AmericanFarm.com

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens celebrates 30 years

By JANE W. GRAHAM

(October 2014) In the past 30 years, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Va., has become one of the capital city’s jewels. Known across the state, nation and globe for its excellence, the magical place continues to find new ways to teach people about botany, horticulture and the power of beauty.
The Travel channel has listed it as one of the “Best Botanical Gardens in the U.S.,” while the BBC Travel says it is a “Top 10 North American Garden Worth Travelling For.”
Displays at the garden are never static.  They are constantly changing, as Beth Monroe, director of public relations and marketing, pointed out on a breezy, sunny September morning.
Monroe talked about the gardens as she gave an interview and tour moving along the paths in the garden which opened 30 years ago and continues to grow and to attract more and more visitors to Richmond.
The mission statement for the garden is a challenging and encouraging one: “Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden enlightens and inspires its constituents through its outstanding botanical collections, horticultural displays and landscape design.  We engage our constituents with the natural world through interpretation, programs, educational resources and outreach.  We advocate for sustainability and stewardship of our planet.”
This fall, one of the projects the garden staff is working on involves removing turf and replacing one area with ornamental grass and another with a perennial bed.
The garden’s conservatory, filled with tropical plants and orchids, is the centerpiece of the developed gardens. As she walked toward the grand glass and metal building, Monroe explained the design of the garden. The atmosphere for the tour was set in the Four Seasons Garden where a walled garden in classic Arts and Crafts design provides year-round interest and view of the Conservatory far ahead.  The walls of this garden provide protection for some of the plants and offer a nice, intimate space to view other parts of the complex.  To the left, a second garden area with a bench waits for someone to come, sit and relax, read a book, say a prayer or sketch a picture of the garden.
The quality of intimate places is created, she said, by making areas that feel like rooms and places where you wonder what you will find around the next corner. 
These designs can be important to the landscaping industry, as they suggest ways such spaces can be created in both private and public gardens.  The spaces are themed and feature benches where visitors can sit, rest and drink in the beauty they find around them.  One of the areas between the Visitors Center and the Conservatory is the Healing Garden that is dedicated to showing how plants can be used in healing.  It was inspired, Monroe noted, by a garden in Padua, Italy.
Staff members and volunteers were busy in the early morning weeding out flower beds and beginning to exchange the last of summer flowers with bulbs for the spring season.
Monroe said they have to start early to get the bulbs in the ground for the next season and to be ready for the installation of the Annual Legacy in Lights Dominion GardenFest of Lights that runs from the day after Thanksgiving into early January.  It is only closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The event starts Nov. 28 with the Grand Illumination at 5:30 p.m. 
An event of interest to the professional horticulture industry is a Charles F. Gillette Forum, “Making Beauty Sustainable,” scheduled Oct. 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Oct. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. The forum will be held in the Kelly Education Center, a library in the main complex that Monroe pointed out on her tour.  The library has a collection of books, its own librarian and volunteers who are on duty when the gardens are open to help those interested in botany and horticulture on many levels.
The Gillette Forums on Land-scape Design “honor the legacy of Charles F. Gillette, a leader in the field of landscape architecture, by engaging the public and the design profession in conversation about the importance of landscape design an the value of Gillette’s ideals of elegance, superb craftsmanship and seamless blending of architecture and garden,” the gardens news letter reports. “By examining the critical processes of plant ecology and applying them to landscape and planting design, we inspire a dialogue about how to responsibly design, install, and manage the environment to mitigate and slow down climate change,” the letter states.
A delightful stop on Monroe’s tour was the ButterfliesLive, and exhibit that will be open daily through Oct. 12.  The many varieties of butterflies and moths exhibited in the building were especially active the morning of the tour, their volunteer caretaker said.  She could not explain why but the beautiful winged creatures could be seen flying through the trees and plants of their glass enclosed, environmentally controlled home.
The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is a place where a person could get lost in beauty for hours or even days.  More information is available about the many collections, educational activities and other events at www.lewisginter.org.