Norfolk Botanical Garden – Lantern Asia

entranceAs promised in my last blog, I’m sharing photos of the Lantern Asia exhibit that was at the Norfolk Botanical Garden this spring. When we decided to visit the Garden back in April, we had not realized that the event was continuing through the end of April and that we would be able to see it. It was a pleasant surprise but changed our plans somewhat. Our original plans were to spend some time in the azalea and rhododendron gardens in the morning, go into Norfolk for lunch, come back for an afternoon checking out the rose garden and maybe strolling around by the butterfly house. Just spend a lovely day in some beautiful gardens.

But the Lantern Asia display would be best viewed at night…so we opted to visit later in the afternoon arriving about 5PM and staying until after dark leaving about 9PM. It worked out for the most part except that we were roaming around the gardens during daylight and ended up walking through the Asia Lantern display a bit backwards coming up to the main entrance last rather than first. It worked out though. We took a short snack break in the parking lot and then walked it all over again – front to back this time.  As a result, I have photos of some displays in sunlight and in darkness…..and I have a bunch so this blog will be mostly about the photos…but I promise that I won’t share all 200 or so photos that I took.

But, first, a little background – well, as much as I got at the time. I thought I’d be clever and just post a link from the Norfolk website once I got around to doing the blog that would explain everything. But, teaching me to be lazy about getting the blog done, the Botanical Garden took down the webpage and moved on to the next event in the gardens….so I have only a scant bit of information to give you and no link to point you to more information. I’ll just share what I know as I go.

So, LanternAsia finds its origins in Lantern Festivals that have been held in China (or were held) in the past 2000 years. The exhibit at Norfolk was a bit of a traveling roadshow of the Lantern Festival that has been to several major cities in the world thus far and will travel to several more before it’s all packed and moved back to China. At Norfolk, it took more than 20 people working for more than a month to put it all together and included about 30 illuminated displays stretching out over about a mile inside the garden. Most of the displays were made with steel and silk and illuminated from within. It really didn’t matter whether you saw the displays in bright sunshine or dark night, they were all quite beautiful.

The photo above is the entrance gate….guarded by two fierce lions…one of which is below.entrance lion

Several of the walkways along the display “trail” were lighted overhead which made for a bit of magic along the way as you strolled through the exhibit.



This is the side gate providing access from the overflow parking lot…daytime and nighttime. It looks like an ornate wedding ring.

Side Gate day and night


This display put me in mind of the movie, Finding Nemo, and the scene with the krill escaping from the whale while calling out, “Run away, run away”.


alley of flowers

This beautiful set of arches was in the rose garden.

rose arbor

And, you gotta have a peacock or two, right?


mount fuji


This is a replica of the Taj Mahal. It was very popular…almost impossible to get a photo without a crowd of people standing in the way.


A Merlion standing (swimming?) in a bright blue ocean.

Korean Drum Dance

An homage to the Korean Drum Dance. I think I liked this one better in daylight hours.


There was a whole section that seemed to be dedicated to children with pandas and bumblebees and all sorts of forest creatures. They were way back in the back way past the butterfly garden. We saw them in the daytime while we toured the garden and opted not to go back to see them in the dark. I’m sure the illuminated displays would have been lovely….but, by this time, my feet were horses 1

As I mentioned, most of the displays were made of silk but these creatures – not quite dragons but, then again, too beastly for horses – were made of small glass bottles filled with liquids of different colors placed together in a beautiful mosaic. They were impressive in daylight but really came to life in the darkness.
glass horses 2

The field of flamingos was one display that I thought looked better in the daylight. The details in the color and feathers were lost once the lights went on inside.


Tribute to Asian fans….with more peacocks.


This is the entrance road which was lit with displays pretty much all the way from the garden entrance to the visitor center. The butterflies lining the road were lovely but became pure magic at night.

entry butterflies

The elephants (and lions and tigers) were quite popular with the kids.


This palace was beautiful and made entirely of porcelain china…..I overheard someone say that more than 1 million pieces of dinnerware were used. Remarkable.

china castle

But what Asian display would be complete without dragons? And a mighty dragon he was…..fierce and beautiful.

dragondragon head

The details throughout the exhibit were exquisite. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it. When I first heard about the exhibit, I have to admit that I thought it would be a bit crass and tacky. But I stand corrected, this display was amazing and beautiful. Per my understanding, the exhibit has moved on to another city in a foreign land. I’m glad we got an opportunity to see and enjoy it while it was in the US.

long dragon


Norfolk Botanical Garden

visitor centerNow 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.

panoramaI 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.

lakeBefore 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.)

azalea canalOriginally, 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!

azalea 2The 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.

airportAs 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.

rose gardenbridgeAnd 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.

butterfly garden 1.jpgbutterfly 2 2013And 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.

Herb GardenWe 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.

shedchildrenOn 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).

madonnaSo, 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.

fountain 1For more information about the Norfolk Botanical Garden, here’s the home link and a link to the history page. For a Youtube video about the Lantern Asia Tour and Botanical Garden link, try these.

collage framed