rights to Smith and stipulated after Smith's death that the city of Richmond was to develop the property as a botanical garden honoring Lewis Ginter. Smith passed away in 1968, and the city took over the property. Eventually, after a court battle, a nonprofit corporation was formed to build the garden.
By leaving many of the existing plants in the landscape, this garden betrays its age, looking much older than 30-something.
"We are very thoughtful and intentional in what we do," Monroe says. "We always try to give people something that's new, something that's different. Our mission is to connect people through plants to improve communities."