Last weekend, I spent the first couple hours of my Saturday morning at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, chaperoned by the garden’s PR maven, Jonah Holland, and in the good company of a handful of bloggers. A few weeks earlier, Karen and Jasper Diego checked out the butterfly exhibit without me and this time I brought the Deez while Karen enjoyed Ikea by herself. Although I’d been to Lewis Ginter a few times before, never at a point when I was as into gardening as I am now. And, never as a parent, seeing the northside paradise’s sprawling topography through the lense of my 15 month old. (this pic doesn’t really do the place justice. these vibrant lotus plants looked like their shower heads were about to spray as the blossoms waved in the wind like they were alive.)
Before this past weekend, the only reason I would have gone to Lewis Ginter was to make my wife happy. Pretty flowers everywhere. Manicured landscaping. Probably some Japanese koi fish. Hell, I live within walking distance of Maymont and I can see two of the Byrd Park lakes from my bedroom window. So, my ambition for parks and plants is hampered by the fact that I am basically overpriviledged and spoiled rotten. However, after this visit, I was about ready to return the same day with a U-Haul full of my stuff and make Lewis Ginter my summer home. In other words, I had no clue what I was missing out on, til now.
First of all, on the food tip, Lewis Ginter’s Community Kitchen Garden is attempting to grow 10,000lbs of produce for the Central VA Food Bank. If you’ve ever been dependent on a charity food pantry for your groceries, then you know that fresh veggies are basically a luxury, and canned crap becomes your sustinance. Luckily, some support from Obama’s United We Serve initiative and volunteers getting their hands dirty (could be you!) are changing that situation here in Richmond. Just from the looks of the rows of thriving plants and expert mulching to keep down weeds, I get the feeling that the recipients of this locally grown crop will be eating healthier and more economically than most.
The best excursions, for me, tap into childhood memories, real unadulterated happiness. Not only does Lewis Ginter have an awesome tree-house and a kids area that rivals an amusement park in the stimulation department, they’ve also got an abundance of water. The streams, lakes, and fountains brought me back to the weekend and after-school adventure sessions I spent down by the creek, scoping out crawfish and salamanders, or creeping around the edge of a nearby lake, spying turtles and frogs. Not only am I now able to share this stuff with my son (profoundly satisfying, let me tell you), the scene is set against a backdrop of the most beautiful lotus flowers and water lillies, and bonsai shaped trees over-hanging the water. The meandering paths wind through this transplanted set of Karate Kid II and do a number on your head. The place was so unfamiliar and surprising to me, Mr. Miyagi could have popped out to teach us about catching flies with chopsticks and it would have all fit together nicely. Seriously, the collection of plant life around the water recreates a sense of place from a more primitive time, or at least a more natural, non-western, sensibility. Can you see why I wanted to move in?
We did visit the butterfly exhibit (this being the Butterfly Bloggers Tour), and they were really good to look at. But, I couldn’t quite relax in there with my very curious baby always on the verge of stomping or swatting the winged impressionist paintings. This picture, that doesn’t seem to have any butterflies in it, was taken by Scott Burger (Oregon Hill blogger and Green Party supporter). I had forgotten my camera, so I may have to go back again on July 4th, cuz IT’S FREE THAT DAY.
Jonah told me a bit about an old purpose of Lewis Ginter 100 years ago. Bicyclists used to ride out there from Richmond and meet up at night for poker and drunken good times. They called it the Wheel Club. Sounds like a good idea to me. Mint juleps under the stars, with the hum of a zillion bugs to quiet the city noise in my hyperactive head. It’s just a straight shot out Boulevard/Hermitage/Lakeside, maybe seven miles. Of course, I should probably clear it with them before showing up with a handle of bourbon and the surlpuss mint from my backyard. There are a bunch of actually official upcoming events that Lewis Ginter is promoting. And I wanna tell you about those soon enough. But, for the meantime, I’ll leave you with this comprehensive list of the garden grounds. You’ll have to re-see it to believe it:
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden offers year-round beauty on
a historic property with more than 50 acres of spectacular
gardens. More than a dozen themed gardens include a
Healing Garden, Sunken Garden, Asian Valley, Rose Garden,
a wetland garden, a Victorian garden, and a Children’s
Garden. A classical domed Conservatory is the only one of
its kind in the mid-Atlantic with everchanging displays,
orchids and tropical plants.