On holidays with family in Virginia this summer I managed to steal an afternoon of quiet and calm to explore the Norfolk Botanical Garden. Founded in 1938 it was originally designed as a garden to display azaleas which are native to North America. Under a grant 200 African-American women and 20 men cleared the site. By March 1939, 4,000 azaleas, 2,000 rhododendrons, several thousand miscellaneous shrubs and trees had been planted. In 1958 the Old Dominion Horticultural Society took over maintenance and changed the garden’s name to Norfolk Botanical Garden. Part of the gardens land was lost when Norfolk International Airport expanded and the noise of planes flying overhead makes a trip to the gardens a bit noisy. There is also a special viewing platform where anoraks can sit with a picnic looking a domestic flights land and take-off.
The grounds include numerous theme gardens including the obligatory Japanese garden. The six acres of the Virginia Native Plant Garden display in a naturalistic setting the plants that covered much of south-eastern Virginia when the first European settlers arrived: bald cypress, black gum (tupelo) which grows in swamps, longleaf pines, white cedar and oaks, this is a great garden to just wander in and there are plenty of places to sit and have a think. The only drawback was the multitude of beasties. At one point I felt a tickle on my leg and looked down to find the most enormous black ants I have ever seen making their way, no doubt, to my pants . There are of course the traditional ‘English-style’ borders and a huge rather old fashioned rose garden but there are some really interesting and useful sections too: The Bristow Butterfly garden contains two acres of flowering plants to encourage butterflies and moths and provides great planting ideas for those interested in encouraging wildlife into the garden. The Colonial Herb Garden is a recreation of an- American herb garden of the 18th and 19th centuries, hedged in box while the Fragrance Garden is a joy to behold and again great for ideas. Plants included many that will grow well in our climate including lavender, osmanthus, wintersweet and fragrant flowering bulbs.
I really cannot recommend a better way to while away an afternoon alone than visiting a botanical garden, even if you have no interest in plants you are bound to find pleasure in it. I am only sorry that I was not there in the autumn to see the fall colours.