By Elaine Mills, Certified Extension Master Gardener
Photos by Elaine Mills, Bob Kline & Alyssa Ford Morel
Part II of our profile of the Norfolk Botanical Gardens
The garden has over 25 themed mini-gardens. Four are especially supportive of plant-pollinator relationships. The Hummingbird Garden behind the education building offers a mixture of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees to attract hummingbirds and other nectar-loving animals. The 2-acre Bristow Butterfly Garden provides habitat for all stages of the butterfly and moth lifecycles. The Flowering Arboretum, a 17.5-acre swath in the center of garden, includes 336 different flowering trees. Areas surrounding the trees are left unmowed to create wildflower meadows for pollinators. Finally, the Bunny Morgan Wildflower Meadow, which is mowed in some seasons, features 50 species of wildflowers and ten species of native grasses to show an alternative to high maintenance landscaping
Natural spaces in addition to the Enchanted Forest, include the Virginia Native Plant Garden, which has a boardwalk nature trail that leads visitors through four plant communities found in Virginia’s southeast coastal plain. Among the species highlighted are Pinus taeda, (loblolly pine), Taxodium distichum (bald cypress), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), and Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonbush). The Shady Woods is a small woodland garden with a variety of perennials, shrubs, and trees. The Fern Glade features a path through a shady grove of ferns and other shade-loving plants.
Several of the themed gardens offer a wide variety of abundant blooms. The Border Garden, inspired by traditional English gardens, flows on both sides of a main path and includes mixed plantings against a backdrop of flowering shrubs. The Sarah Lee Baker Perennial Garden, a 1-acre circular garden with a central limestone fountain, has 200 varieties of colorful perennials arranged in wedges. The Circle Garden, a small garden behind the administration building, has changing displays of flowers, some in containers. A nearby wall features sedums as art, and a hut displays a green roof of various succulents.
Several themed gardens feature plants of culinary or medicinal interest. The Colonial Herb Garden contains a mix of ornamental plants, such as boxwood, with medicinal plants and herbs used during the colonial period. The Kitchen Garden is planted in French potager style in which vegetables suited to the coastal climate are intermingled with flowers and herbs. The Healing Garden introduces visitors to medicinal plants. Other small garden spaces are dedicated to fragrance and the senses.
The Norfolk Botanical Garden has two mini-gardens in a very formal style. Statuary Vista is an outdoor sculpture gallery with 11 marble statues interspersed with bulbs, annuals, and perennials in 400-foot-long double borders backed by holly olive hedges. Created by Moses Ezekiel in the 1880s, the sculptures are mostly of famous Classical and Renaissance artists. Only one American artist is portrayed: Sculptor Thomas Crawford played a major role in the design and decoration of the U. S. Capitol Building. Located in a direct line with the Vista is the Renaissance Court which evokes the late 16th century with such stylistic features as symmetrical grassy terraces, ornate balustrades, a reflecting pool and fountain, and statuary representing the four seasons. This garden is the site of the annual Azalea Festival.
While many of the mini-gardens have seats for resting and observing, two offer a special sense of tranquility. The Japanese Garden, created to honor Norfolk’s sister city, Moji (now Kitakyushu) employs traditional elements of Japanese landscape design: evergreen plants, stones and water. It also features examples of bonsai on pedestals. The Reflection Garden is situated in a grassy clearing surrounded by layers of shrubs and trees. Funded by five local garden clubs, this space is intended to provide “time to think, dream, and reflect.”
At the World of Wonder (WOW) Garden, children can play in global-themed fountains, visit habitat gardens on a Plant Safari, or learn about beneficial insects at an adjacent pollinator playground. Children also have a play area near the crapemyrtle allée. NATO Tower, located on an overlook in the central part of the garden, provides a bird’s-eye overview. There are also wonderful examples of art throughout the garden.
Visiting the Norfolk Botanical Garden
6700 Azalea Garden Road
Norfolk, VA 23518-5337
Open April 1-Oct 15: 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
Beginning October 16: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day
The Norfolk Botanical Garden is proud to offer multiple options for viewing the grounds. The tram, free with garden admission, is a good way to get an overview. It departs the Visitors Center hourly on weekdays and every half hour on weekends, with seven scheduled stops on each 25-minute tour. Ticketed boat tours of 45 minutes depart the boat basin four times a day, traveling through the garden via a canal to the surrounding Lake Whitehurst. There are 7 miles of paved and 7 miles of unpaved paths to explore on foot.
The garden also has a café, a gift shop, and a horticultural library. Events at the garden include dog days, bike nights, sunset cruises and kayaking, as well as art and craft classes and programs on such topics as sustainable landscaping, beekeeping, and garden design.
The garden’s web site includes a garden map, descriptions of the collections and mini-gardens, a calendar, bloom charts, and an online plant database.