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ginter sketch

Sketch of Lewis Ginter published in the Oct. 3, 1897 Richmond Times obituary

By Janet Woody, Librarian, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Lewis Ginter died in 1897, at age 73, from complications of diabetes. The local newspapers of the day, The Times and The Dispatch, were filled with detailed obituaries covering his entire career and stories of his many acts of kindness and benevolence. His entire will was printed in the Richmond Dispatch of October 7, 1897. There was tremendous interest in his money.
David Ryan, author of Lewis Ginter’s Richmond, states that at the start of the Civil War, Ginter’s worth was $2 million dollars. He bought Confederate bonds and purchased cotton, tobacco, and sugar. By war’s end, he had only cotton remaining and sold that to raise money to enter into the banking business in New York, according to Brian Burns’ book Lewis Ginter, Richmond’s Gilded Age Icon.
Several sources reported that the sale of Allen & Ginter to the American Tobacco Company Ginter accrued $7 million dollars in stock. According to William N. Glenn, author of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and its Environs, when Ginter retired at age 67, his assets were estimated to be about $12 million.
Where did this vast wealth go and how much did he leave his heirs? A Richmond Times article of October 8, 1897 reported that at probate, the Major’s estate was valued at $2.6 million dollars. Apparently the general populace expected a much larger amount. Major Ginter had engaged in something of a spending spree over the last years of his life. The Times article goes on to speculate that “the Major had parted with nearly all of his stock [in American Tobacco] long before his death… Much of the money Major Ginter put into the Jefferson Hotel and into the suburban improvements … was realized from the sale of American Stock.” Even with his enormous outlays, he left generous sums of money and property to his heirs, friends, and employees. According to Ryan: “The bulk of Ginter’s estate went to his nephew and nieces, but nearly every charity and public institution in Richmond was named in his will, gifts that totaled more than $1,100,000.

Lewis Ginter at his desk.

Lewis Ginter in his office, photo courtesy of The Valentine Richmond History Center.

The cigarette business made Ginter a rich man. Allen & Ginter was formed in 1872 when Ginter joined with John Allen in his tobacco company. Ginter was a marketing genius and saw a big future in cigarettes, which were added to the product line in 1874. Promoting “Richmond Straight Cuts” and “Virginia Brights” took him around the world. Allen & Ginter may have employed as many as 1,500 people at its peak.
Briefly, here is where the money went:
In 1887, Ginter and Joseph Bryan reorganized the Tanner & Delaney Engine Company into the Richmond Locomotive & Machine Works. At its peak, this enterprise employed 1,200 workers. To aid his friend Col. Page McCarty, Ginter invested in the struggling Richmond Times in 1886. He immediately grew impatient with its money demands and gave it to his friend Joseph Bryan in 1887. In 1887, Ginter purchased land on the corner of West Franklin and Shafer Streets and built the very well-appointed 901 W. Franklin Street “city” mansion reputed to have cost $1,250,000, according to Ryan. This house opened in 1892.

He purchased 160 acres and built a sprawling Victorian country mansion “Westbrook.” This estate included barns, stables, greenhouses, bowling alleys and many other entertainments. The house was filled with stained glass and parquet floors, as well as books, art, and music. He kept at least 14 types of carriages, summoned with buttons located in the entrance hall. Ryan estimates that Ginter spent millions turning this property into an estate fit for a gilded age millionaire. He resided at this home (his favorite of the two) beginning in 1889 and died there on October 2, 1897.
As a world traveler, Ginter saw new technological marvels and civic improvements that he wanted for Richmond. To this end, he always had multiple projects in the works. Developing inviting suburban retreats for the well-off was one of his most ambitious projects. Henrico County Deed records show that beginning in May 1889, Major Ginter made 52 property acquisitions. At the time, Henrico extended well into what is currently Richmond. Most of these acquisitions centered on the Brook Turnpike-Hermitage Road-Lakeside Avenue corridors.
In 1891, Ginter and partners chartered the Sherwood Land Company with plans to develop a suburb of large villas designed for the upper middle class. Ginter was impressed by the suburbs he saw when visiting Melbourne, Australia, during his 1888 world tour and wanted the same for Richmond. He consulted with the nationally renowned landscape architecture firm Frederick Law Olmsted & Associates. While he purchased much acreage and engaged in planning, Sherwood Park and Ginter Park were not built until after his death, and it is very unlikely that he would have named Ginter Park after himself. His heirs formed the Lewis Ginter Land and Improvement Company to carry on his suburban development dreams. The only construction to happen before his death was several worker cottages in the 3600 block of Hawthorne Avenue that still exist today.
To ease the trip to his anticipated northern suburbs, he purchased five miles of Brook Turnpike (now Road) in 1890 and spent an estimated $2 million dollars upgrading it into one of the finest roads in the state. His improvements included resurfacing, landscaping with hedges and trees, and tollbooths. His portion of the turnpike ran approximately between Lombardy Street and Westbrook Avenue.
In 1889, he and several partners chartered Bloomingdale Stock Farm, a 280-acre livestock and dairy farm, located in the area of today’s Lakeside neighborhood.
He purchased land for Lakeside Park (1891) and the Lakeside Wheel Club (1894). Lakeside Park was an ambitious project that included a dance pavilion, café, zoo, a lake for boating and skating, and a golf course. The Lakeside Wheel Club gave the city’s most prominent cyclists a country home during the short-lived bicycle craze of the mid-1890s.
In tribute to his revered Confederate general A. P. Hill, Ginter had a monument built at the intersection of Hermitage and Laburnum Avenue, and had General Hill’s body moved from Hollywood Cemetery and reinterred under the monument.
In 1892, he purchased land in the 100 block of Franklin Street , and built the grand, state-of-the-art Jefferson Hotel which opened in 1895. While he had partners in this endeavor, it is certain that Ginter spent a million or two of his own money on this venture – if not more. In January, 1893, fire destroyed the Allen & Ginter Tobacco factory at Seventh and Cary Streets. Ginter continued to pay employees while the factory was rebuilt.
In 1896, he paid to have the Barton Heights street car line extended north to Brookland Park Boulevard and then west to Brook Turnpike. His plan was to run the line north on his Brook Turnpike and eventually take riders all the way to Lakeside Park. He also built a narrow gauge railway to carry granite from a quarry in the Lakeside area to his construction projects. For this purpose, he purchased his own locomotive named Barbara.
Other projects: chartered the Virginia Electric Light Company (1881), was a founder of the University College of Medicine, built Deep Run Hunt Club and Rosedale Lodge, gave twelve acres to the Union Theological Seminary for its new Richmond home in the Ginter Park area, and supported the Lee Camp Soldier’s Home for Confederate veterans. Stories of Ginter’s anonymous gifts were legion. He would quietly help out local businesses, either by investing, or loaning money, and helped people who were beset by family tragedy. It is not possible to know how much money he gave away since it is not documented. And, all of his projects listed above should be viewed as employment opportunities for thousands of Richmonders, as many as 4,000 according to the Richmond Dispatch obituary.

Briefly, his last will and testament:

Ginter left his W. Franklin St. mansion and all of its contents to nieces Grace and Joanna Arents. He left Westbrook and all of it acres and contents to niece Minnie Arents Young. He left his nephew George Arents Bloomingdale Farm. He left money and annuities to all of his relatives and servants, and many friends. He left large money gifts to his closest business associates. A full page of his will is devoted to gifts to charitable institutions in Richmond, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. The total of his cash gifts and legacies was $537,250.
While it is not possible to know where all of his money went, it is well documented that Major Ginter loved Richmond and wanted the best for the city and its citizens. His friend Charles Stringfellow shared a memory of the Major in the long obituary in the Richmond Dispatch of October 3, 1897: while visiting Major Ginter at Westbrook, Stringfellow commented that Ginter had transfigured this country (the area around Westbrook). Ginter replied, “Well, I think I have improved things, but they tell me it has cost too much, and I won’t get any money back. But that makes no difference”. Ginter went on, “Those who have claims upon me are already provided for, and I do them no wrong. I had rather use my money to do some good with it than to pile up big balances in the bank. This work out here has given pleasure to a great many people and bread, too.”

Next installment: Grace Arents carries on her uncle’s legacy.
Resources consulted: Ryan, David D. and Wayland W. Rennie, Lewis Ginter’s Richmond. Burns, Brian Lewis Ginter: Richmond’s Gilded Age Icon. Glenn, William N., St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Its Environs. Richmond Times and Richmond Dispatch articles of the time.

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

dock in lake sydnor

Peak fall foliage at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden over Lake Sydnor. On the far left you can see the new floating dock.

Fall foliage has never looked so fine! The views from the newly opened floating dock on Lake Sydnor offer a new perspective, and a closer look at autumn’s best colors.

view from dock to Streb Garden

The view of Streb Conifer Garden from the floating dock. A second floating dock will open in the Lucy Payne Minor Garden later this year.

view from dock to tree house

The view of the CWD Kids Tree House and Children’s Garden from the new floating dock just beyond the Rose Garden in Lake Sydnor.

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Conservatory with Pink Muhlygrass Muhelnbergia capillaris

Conservatory with Pink Muhlygrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).

Recently, we’ve talked quite a bit about why ornamental and native grasses are good for nature and the environment. We shared our plans with you for our plantings in front of the Conservatory at the Ornamental Grass Garden.  And even vetted the best grasses to plant in our area, so you can use them in your own yard. ….In case you missed it: Pink Muhlygrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’, and Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus herterolepis). But have you seen them in person? They are stunning. Astoundingly beautiful even….and so much more interesting then turf! Here’s a photo to tide you over, but trust me, you’ll want to see this in person.

And if you want your own tour guide — consider taking a guided tour on Dec. 2, at 10 a.m. this tour is free for members and $16 for non-members. Register:  http://bit.ly/NativeGrass

by Laura Schumm, Community Kitchen Garden Horticulturist, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Red and green lettuce growing in the Community Kitchen Garden

Red and green lettuce growing in the Community Kitchen Garden

I’m so happy to be spending my time in the Community Kitchen Garden again. My role is a bit different this time around. I have transitioned from volunteer, to intern and now to horticulturist. In my new role I manage all aspects of the Community Kitchen Garden and it presenting many exciting new challenges and opportunities each day.
So far this year volunteers and staff have harvested over 5,500 lbs. of fresh vegetables.  Now we are closing out this year with some beautiful fall crops including turnips, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, and more. I am monitoring the night time temperatures awaiting our first frost. Some crops can withstand even a hard frost, like broccoli and cabbage, but others can be damaged and should be harvested or protected with row covers. If the night time temperature is forecast to dip down in to the 30’s I will install row covers to protect the cauliflower and lettuce especially. Carrots can withstand a light frost, and the cold causes the starchy root vegetables to convert any existing starch to sugars making them even sweeter. Yum!

I’m also planting cover crops of crimson clover, winter wheat, and annual rye grass for the winter. After the fall crops are harvested I will have much more time to sit down and plan for next year and my head is full of ideas for potential projects and new trials. I am very interested in trying to utilize more of the vertical space we have in the Community Kitchen Garden, so I would like to try growing more crops on trellises and converting extra tomato cages in to garden towers that we can plant in.  I love the idea of having more space to grow more food for FeedMore, without adding more square footage to the garden.  In an attempt to combat the weeds, I want to plant a trial of living mulch. Living mulches are usually low-growing cover crops planted along with the main crop to smother out weeds, regulate soil temperature, and conserve moisture. I’m also considering planting a wildflower buffer near the Community Kitchen Garden. Not only would it be beautiful, it would also help to bring in more beneficial insects and deter encroaching weeds.


On another note, we updated our tally of all the vegetables that we’ve grown and harvested for Feedmore in the Community Kitchen Garden since its inception in 2009. Any guesses? Would you believe that we’ve have harvested and donated over 52,200 lbs. of vegetables to FeedMore’s Community Kitchen and produced over 45,500 meals for Central Virginia’s hungry children and homebound seniors!

I am looking forward to starting fresh next year and continuing the amazing success of the Community Kitchen Garden. This garden has become the perfect example of how Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden connects people and plants to improve our community and I’m delighted to be a part of it.

Rows of veggies in the Community Kitchen Garden

Swiss chard and lettuce grow in the demonstration area of the Community Kitchen Garden. The main area of production for growing vegetables is beyond the Massey Greenhouse, further to the north.

Editor’s Note:  Children’s Garden Educator, Kristi Orcutt launched the first Lunch & Learn program for Garden volunteers in September – it got great reviews — and the volunteers said it was  fascinating. Kristi’s topic, The Significant Contributions of Bees, is very relevant today, so we thought we’d share Kristi’s recap with you.

by Kristi Orcutt, Children’s Garden Educator,  Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden  bee

What fascinated participants most was the myriad of ways that beekeepers use their hives as their own backyard medicine chests. While many of us know about honey’s antibacterial and antioxidant properties, some people believe that regular ingestion of local honey relieves their pollen allergy symptoms. Additionally we talked about how beekeepers collect some of the pollen brought back to the hive by foraging bees and use that pollen as a high protein energy supplement and antioxidant.  Another substance, propolis, a resin gathered from tree buds, is used by bees as an antiseptic.  Bees coat the interior surfaces of their hive and use it as as a caulk to seal cracks and spaces throughout. Propolis is also sometimes used by people to ease sore throats and to fight bacterial infections.

Kristi Orcutt talking to volunteers about bees.

Kristi Orcutt talking to volunteers about bees.

(Of course, if you are sick, please check with your doctor).
We talked about royal jelly too, a unique substance fed to queen bees and sometimes used by people as an energy tonic, to enhance endurance, and for healing. Some sufferers of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease and other ailments will intentionally sting themselves (apitherapy) and report that the anticoagulants and enzymes result in relief from chronic pain associated with these conditions.

We also discussed  their worrisome decline.  Virginia agriculture,  our economy, and  our food system depend on bees. Honey bees especially are a bio-indicator of the state of our ecosystem. The average rate of hive “loss” over the past several years in the United States and in Virginia is around 35 percent. Basically, over a third of our bees die each year….by any comparison, that is unsustainable as a business model for any farmer.  Also suffering are produce farmers requiring the services of beekeepers to pollinate their crops. For the past 10 years, area farmers have  found it difficult to hire enough hives to effectively pollinate their crops. When Colony Collapse Disorder  (CCD) escalated about 10 years ago, compounded by financial losses due to hive deaths, and an aging beekeeper population, over a third of Virginia’s beekeepers left the industry. Fewer bees = lower produce yields = higher prices for produce and milk (dairy cows eat alfalfa…pollinated by bees). For people already experiencing food insecurity (our poorest Virginians), this will mean even less access to healthy diverse diets of fresh produce.

A honey bee on Rosa 'Topalina' in the Rose Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

A honey bee on Rosa ‘Topalina’ in the Rose Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

So think of honey bees as canaries in the coalmine.  Our bees are “telling us” something by their disappearance….no one can point a finger at any single factor. Mites, a fungus, a new disease, pesticides, GMO crops are all suspect.

We know that one colony of bees covers an area of about 12,000 acres…bees are touching just about every flower in that area….and what they are “picking up” in the pollen, the nectar, and residues on the plants they visit…they bring home to the hive, secrete into their wax, raise their young surrounded by wax cells containing micro-particles of a myriad of chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, air pollutants, etc.) and about 3 generations later….(in bee time….one summer) the bees start to suffer the effects of bio-accumulation…and they succumb to mites and fungi and diseases that, as healthy bees, they should be able to overcome.

But there’s hope. We have some suggestions and The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) does too.

The problem is multipronged….overuse of chemicals in our landscapes and fields (sprayed insecticides, plant grown from seeds treated with insecticides, herbicides, etc.) and simply not enough flowers for the bees are some of the problems. Plants along the roadside are sprayed and mowed, weeds are expunged from yards, weeds and wildflowers are now rounded-up around fields, crops are often designed to be “Roundup Ready”, and sometimes even flowers are toxic if their seeds were treated with insecticides that permeate the entire plant’s system.

So the solution is multi-pronged, too.  

Local bee clubs are part of the solution…each year classes are offered to train new beekeepers.  Keeping  a hive or two of bees opens your eyes to a world of occurrences previously unnoticed….you’ll notice the array of native bees, take notice of what is blooming and when, observe the varieties of pollen colors that bees are gathering (this week it’s white!)  Longer term, it is hoped that some of these new beekeepers will be successful enough to offer pollination services to local farmers.

Other things we can do: plant more plants. Take care that plants and seeds you purchase are grown in nurseries without the use of pesticides. Tolerate a few weeds. Find alternatives to using chemicals. And, rather than spraying our yards, eliminate mosquitoes by carefully monitoring your landscape to eliminate hidden puddles of water that mosquitoes use to breed.

NAPPC  and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also suggest:

The best action the public can take to improve honey bee survival is not to use pesticides indiscriminately. In particular, the public should avoid applying pesticides during mid-day hours, when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar and pollen on flowering plants.

In addition, the public can plant pollinator-friendly plants—plants that are good sources of nectar and pollen such as red clover, foxglove, bee balm, joe-pye weed, and other native plants.




by Alex Arzt, Exhibit Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden


Ginkgo Tree in Grace Arents Garden.

The Garden’s outstanding specimen is a female Ginkgo biloba in Grace Arents Garden believed to be 100 years old. It stands tall next to the historic Bloemendaal house. The garden also has a row of male ginkgos, cultivar ‘Magyar’, along the path between the Asian Valley and West Island Garden.

gold leaves

Gold leaves of the Ginkgo.

ginkgo fossil

Ginkgo leaf fossil.

The ginkgo tree is a living fossil with records dating back 270 million years. It has no living relatives. Buddhist monks in eastern China cultivated stands of ginkgo trees as far back as 1,000 years ago for food and medicine. The first ginkgos in the United States were planted in Philadelphia in 1784.

In your neighborhood, you may have seen (or smelled!) the fruit of the ginkgo tree on the sidewalk this fall. They are pink and fleshy and contain butyric acid; the same acid found in vomit and cheese. The seeds inside are edible. Ginkgos are hardy trees and are resistant to damage from pollution, fungi, and pests, which is why they are a popular tree in urban landscapes. They are so persistent that several ginkgo trees survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.
In the next few weeks, the leaves of the female Ginkgo turn a deep yellow. Within a few weeks after several frosts they fall from the tree to form a carpet of gold. It’s a wonderful thing to see, and a great reason to visit the Garden in fall.


The gingko tree at historic Bloemendaal House.

Just think of all this tree has seen in its years here —  from Bloemendaal farm to the Botanical Garden today.

After you witness the golden canopy in the Grace Arents garden, visit the exhibit Every Tree Tells a Story  to see (not smell…) Robert Llewellyn’s photograph of a female ginkgo branch, and experience this amazing tree anew. The exhibit has been generously brought to the Garden by supporting sponsor The Davey Tree Expert Company.

llewellyn gingko

Robert Llewellyn’s Gingko print on display at Ginter Gallery II in the Kelly Education Center.

Gingko fossil image credit: Wikimedia commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGinkgo_biloba_leaf_01.jpg


Pectinatella magnifica with fall leaves

Pectinatella magnifica

Karin Stretchko, Conservatory Horticulturist, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Look what we found in Sydnor Lake! These are bryozoa — harmless aquatic invertebrate animals. Sometimes they are called moss animals. We believed these were Pectinatella magnifica, and Eugene G. Maurakis, Ph.D., Museum Scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia, confirmed that we were right.

The biology department of the University of Massachusetts has more great info on bryozoans:

Pectinatella magnifica is a member of the animal phylum Ectoprocta (common names: bryozoans, moss animals), a group with a fossil record extending back to the upper Cambrian (500,000,000 years ago!)……The colony is gelatinous, firm and slimy to the touch. The inner gelatinous mass is 99% water. The surface appears divided into rosettes, each with 12-18 zooids. Massive colonies may exceed 2 feet (60 cm) in diameter, although more typical sizes are 1 foot or less. The colonies form on submerged logs, twigs, even wooden docks.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science helped identify  a similar “Alien pod” a few years ago in a lake near Newport News, VA. Marine bryozoans are filter feeders — meaning that they help clean the water they are in. The ones here at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden are attached to old tubing that belonged to an aeration system for the water.

VIMS professor Carl Hershner notes that bryozoans consume algae, so the “alien pod” is “actually a good thing to have around, despite its looks.” ”It’s not a sign of bad water quality,” he adds, “and it doesn’t hurt fish.

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Last week we told you about our butterfly round-up.  At the close of Butterflies LIVE we sent 194 butterflies from the exhibit to Tucson Botanical Gardens. Tucson just sent this note with these pictures, “There were three families in the exhibit when the package arrived so those children (and moms) were able to participate by holding some of the butterflies until the butterflies flew off. Usually we have a no touch policy but in this case we made an exception — and it was a hit with the families….Thank you very much for all the butterflies.”

Entrance to the Cox Butterfly and Orchid Pavilion at Tucson Botanical Garden

The box of butterflies arrived safely at the Cox Butterfly and Orchid Pavilion, Tucson Botanical Garden.

girl with long wing butterfly

Families had fun helping the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden butterflies get settled in their new home.

boy with birdwing butterfly

Waiting for the butterfly to be ready to fly after waking up from the trip.

Butterfly charmer

Butterfly charmer

man with butterfly

Holding a butterfly, waiting for it to be ready to fly.

by Lynn Kirk, Public Relations Writer,  Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, reprinted with permission from the Richmond Times-Dispatch

grasses in the Asian Valley at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Traditional turf is a good choice for high-activity areas, but ornamental grass is a sustainable alternative elsewhere in the landscape. And it also changes throughout the year. Pictured is the seasonal change of eulalia grass. Photo by Don Williamson

non-hardy purple fountain grass

The foreground shows purple fountain grass and in the distance you can see the Conservatory. The Conservatory lawn was recently planted with ornamental grasses: prairie dropseed, purple muhly grass and switchgrass. Photo by Don Williamson

Has your lawn set you up for what seems like a never-ending cycle of watering, mowing, fertilizing, aerating, reseeding, and then watering some more? If so, autumn is a good time to consider eco-friendly alternatives, including countless varieties of ornamental grasses. Unlike traditional turf, ornamental grass typically requires little to no watering once established. Deep roots, typically much longer than that of traditional turf, enable ornamental grass to better tolerate drought conditions. The longer roots also encourage infiltration of rainwater into the local water table, which helps improve water quality and reduces stormwater runoff.

Flowering perennials provide a nice complement to ornamental grasses, including this hardy dwarf fountain grass.  Photo by  Don Williamson

Flowering perennials provide a nice complement to ornamental grasses, including this hardy dwarf fountain grass. Don Williamson

“Ornamental grasses may be a better choice than trees and shrubs in several conditions,” said Grace Chapman, director of horticulture at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. “The grasses like poor soils, such as our area’s clay-heavy soil, and they typically don’t need fertilizer.” Many varieties rated for zone 7 are hardy perennials, reducing or even eliminating the need for annual plantings. For property owners, this can equate to less maintenance and expense. Since mature grasses can be divided for propagation of more plants, gardens also can be expanded without additional costs. Wildlife welcomes the switch from turf to ornamental grass. While birds rely on the grasses for food, thick clumps of growth provide cover, shelter and nesting sites, encouraging a more robust local ecosystem. Beyond practical reasons, there are aesthetic bonuses for incorporating ornamental grasses in the landscape: Their beauty provides ever-changing visual interest through all four seasons. With warm-season grasses, new growth appears in spring, stalks and plumes serve as focal points in summer and changing colors announce autumn. And unlike turf, at the end of the year, their texture and form provide structure in winter’s bare-bones landscape. Even with Richmond’s formal architecture and landscapes, ornamental grasses can find a home.
“They can be very structured and classic or more naturalistic for a meadow effect,” Chapman said. “There are so many varieties to choose from, so do your homework to achieve the effect you want.”

yellow grass

Many ornamental grasses, like this sedge, acknowledge autumn with eye-catching hues. Photo by
Don Williamson

Selections can range from cool- to warm-season growth habits, sunny to shade loving, dry to wet preferences, solid hued to variegated foliages, and upright to arching forms. Design flexibility also stems from varying heights at maturity, ranging from low-growing grasses for groundcovers to tall grasses for screens and backdrops. Most ornamental grasses are striking additions, whether planted in large expanses or mixed with annuals and other perennials.
“They can even be prominently positioned as an exclamation point in the landscape,” Chapman said. “Ornamental grasses add a completely different element to the environment, and they’re enchanting as they blow in the breeze.”

Ornamental grasses grow near the water at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, with the Tree House reflected in the background. Photo by Lucky Ginger Studio

Ornamental grasses grow near the water at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, with the Tree House reflected in the background. Photo by Lucky Ginger Studio

Sampling of Zone 7 Ornamental Grasses

Low height: Flame grass, prairie dropseed, ribbon grass, sedge

Dwarf varieties, medium height: Blue oatgrass, blue fescue, feather reedgrass, little bluestem, muhly grass, purple love grass, switchgrass, zebragrass

Tall height: big bluestem, fountain grass, maiden grass, pampas grass, ravennagrass,


Editor’s Note: This article first published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in October 2014.  

blue fescue

In terms of color, form and texture, even container plantings benefit from the addition of ornamental grasses like this blue fescue. Photo by Don Williamson.

Photo by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

red azalea

Fall blooming azalea with raindrops.

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