Now this is not my first visit to Norfolk Botanical Garden. We went there way back in 2013 in the summertime and I had every intention of blogging about it but just never got around to it. But that seemingly has worked out for the best because now I have so much more to write about (well, we will see) and so many more photos to share.
I took maybe 300 photographs and then had to delete maybe half of them because they were just too blurry to keep…..even for me. But that still leaves plenty to share……okay, I promise to keep it reasonable….reasonable for me…and it is all about me, right? Even still, I will find so much to gab about that I will probably need to do two separate blogs about the garden. This first will be about the garden itself and the second is planned to be more of a visual blog sharing the photos I took of the Lantern Asia display at the garden.
I first heard of the Norfolk Botanical Garden from Les Parks who writes a blog called A Tidewater Gardener about his experiences gardening at home in Norfolk and at his job as a professional gardener/landscaper at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. His blog was recommended to me by a great gardening friend some years ago and I have been a fan ever since. Long story short (so unusual for me), the blogs about and photographs of the garden at Norfolk were so vivid and descriptive and just plain lovely that I found that I wanted to see this garden for myself. So, of course, I planned a road trip and we were on our way.
Before I go any further, let me give you just a little bit of information about the garden itself. It consists of 175 acres with about 31 themed gardens and, whew, 12 miles of paved trails. (Now, don’t despair, while you can walk every inch of those trails, you do not have to. There is a tram that travels around and through the gardens daily allowing you to ride from one area to another without totally wearing yourself out.)
Originally, there was The Azalea Garden which was started in 1938 with a grant of about $76K from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). At that time there were 275 acres that needed to be cleared and planted….and, from all accounts, it was a back-breaking job in the southern Virginia heat along the coast and in the wetlands (aka swamp). The work was completed by 200 African American women and 20 men working long days at $.25 an hour. Note the decimal, that’s a quarter an hour and not 25 dollars. The team planted more than 4000 azaleas, 2000 rhododendrons, and a few more thousand miscellaneous trees and shrubs. What an incredible undertaking!
The size of the garden was reduced to its current 175 acres in 1971 when the airport next door expanded. Speaking of the airport, one of the fun things to do at the garden is take a boat ride into the tidal basin/lake that goes around the garden and right by the airport. Let me correct that, the airplanes flying into the airport fly right over the lake adding just a little extra zing to your boat tour. Now according to the guide on our boat back in 2013, there is a paved pathway that goes from a waiting area at the airport to the Botanical Garden. Prior to the days of high security at airports, a traveler who had tired of killing time between flights could just stroll over to the Botanical Garden for a peaceful afternoon among the azaleas and roses and still get back in time (maybe) to make that next flight. Of course, the world has changed and the old garden gate is secured and definitely off limits to passengers but the path is still there though no longer used.
As noted, our first trip to the garden was in 2013 and in late summer. Although it was September, it was still very hot and humid. I recall that we took one look at the map of the gardens and, considering the season, opted to spend our time in the Butterfly Garden and the Rose Garden. We, as I mentioned above, took the boat ride which is a great addition to the garden tour. I also spent just a little time and more than a little money in the garden shop at the visitor center. We did ride the tram around the rest of the garden sections and I noted that we’d have to come back in the spring and see the azaleas in bloom. After all, the place started as an azalea garden and it wouldn’t make sense not to try to get there during the spring when the azaleas would be blooming.
And so we came back. Our timing was not so great. The problem is that I wanted to see the rhododendrons in bloom too and anyone who lives around the area will tell you the azaleas come first and then the rhododendrons but they do not always bloom at the exact same time. So you have to try to time it…and then I had to fit things into our spring schedule at home. As it all worked out, we got there in time to catch the last of the azalea blooms but were too early for the rhododendrons to be in full bloom. However, that really doesn’t matter because the roses were blooming up a storm and the herb gardens were lovely and we got an extra treat – the Lantern Asia exhibition was still in the gardens – so there was plenty to see and enjoy.
And we did find many things to enjoy. We walked for miles (it seemed) – maybe not all 12 but enough. We focused on the areas where we saw azaleas blooming and roamed along the left side of the canal that runs down the middle of the complex.
We spent time in the herb garden which I totally loved and hooked around by the Children’s Garden and up through the Lantern Asia displays.
On our first visit in 2013, we were in the gardens maybe 2 hours but on the 2016 visit, we were there for a solid 5 hours – all walking this time because the tram only operates until 4PM each afternoon and we got there just a little too late at 5PM. And we didn’t get to the rhododendron glade (weren’t blooming much anyway) or the sunken garden (definitely a step down – just couldn’t resist that) and didn’t spend too much time in the rose garden (in the daylight hours).
So, guess what? There’s plenty of reasons to think about a third visit to the garden in the future….but this time, I’m timing it for the tram…my poor ole feet were just too tired after walking all those miles to consider anything else.