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

Can you buy happiness? That’s a great question. And timely too.

It’s easy to get caught up in the holidays. Each year I tell my kids we’ll have a small Christmas and that we’ll save money for things that really matter — like a trip to California or Canada, or even trombone lessons.  Inside I know that you can’t REALLY buy happiness with stuff, yet each year I get caught up in the consumer culture that is America today. I see my buying habits creep out of control as we get closer and closer to Christmas Day. I worry that the stockings won’t be full enough, or my kids will feel let down that they didn’t get that  one thing they really wanted. I pick up additional gifts here and there, and tuck the packages away high up in the closest. Inevitably I forget about little things that I bought throughout November and end up with way more than our family needed or wanted. But all I really want is for my family to be happy. I don’t  want more “stuff.”  I have trouble finding spots for all the things we have already.

I’m reminded of a moment last week during my son’s futsal game  as another parent asked his mom what she wanted for Christmas — and she replied very seriously: “Stamps!”  He laughed a bit and made a joke about how that wasn’t really the sort of gift he was thinking of — but she had a point, stamps are very practical!

So how do you solve this conundrum of trying to give the people that you love happiness? Especially if they already have everything they need.  Turns out that it’s easier than you might think. Nearly every major web media outlet has covered this topic including Huffington Post,  The Atlantic,  and  NPR.  But the message may not have gotten through to you  — clouded by TV ads, the Black Friday ads and catalogs advertising all the new things you need.

And here’s the truth. Research shows money increases your happiness up to a certain point, where all your basic needs (like food, clothing, shelter) are met. Then, money stops being so helpful.  At a certain point, money can only buy happiness through meaningful time spent with people you enjoy. Here’s another secret. The things that humans think will make them happy don’t.  So what does make you happy?

Psychologists have studied this for a long time. Here’s some of what they’ve found. Experiences bringing happiness. So do rituals, routines and traditions.  Routines and traditions can be especially important during hectic times (read holidays) or times of change.  Novelty is another good one  — and also one reason kids love playing with new toys on Christmas day, but sometimes are bored with them by the following week. Showing gratitude is another wonderful thing you can do to increase happiness (and health).

I like this quote from Forbes Magazine — it’s a headline actually: “Want To Buy Happiness? Purchase An Experience.” I have to admit this is not what I expected to read in Forbes, a magazine known for its  investment advice (Forbes Road Map to Riches) and its list of  richest Americans.  The article continues with a quote from author and researcher Michael Norton, an associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School.

“One of the most common things people do with their money is get stuff,” explains Norton, “But we have shown…in research that stuff isn’t good for you. It doesn’t make you unhappy, but it doesn’t make you happy. But one thing that does make us happy is an experience.”

Even the Wall Street Journal chimed in just last month with a story on the topic. To get the most “bang for your buck” the article suggests giving money away or spending money on experiences.  “For instance, giving money away makes people a lot happier than lavishing it on themselves. And when they do spend money on themselves, people are a lot happier when they use it for experiences like travel than for material goods.”

So let me be so bold as to suggest this holiday, don’t get stressed out with all that buying you have to do! Give someone you love a Family Membership to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, or tickets  to Dominion GardenFest of Lights. For that matter, give them a membership to the Science Museum, or ballet or symphony tickets. Find a worthwhile experience to spend your money on — and then share it with those you love.
Here’s my take on Forbes Magazine’s 5 principles:

  • Buy Experiences (I can’t think of more memorable experiences than seeing a 12-foot unicorn reflecting in a lake with 500,000 twinkling lights, a butterfly landing on my daughter at Butterflies LIVE!, or exploring the Wildside Walk with my family and discovering a bloom I’ve never seen before.)
  • Make it a Treat (Don’t feel like you have to visit us all the time to get your money’s worth.)
  • Buy Time (Go ahead, leave work early  one afternoon so you can enjoy Flowers After 5 this summer, or take the whole day off to enjoy A Million Blooms.)
  • Pay Now, Consume Later (Buy it now, and your membership lasts the entire year.)
  • Invest in Others (Do it for your family, or give the gift of membership to a family or individual you know and love.)

 The Atlantic sums it up well: “It’s kind of counter to the logic that if you pay for an experience, like a vacation, it will be over and gone; but if you buy a tangible thing, a couch, at least you’ll have it for a long time.”

Individual and family membership gift cards in a silver tinsel tree

Give the Gift of: Peace, Tranquility, Nature, Beauty — Experience

Decorated Conservatory Tree

The North Wing Conservatory Tree, photo by Don Williamson

The Conservatory Tree in the North Wing is one of our most elaborate holiday trees ever at Dominion GardenFest of Lights. This year, in an effort to commemorate the Garden’s 30th Anniversary and reflect on our rich history the Conservatory Tree is filled with symbolic ornaments and icons that take visitors on a tour through the Garden’s past.

Who Was Lewis Ginter?

Lewis Ginter was one of the foremost citizens of late 19th-century Richmond, his adopted home. The ornaments on this year’s North Wing tree symbolize various stories from his fascinating life. Enjoy the tree, and follow Lewis Ginter’s story as you find the ornaments shown here.
Lewis Ginter was born in New York in 1824 and orphaned at age 12. At 17, nearly penniless and barely educated, he made his way to Richmond where he opened a variety store, selling toys and domestic articles such as clocks and toiletries. He later added imported linens and woolens to his merchandise. At the onset of the Civil War, Ginter sold his thriving business and invested in sugar, cotton, and tobacco. He was active in the Civil War as a commissary in the Confederate Army. During the fall of Richmond, most of his stock of sugar and tobacco was burned, and his fortune lost. He was able to sell his cotton for enough to return to New York and work in the banking and brokerage business. He rebuilt his fortune—but lost it again in the 1873 stock crash.

WATCH ornament

Pocket watches and clocks were among the items Lewis Ginter sold in his variety store.

cotton balls grown at lewis ginter botanical garden

Lewis Ginter’s store of cotton financed his return to New York City after the Civil War to rebuild his fortune. This summer Horticulture staff grew cotton specifically for the North Wing Tree in the Conservatory. If you look closely you can see it all over the tree!


Lewis Ginter returned to Richmond in 1873, penniless once again after losing his second fortune. He rebuilt a fortune through his skillful selling of tobacco consignments from Southern growers. He partnered with John Allen to form Allen & Ginter tobacco. The company employed mostly young women to make hand-rolled cigarettes. With his imaginative marketing skills, Ginter realized that the pieces of cardboard used to stiffen cigarette packs could be made into collectible ‘trading cards’ featuring a variety of subjects. Cards were issued in series, and the company distributed decorative backing pieces on which the cards could be mounted and displayed.

Demand for Allen & Ginter’s cigarettes grew so large that the company offered a $75,000 prize to anyone inventing an automated cigarette rolling machine. James Bonsack patented a machine in 1889, but it was James Buchanan Duke who bought the device. Ginter traveled to the Paris Exposition of 1889 and the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 to display his company’s wares.

ferris wheel ornament

The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World Columbian Exposition in Paris and the world’s first Ferris wheel was introduced at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Lewis Ginter attended both events.


Members of the Commonwealth Club and Westmoreland Club approached fellow member and businessman Lewis Ginter to provide a destination outside the city where “wheelmen,” or bicycle enthusiasts, could rendezvous after a good ride. Ginter built a clubhouse on the nine acres he owned beside a lake north of town. The new Lakeside Wheel Club opened in November of 1895. Ginter died in 1897. By 1901 the bicycle craze had cooled. Ginter’s niece and heiress, Grace Arents, purchased the clubhouse and nine acres from her uncle’s estate. The building then served a brief stint as The Lakeside Sanatorium for Babies. Later, with a second floor added, and a reconfigured interior, the renamed “Bloemendaal Farm” served as a home to Grace Arents until her death in 1926.

Don’t miss the exhibit “The Lakeside Wheel Club” on view in the Lora M. Robins Library in the Kelly Education Center.

red bike with kick stand

Bicycling became a fashionable sport and rapidly increased in popularity after the ‘safety’ frame was introduced, using the crank-and-chain pedal mechanism and featuring the familiar diamond shaped frame still in use today.

In 1896, across from the Lakeside Wheel Club, Lewis Ginter opened Lakeside Park, a public pleasure park built on 63 acres. Amenities of the park included a fishing lake, a man-made island, rowboats and a boathouse, zoo, hedge maze, bicycle track, café, billiards, bowling alley, tennis courts and dance hall. Admission was 5 cents, children under eight were admitted free. A trolley line to the park opened in 1896. The park site is now Jefferson Lakeside Country Club.

stuffed bear

Bears were among the attractions at Lakeside Park.

skate ornament

The zoo featured bears, lions, wolves, and monkeys, among other animals. “Lakeside Park, the beautiful new north side resort… The lake which is fed by springs, has been specially stocked with fish, and will be supplied with an abundance of rowboats, and a convenient and speedy two-horsepower naphtha launch.” Richmond Dispatch, March 14, 1896. There are some reports that ice skating took place on the lake in winter.

golf club ornament

Today, the site of Lakeside Park is the Jefferson Lakeside Country Club.


When Ginter died in 1897, he was hailed as one of the South’s richest men. Among the projects he spearheaded are The Jefferson Hotel and the development of Ginter Park . He left much of his fortune to institutions in the city of Richmond and to his family and friends. He was generous to his niece, Grace Arents. On her death in 1926, she left her property called “Bloemendaal Farm” to the city of Richmond to establish a botanical garden named after her uncle, Lewis Ginter.

Stuffed alligator

One of the sensations of the opening of The Jefferson Hotel were the sunken pools in the lobby complete with live alligators. The last alligator died in 1848.

volunteer Jim Schiele  -- and kids looking in awe

Volunteer Jim Schiele “conducting” the trains & creating holiday magic for the thousands of kids who visit Dominion GardenFest of Lights.

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

If you’ve been to Dominion GardenFest of Lights before,  you will recognize some of our volunteers who come back, year after year, donating their time to a place that is near to their hearts, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Did you know that we have over 200 volunteers who help prepare for GardenFest and they end up working nearly 4,000 hours throughout the GardenFest season?  Volunteers in the North Wing of the Conservatory engage visitors, explaining about this year’s bike theme. Volunteers in the Kelly Education Center  welcome and greet you, and the volunteers in the Library can tell you all about the doll houses and make sure you don’t miss warming up by the gas logs in the Library Reading Room. Volunteers will even take your family photo in front of the Conservatory Tree. (Last year one lucky volunteer even got to take a photo of a young man proposing to his fiance in the Conservatory! #SheSaidYes)  Volunteers work in the Garden Shop, the will call desk, and even take tickets at the front door.

Jim Schiele is one of many, many, dedicated volunteers that the Garden is blessed to have. You’ll see him most nights as a “conductor” and “engineer” working behind the interactive train display in the Kelly Education Center.
“Jim Schiele – he is amazing,” Volunteer Manager Darlene Van Laan says,   “His positive outlook prevails — he loves to engage guests of all ages. He is a former teacher – his students love to visit with him. He works many nights, both shifts if we need him …he helped design and build our displays since we began having trains.”

So this post is dedicated to Jim and all the other Garden volunteers. We appreciate you!

If you are a visiting GardenFest and notice a volunteer with their signature lanyard name badge, please, bring some holiday cheer and thank them for sharing part of their day with us, working here so that you and your family can experience some GardenFest  magic.

volunteer Jim Schiele working with the trains.

Volunteer Jim Schiele working the train display, where you’ll find him most nights during the holiday season.

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

bike photo with crazy colors by d williamson

Photo by Don Williamson

Have you entered our  ‪#‎GardenFest‬ Instagram contest?  Just visit Dominion GardenFest of Lights and share with us your favorite photos on Instagram — tagging them with the #GardenFest hashtag! We’ll choose a winner based on creativity, fun and photographic composition.  You could win a prize package valued at over $600 including a membership to Science Museum of Virginia, tickets to Richmond Ballet’s Don Quixote, tickets to see the Richmond Symphony, plus passes for you and 11 of your friends to come back to the Garden for free!

Rules & Details: http://bit.ly/GrdnFest

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

A few weeks ago we told you about local Richmond artist John Meola crafting a 20-foot  holiday tree out of recycled bikes and bike parts. Now, see how it was made in this Richmond Time Lapse video.  The sculpture will be on display during Dominion GardenFest of Lights! (through January 12, 2015). Enjoy!

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

Peacock and Conservatory. Photo by Don Williamson.

Everyone is always looking for the Peacock! I guess this is bit more than a clue. Photo by Don Williamson.

Each year we have a new theme to Dominion GardenFest of Lights, and each year, old favorites (like the peacock) return.  One of the most commonly asked questions we get at the front desk this time of year is “Where’s the peacock?”  One family I spoke with told me they didn’t want to know, they just wanted a clue, because it was their family tradition to seek it out each year.

I don’t know if you are a seeker or a planner, but if you are a planner, you might enjoy looking at the  GardenFest Map before your visit.  You can research where you’ll find  all your favorite GardenFest creatures, so that you don’t miss a thing. Plus for the first time ever this year, you can walk all the way around  Lake Sydnor on our new Cherry Tree Walk.  Also, we we’ve moved the maze from the Children’s Garden to an area just behind the Conservatory. Now it’s 50 percent larger!

You’ll still find the bonfire (and s’mores!) in the Children’s Garden, but we’ve moved it back from the Lake edge, closer to Bloemendaal House. You won’t want to miss the pitcher plants in West Island Garden and the “Magnificent Magnolia” tulip magnolia tree in Flagler Garden, along with shooting stars. We’d love to see your photos of you in the “Man in the Moon” photo op too. You’ll find them all on the map. Just click on the image to make it larger, or download it from the link above.

gardenfest map

Ethan and the wildlife tree

Ethan in front of the Children’s Garden Wildlife Tree, which he helped decorate.

By Nicki, Youth Programs Developer, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Ethan Lindsey is a youth volunteer who comes with The Founders Center of Commonwealth Autism (formerly Dominion School for Autism) to participate in the Garden’s Vocational Program, a program that offers community youth the opportunity to explore a variety of careers and vocational training. As part of the Vocational Program,  I open dialogues with the students about their career interests and goals.  With Ethan, I discovered he wants to be a Christmas tree farmer — which I think is so fantastic I just had to write an article about it.

Ethan chose this unique career for a combination of reasons; he LOVES Christmas, he likes to work outdoors, and he thinks it’s a job he could actually do (which I agree as well). I can tell how much Ethan loves Christmas because when we got to talking about his tree at home, he was very excited to share that his is “already all lit up and fully decorated!” I asked him what kind of tree it is he replied that they have an artificial one but that he will probably get a real one for his bedroom.

Not only is Ethan a fan of Christmas, he is also an environmentalist. When I asked him what kind of tree he wanted to get for his room he explained, “probably a Fraser Fir because they are native to Virginia. I want to get a local tree because I think it is better for the environment. Non-local trees are shipped far and they can spread pests.”

I am thankful this future Christmas tree farmer will make the effort to be environmentally thoughtful in regards to what kind of tree he would grow and sell. Ethan also explained to me that when you are done with your tree, you can compost it which is also helpful to the environment.


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

As we celebrate Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s 30th anniversary this year, we look back on how the Garden has developed over the last 3 decades. We remember staff and volunteers who have journeyed with us and helped us form the botanical garden we know today.
This video, by former Community Kitchen Garden Coordinator and Garden volunteer Brian Vick, highlights a few of those memories, along with this year’s indoor displays and celebrates this year’s Dominion GardenFest of Lights theme: A Legacy in Lights – 120 Years from Bicycle Club to Botanical Garden. Enjoy!

By Kate Pyle, PR and Marketing Intern, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

As each day in December passes, the holidays tiptoe closer and closer. If you’re anything like me, you haven’t finished your shopping yet. Worse, if you are me, it means you haven’t even started shopping yet — yikes! I better get started… The clock is ticking!

While I don’t recommend this wait-until-the-last-minute strategy, Vikki Wilson of the Garden Shop has offered a list of some really great, oft over-looked items that would make wonderful gifts for any gardener near and dear to your heart:


“Ivy” our 50 gallon rain barrel.

1. Meet “Ivy” our 50 gallon, made in the USA of recycled materials, rain barrel – every home needs at least one! $96

Plant Nanny

Plant Nanny


2. This product takes the worry out of watering your houseplants! Plant Nanny is available in single for $4.50 or a four-pack for $16.95. The Plant Nanny utilizes old wine bottles to help water your plants while you are away. I personally will be picking some of these up for myself and my mom! I do quite a bit of travelling over the holidays and the Plant Nanny is a great way to be sure my plants are being watered in my absence.


Felco Pruning Shears

Felco Pruning Shears

3. Felco pruning shears, simply the best. From $46.50 – $94.50


Folding Kneeler

The Folding Kneeler

4. Folding Kneeler seat, $39.95. We all need a little help now and then. Buy one for yourself and one for a friend!


Terrarium Kit

Terrarium Kits

5. Mini gardens under glass! Terrariums continue to be trending in popularity. Garden Terrarium Kits are available in 8-inch ($48), 10-inch ($64), and 12-inch ($75), they come beautifully packaged and include everything you need to get started (except the plants!)


Fairy House Handbook

Fairy House Handbook

6. Also still very popular – fairy gardening – books and accessories from $2.95 – $16.95


I hope this round up has inspired you to visit the Garden Shop at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to pick out some things you may never have considered before. The Garden Shop offers such a beautiful variety of gifts for all ages and is open  for extended hours during Dominion GardenFest of Lights — Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.  Garden admission is not required to visit the Shop.

Proceeds from the Garden Shop go to support the Garden’s educational mission

Maze Don Williamson

Light maze and the Conservatory. Photo by Don Williamson.

Photo by Sarah Hauser

Just before dusk is a magical time at Dominion GardenFest of Lights. Here’s the Conservatory at sunset with the bonfire. Photo by Sarah Hauser

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

This year’s Dominion GardenFest of LightsA Legacy in Lights: 120 Years from Bicycle Club to Botanical Garden has been one of our most popular. With that in mind, and as our busiest time approaches we wanted to give you some tips for a great GardenFest visit.  The closer we get to Christmas, the busier GardenFest can be, especially on weekends, but with a little planning, we hope you’ll have your best visit yet.

• Arrive early (4:30 p.m.) or later (after 8:30 p.m.) to avoid peak times (5:30–8:30 p.m.). Sunset is a magical time to see the Garden during GardenFest.

• Carpool when possible.

• Purchase tickets in advance at the Admissions Desk in the Robins Visitor Center (daily, 9 a.m. –10 p.m. during GardenFest) or
online; or by calling (1-800-594-TIXX, ext. 8499). Service charges apply for online and phone sales.

•  Consider visiting on a weeknight, Friday and Saturday nights tend to be busier.

• Dress in layers since GardenFest encompasses both outdoor and indoor elements.

• If gates are closed due to full parking lots, check back in 30 minutes.

• Plan on multiple visits to fully enjoy the various exhibits and activities.

• Check the Garden Cafe Specials and plan to dine with us, or stay for a treat in one of our two restaurants. If planning to dine at the Robins Tea House, reservations are helpful. The full menu is served 5-8 p.m. and light bites, and desert (oh my gosh — Hazelnut Butter Cake topped with a sea salt caramel sauce!!) are served 8-9 p.m. Call (804) 262-9887, x 399  for Tea House GardenFest dinners reservations, or  (804) 262-9887, x 329 for daytime reservations.

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