Tulips bloom in front of the Conservatory at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. (Photo courtesy Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden)
The flowery sanctuary that is Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is one of the best of its kind in the country, according to USA Today readers, who voted it into fourth place on this year's "10 Best Botanical Gardens in the Nation" list.
“This contest in particular … the fact that the public votes in this contest really makes it a special honor for the garden to be recognized in this way," says Beth Monroe, head of public relations and marketing at Lewis Ginter.
In 1895, Richmond businessman and philanthropist Lewis Ginter purchased 9 acres on Lakeside Lake, shortly thereafter building The Wheel Club on the property, a gathering place for Richmond-area cyclists.
Richmond businessman Lewis Ginter, who purchased the property that would eventually become Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in 1895. (Photo courtesy The Valentine/Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden)
After Ginter's death, his niece Grace Arents renovated the by-then-abandoned Wheel Club, turning it into a nursing home for sick children. Later, when the home was no longer used to care for ailing youths, Arents moved in with her companion, Mary Garland Smith, dubbing it Bloemendaal. It was she who first developed gardens on the property.
Lewis Ginter's niece Grace Arents renovated the old Lakeside Wheel Club and lived in the house, which she named Bloemendaal, or “valley of flowers” in Dutch. (Photo courtesy The Valentine/Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden)
Before Arents' death in 1926, she willed the property to Smith, with the stipulation that after Smith's death, the city of Richmond would develop a botanical garden there in honor of Ginter. Thus was born in 1984 one of the Richmond area's most beloved attractions, which now spans 82 acres and welcomes more than 350,000 visitors from near and far every year.
Lewis Ginter's efforts to enhance the community reach far beyond displaying beautiful flowers and plants. Its Community Kitchen Garden cultivates fruit and vegetables for FeedMore's Meals on Wheels and Kid's Cafe programs. "Since 2009, staff and volunteers at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden have harvested and donated over 52,000 pounds of vegetables to FeedMore’s Community Kitchen and produced over 45,500 meals for Central Virginia’s hungry children and homebound seniors," reads its website.
“Lewis Ginter is a place were people are very passionate about the garden," says Monroe. "This is a place that means a lot to people; it’s important to people and they want to share it.”
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is also a sacred space for some, like Don Robelen. His wife, Dot, volunteered at Lewis Ginter's Garden Shop for 21 years, until she passed away from cancer in 2014. After her death, the garden's staff installed "Dot's Garden" in her honor, a lovely little paradise full of the flowers and trees Dot so loved.
A plaque in Dot's Garden reads: “In loving memory of Dorothy Robelen, 1939-2014. 21 years of dedicated volunteer service.” (Photo courtesy: Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden)
Monroe says Lewis Ginter is in good company on the Best Botanical Gardens list, pointing to the top three, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania; New York Botanical Garden in New York City's Bronx borough and Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, as standouts.
"The other gardens that made the top four are amazing. For us to be included in this group was very exciting. We’re thrilled and very grateful,” she says.
In addition to daily tours of the gardens, Lewis Ginter visitors can look forward to a new exhibit this spring, "Nature Connects: Art with Lego Bricks," running May 27 through Sept. 18.
"Created with half-a-million Lego bricks, this award-winning exhibit by New York artist Sean Kenney will feature 27 sculptures in 14 displays throughout Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, including a big bumblebee weighing 60 pounds; a dramatic dragonfly with a three-and-a-half-foot wingspan; and a soaring 7-foot-tall red rose," reads a news release about the exhibit.
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Visitors can look forward to a new exhibit this spring, "Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks," running May 27 through September 18, 2016, featuring the artwork of New York-based artist, Sean Kenney. (Photo courtesy of Sean Kenney Studios)
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(Photo courtesy of Sean Kenney Studios)
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(Photo courtesy of Sean Kenney Studios)
“There’s a real sculptural quality to the Lego art," says Monroe. "And it's fun for all ages, kids, parents, older people ... so people can enjoy it in a lot of different ways.”
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except on Thanksgiving and Christmas); for more information on admission and upcoming events, please see here.