April 25, 2017

Orchids and more Delight Visitors at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

I had a chance to visit Richmond Virginia's award winning Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden last week while traveling to speak at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC, and I wish I had scheduled more time to explore around the property. I only had an hour to spare, but I was able to see much, enough to possibly draw me back again for a longer visit whenever I am in the Richmond, VA area.

I was so surprised but the size and design of this garden which in many ways could be called the Royal Botanic Gardens of Richmond. With emphasis more on decorative displays and ornamental horticulture than botany and collections, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is surely what the public expects to see when they visit a botanic garden today.

The Bloemendaal House featured turn-of-the-century architecture on the property, making the entire garden feel more like someones estate garden than a public space. It seemed to be a popular wedding venue with formal gardens and long paved walks under giant, shady trees. Southern Charm.

A philanthropist and businessman in the late 1800s, Lewis Ginter's gift to the city of Richmond was his home and gardens which eventually became the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.  Recently, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has been receiving many awards and recognition - most noteworthy it was named as one of the Nation's Best Botanic Gardens (fourth) by USA Today.

The 11,000 square-foot classic glass conservatory houses exotic and unusual plants from around the world, including palms, orchids and many tropical trees. A generous gift from the Gottwald family in memory of their mother, I was surprised to discover that the conservatory was finished in 2003, since it looks like a treasure from the Victorian era.

There is much to see at the Lewis Ginter BG, and Richmond, Virginia is blessed to have such as treasure in their city. On the day I visited, the walks throughout the garden were filled with strollers, folks with cameras and young couples strolling and taking advantage of the spring weather. Not unlike a George Seurat painting, children played on the lawns, young couple sunbathed and other enjoyed picnics. Botanic gardens today struggle with defining a purpose - but the Lewis Ginter  BG seems to have found the perfect balance between public park, wedding venue, children play ground, family destination as well as providing  a place where science and what I call 'populus-horticulture' can grow all together in harmony.

As my short visit proved, there is much to see here - regardless of ones' enthusiasms, the 50 acres of gardens include a Japanese Garden (the Asian Valley), a Rose Garden,  a children's garden with a cool treehouse and an amazing Kew-Quality palm house complete with palms of course, but also some tropical plantings which must provide visitors with a keen-like escape during the winter months. The grounds are immaculately maintained and great care has been taken in design and ornamental plantings.

The formal gardens featured many massed bulbs and spring flowering plants all set out in a classic English bedding style.

This tulip display first struck me as odd - the colors were curiously interesting but at first, felt a little random (not in an unattractive way), but it did capture my attention with it's original color palette. I mean, it worked.

Once I arrived at the steps of the conservatory, the tulip planting all made brilliant sense. Angled stripes of mixed color blends (maybe Colorblends?) drew the attention of many in the crowds.

Before entering the conservatory, grasses (Sporobolus heterolepis) and giant 'Globemaster' alliums promised a future show that I would have loved to see during it's peak. I would imagine that even in August and late summer, this scheme would be beautiful. This is the way ornamental grasses should be planted - en masse in grids for sweeping architectural statements.

In the left wing of the conservatory, a striking trellis of red passion flower vine stopped traffic, and those with cameras. This might have been the most photographed flower here.

This old-timey installation of a cottage house delighted visitors, it reminded me of the installations I used to see at the Montreal Botanic Gardens while visiting as a young child. We plant geeks might roll our eyes at such folly but I have to often remind myself that conservatory displays at botanical gardens like this are what original inspired 5 year old Matt. This was well done, as well.

How 'Kew' is this? It was hard to imagine that this was a rather new palm house in Virginia! A Palm collection included cycads and this Australian Fan Palm  (Licuala ramsayi). When set against the formal design of the conservatory glass it made for a very Victorian motif. If this shot was adjusted with a sepia filter, it could be a scene from 1880.
A Spider Orchid, Brassidium Golden Gamine 'White Knight' HCC/AOS

Orchids were everywhere, as this was Easter week, the end of an orchid exhibit I am imagining was still blooming. If you grow orchids, you know that most bloom either in the autumn or the spring, and these are the seasons when most orchid shows are held.

Phalaenopsis 'Baldan's Kaleidoscope'

Cattleya mossiae

Epicatanthe 'Don Herman' with much less red spotting in it than the standard form was still beautiful. Perhaps it was a seedling from a cross?

I do love my Vanda orchids, and even thought I lean towards the blue and violet ones, this mustard colored clone was striking. Vanda tricolor x Memoria Thianchai. The crosses and offspring of V. Memoria Thianchai, be they spotted or not, are all lovely shades of golden yellow and mustard yellow.

Phalaenopsis 'Jiuhbao Green Apple' was well named.
Dendrobium anosmum reminds me of the Philippino's in Hawaii who kept baskets of them on their clothes lines when I was in college there.

Epidendrum Pacific Sunset 'South Point' 

I have a soft spot for lady slipper orchids,  (since Paph's were the first orchids I grew as a teenager), and this Paphiopedilum 'Mamie Wilson' reminded me that I need to add more to my collection.

I'm not that excited by Phaleonopsis because they are to omnipresent today, yet some are so amazing that maybe I need to take a second look at them -  check out this moth orchid - Phalaenopsis KV Charmer.

Another orchid I remember from the 'clothes lines of Hawaii' is this beauty - Dendroboim farmeri. I've grown the white and yellow form, but not this pink one. It used to do well in the cool greenhouse, but it is difficult to find in New England.

A well designed and paved bridge continued the walks towards the rest of the garden. This one led towards the popular children's garden.

OK, silly Yankee me - I first thought that these smooth trunks belonged to well grown specimens of Heptacodium but they were perhaps the most maligned shrub in the south (I don't know why, they were so nice). Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia Cv) are still gorgeous - even when not in bloom or hacked off as southern garden bloggers often lament about! We in the North are still jealous.

If Virginia is 'the South' (Im not sure if it technically is?), then this Carolina Jessamine, or Gelsemium sempervirens is still at home. Early April and it looks like this before the trees leaf out - it screams 'Sweet Tea' with it;'s Waffle House -yellowness.

A large Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioica) frames a view towards the conservatory. Even in early spring, the Louis Ginter Botanical Gardens is a worthy visit.


  1. There actually used to be a beautiful Carolina jessamine up the street from us in Cambridge which somehow withstood the New England winters and bloomed beautifully; unfortunately last year the owners of the property pulled down the pergola it was on and got rid of it and anything else growing in their yard, save two tacky and rather bedraggled "Knock-Out" roses... :(

    1. Whaaaaaat? I have had it bloom in the greenhouse which sometimes get's down to 30, so it's possible. I know that there are fig trees in Cambridge too in some protected spots.

  2. Anonymous3:09 AM

    Hi Matt
    There's a small typo in your post, we should read Cattleya mossiae instead of hossiae.
    Nice pictures and thanks for sharing. The passiflora is absolutely stunning

    1. No typo is 'small' when it comes to botanical names! Thanks. I should have known that one, as I grow it too (it has never bloomed for me, however!).

    2. Anonymous2:45 PM

      Ok, it's "paph" not "pash": I have a soft spot for lady slipper orchids, (since Pash's were the first orchids I grew as a teenager)...

    3. What? There isn't a Pashiopedilum? That's what I get for rushing and relying on spell check, (really, it isn't good for orchid names). You should have seen how often I had to convert WINTER to GINTER, because of auto-correct!

  3. Anonymous10:23 AM

    dear matt
    thanks for the posts from your progress through PDN and Ginter. hope you'll report on other southern horticultural meccas.
    we visited Ginter during the holidays (imaginative lighting, other décorations with lots of kid appeal, winter flowering orchids) so your pix fill in what empty beds and plant labels only hinted at.
    your comment about being taken in by the magic as a five-year-old points to the impact of these experiences! same with me. it appears that far many more asian and other foreign-origin families visit longwood, tower hill, louis ginter and other botanic garden with their children than do typical american ones. sad.
    all best,
    ~ 02568

    1. Dear 02568 on Nantucket - Nice to hear from you again! Are you going to come visit us for the party next Friday and the National Primrose Society Show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden??? Did you know that we just hired the former head of horticulture at the GInter as CEO for Tower Hill? Grace Chapman's first week was last week - we have high hopes!

  4. Anonymous12:32 PM

    Glorious! Wonderful photos and a marvellous guided tour, thanks :)

  5. Anonymous7:40 PM

    wish i were going to be at the party and taking in the primrose show but am stuck in the fog and with a dozen gardens that need cleanup. spring in the maritime climes is a sometime thing.
    all best,
    ~ 02568

  6. I like that you've shown a more popular garden after the tour of plant geek heaven. Both are lovely in their way. Thanks for sharing.


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