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On Being Second

by Executive Director, Shane Tippett, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Conservatory by don williamson

This time last year, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was fortunate to be included in a month-long, on-line “10 Best Public Garden” survey sponsored by USA Today and 10Best. Our friends and neighbors who participated in the polling checked in when it was all said and done, asking, “How did the Garden do?”
“We finished second, thank you!” Then other questions came: “Who was first?” (First went to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, a truly remarkable place, well worth a visit.) The next question: “How do we become first?”I don’t have an answer for that, because I don’t think it is the right question.

Being a top ten botanical garden was a strategic goal of the Garden in the 1990s. It was bold and ambitious, staking a flag in the ground at a time when, compared to Longwood, pretty much all we had was a flag and some ground to stake it in. Yet it became a call to action for our community to support the expansion of their community garden, a place that resonated with the people of Richmond because we were becoming the garden they wanted and deserved. Being top ten is not in the strategic plan we have followed since 2009, and I think it is because we recognized that our focus should stay where it has always been: on being second.

We strive to be second to our community, our visitors and our members. We want you to be first in our thinking and in our actions. We hope to place ourselves second to the aspirations of our neighbors, offering our commitment to others as the starting point for all we hope to do. We strive to be second to our mission and the planet, checking our egos at the door, striving to take responsible actions and teach in ways that strengthen the vital relationship between people and plants – things that will allow the relationship among people and plants to thrive.

While being number one is not in our strategic plan today, this core value is: “Hospitality: Welcome diverse communities as visitors, members, volunteers and staff.” When we think of being second to our community, to striving to have our visitors, members, volunteers and staff reflect our community, it is in response to the core value of hospitality. And by “welcome,” we mean “embrace and celebrate.” We embrace and celebrate all in our community because we respect and value all in our community, as we respect and value the plant world.

Text and photos by Jonah Holland,  Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Cherry Blossoms  and Cherry Tree Walk

Have you ever been issued a “save the date” card without an actual date? Seems silly I suppose, but with our new Cherry Tree Walk blooming for the first time this year, we are gearing up for a very exciting spring. Trouble is, no one can predict exactly when they will bloom. Predicting the bloom time for Washington, D.C.’s National Cherry Blossom Festival around the Tidal Basin has become a focus “Bloom Watch,” set up by the National Park Service.  They are predicting 2015 peak bloom dates as April 11 – 14, 2015. Traditionally we are about a week to 10 days earlier. So possibly, maybe, (yes we are totally guessing) ours might peak around April 3-4.

I can’t think of anyone who takes the cherry blossoms more seriously than the National Park Service. In addition to the horticulturists who monitor the trees’s buds during this time period, they have a fascinating informational page with detailed pictures from green color in buds to peduncle elongation to “puffy white” bud descriptions. But we take our cherry blossoms seriously too! The trees around the Tidal basin in D.C. are mostly Yoshino (Prunus x yedoensis) but they also have Kwanzan, now called Prunus ‘Kanzan’.

Our Cherry Tree Walk, on the other hand has a wide variety of specimens (even including some ornamental plums and edible fruiting cherry trees) in order to add variety and to extend the bloom time as much as possible.  Director of Horticulture Grace Chapman also added some rare Prunus specimens from the  U. S. National Arboretum as well. So stay tuned to our Facebook page, our Instagram photos and this blog. We’ll be keeping you posted on cherry blossom bloom time as much as we can, but also, pencil in a trip to the Garden the week of April 1st – April 12th. You won’t want to miss our inaugural Cherry Tree Walk bloom.  Come to think of it, April 4-5 is Easter Weekend with Peter Rabbit, so why not make a weekend of it, have Easter Brunch, do some shopping, and make this a weekend to remember.

Update: One of our readers was kind enough to point me in the direction of a full list of cherry trees in the National Park Service collection including the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park, Washington Monument, and other D.C. parks. Turns out that while most of them are Yoshino or Kanzan, they also have quite a few other varieties including more varieties than I could list here.  Check out the link if you are curious! 

Cherry Blossoms and the Conservatory


by Jonah Holland,  Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' blooming in Flagler Garden.

Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’

Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ is our first daffodil to bloom each year. It made it through last week’s ice and snow storm just fine. Spring starts in 9 days, not that we are counting!

by Jonah Holland,  Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Leaf cut art moving installation by Hillary Waters

Leaf cut art moving installation by Hillary Waters

Walking down the hall in the Kelly Education Center yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice a very lovely art exhibit going up at Ginter Gallery II. The first thing that struck me was the movement. My walking stirred the air and in turn rippled across an installation of tiny leaves. I almost thought the leaves were butterfly wings.  Upon closer inspection I was amazed to see each one had been carefully cut, dried and pinned to the wall with a hand-made hanger.  The art flowed like a mobile on a wall.  Some of the leaves resembled crab shells, others resembled seashells.

Happily, the artist, Hillary Waters was still hanging the show when I walked by and I got to ask her the question I was most interested in learning: What kind of leaves did she use? Ligustrum was her reply. It’s a very simple shrub, with very plain, but sturdy leaves, which makes it perfect for a project like this. You might also know it as privet.

I filmed a movie for you of the movement, but trust me, this is one art show you’ll want to visit in person. To get a sense of the movement you can watch the video below. Hillary Waters is a graduate student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. 

Arboreal: Recent Works by Hillary Waters  March 7 – May 10, 2015

Daylight savings time reminder
Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 8, 2015.

by Hilaire Ashworth, PR & Marketing Intern, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden 

Hands show perspective on the seedling size.

Starting from the top clockwise: verbena, snapdragon, leeks, and arugula.

Today volunteers from HandsOn Greater Richmond  helped Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden staff prepare for the spring growing season in the Community Kitchen Garden. Since the weather has been too cold to plant anything outside, volunteers assisted with repotting seedlings in the greenhouse.

There are approximately 3,000 seedlings already started and more to come once the weather permits plants to be moved outside. All of the produce will be harvested in the summer and fall and benefits Central Virginia’s neediest citizens via FeedMore Inc. Among the plants are several varieties of kale, celery, leeks, arugula, and even snapdragons, verbena, and bee balm to attract pollinators. Once temperatures rise and become more stable, volunteers will be working outside to prepare plant beds and eventually place these seedlings in the ground.

It was such a pleasure working with these four wonderful volunteers and Community Kitchen Garden Horticulturalist, Laura Schumm. After getting my hands dirty and speaking with the volunteers, I learned that most of them were relatively new to gardening with the exception of one long-term gardener and plant enthusiast — São Berkowitz. All were eager to learn and contribute.

Volunteers standing in the Massey Greenhouse after completing their work.

From left to right: Laura Schumm, Jahleel Athey, São Berkowitz, Ariel Lawrence, and Edmund Burke.

Personally, I have enjoyed volunteering and learning about gardening from Laura Schumm as a Conservatory volunteer. I was curious to know what made my co-workers-for-the-day decide to volunteer with the Community Kitchen Garden. After a few brief conversations I learned that I was surround by truly amazing people.

Athey aspires to one day complete a degree in botany and eventually create an off-the-grid, sustainable community. By volunteering, he can hone his skills and make his dream a reality. Berkowtiz expressed that she wanted to build new friendships and was enthralled with contributing her time towards “such a great cause.”  Lawrence says she’s interested in exchanging “labor for knowledge.” The Richmond waitress likes to spend her mornings learning all she can about gardening and will soon starting planting in her first vegetable garden. Burke was very expressive about his desire to give back to his community. He is a successful barber shop owner and likes to give his spare time to helping local organizations, such as the Ronald McDonald House in Richmond.

We are so thankful for all of their wonderful help and I personally look forward to working with them in the coming weeks.

by Jonah Holland,  Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

We are thrilled to announce that Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will serve as the start venue for Richmond 2015‘s elite men’s and elite women’s team time trial events on September 20, 2015 during the 2015 UCI Road World Championships. The Garden’s involvement is a natural fit.  As you have likely read here before,  the Garden has  rich ties to cycling history.  Historic Bloemendaal House was originally the Lakeside Wheel Club, one of the nation’s first “wheel” or bicycle clubs and the epicenter of early cycling history in Richmond.

We are proud to celebrate cycling and Richmond 2015 at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. In honor of  the race we welcome you for these special events:

Saturday, September 19 through Sunday, September 27, 2015: The Lakeside Wheel Club and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, an exhibit about early cycling history in Richmond. Historic Bloemendaal House. Eight panels address different topics, including “The Cycling Craze at the Turn of the Century,” “Women and Fashion in the Bicycle Boom,” and “The Heyday of the Lakeside Wheel Club.” Included with Garden admission.

Sunday, September 20, 2015: The Garden is the start venue for the elite men’s and women’s team time trial events. FREE Garden admission on Sept. 20, 2015. 

Monday, September 21 through Friday, September 25, 2015: The Garden will have extended hours and live music with dining, beer and wine available for purchase. Included with Garden admission.

Female cyclist in purple outfit in front of the Conservatory

Garden volunteer Sherry Giese wears an 1890s-inspired bike outfit and guides a vintage bicycle from the same era. The costume was sewn from a historical pattern by Garden volunteers Mariette Norbom & Betty Woo.

by Jonah Holland,  Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Acer palmatum or Japanese maple 'Sango-Kaku'

Japanese maple ‘Sango-Kaku’ in snow with the Conservatory. Thanks to Facility Maintenance Manager Steve Sawyer for the photo.

Here’s a first look at the Garden after the snow storm. The Garden remains closed today, Feb. 26, 2015, due to snow and ice.

Hilaire Ashworth, PR & Marketing Intern, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden


Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Gold Rush’

Whilst wondering around the Garden last week I came across this beauty, that is budding despite the chilly temperatures.

Edgeworthia chrysantha, commonly known as oriental paperbush, Mitsumata, or simply paperbush comes from south western China, Nepal, and Japan. The plant has been incorporated into traditional Japanese papermaking called Washi, where bark fibers are combined with fibers from the gampi tree and the kozo plant to make this thin, but durable paper. Hence, why this plant is commonly referred to as paperbush.

Here at the Garden we have two of the four cultivars. E. chrysantha ‘Gold Rush’ (Asian Valley, Streb, Lotus Bridge) and  E. chrysantha ‘Snow Queen’ (in front of the Robins Visitor Center).

If you look closely at these little white umbrella-shaped buds you can see their yellow centers emerging. In a few weeks they will be bursting with a vibrant yellow. Not only are these quite lovely to look at but they also smell absolutely wonderful. You’ll can find these beauties nestled between the Robins Tea house and the Garden Café in the upper Asian Valley by the small pond, and in the triangular bed to the right, just before you cross the Lotus Bridge.


E. chrysantha ‘Gold Rush’


( January,2014).Edgeworthia chrysantha (oriental paperbush). Kew. Retrieved January , 2014
from http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/edgeworthia-chrysantha-oriental-paperbush

( January,2014).About Washi. The Japanese Paper Place. Retrieved January , 2014
from http://www.japanesepaperplace.com/abt-japanese-paper/about-washi.htm

darlene nancy penick

Plant sale chairs and volunteers Nancy Penick (left) with Helen Blencowe (center) and Darlene Van Laan.

by Jonah Holland,  Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Earlier this month longtime staff member  Darlene Van Laan retired.  Van Laan has been Volunteer Manager at the Garden for 11 years,  and over that time has ushered in hundreds of new volunteers at the Garden and made them feel the love of this place in a way that only she knew how.  I’ve always seen Van Laan as a mamma duck, looking over her flock of volunteers. She has a gift with people, and during her time here we’ve had a backlog of volunteers. That is, so many volunteers that we couldn’t process them all in as timely a fashion as we would like. Never did I think I a non-profit organization would ever exist where they might turn a volunteer away, or tell someone, “We would love to have you volunteer with us, but it might be a few weeks before we can find a spot for you.”  Van Laan has a magical way with people,  a way of letting you know with a look, or a touch that you are valued, and you are loved.

So you can see why her retirement was a bittersweet occasion. She of course didn’t want us to make a fuss over her leaving, and actually, I had a bit of trouble finding out when her last day was, because she wanted it all to be low-key. But we want to honor her and her commitment to the volunteers  and to the Garden over all these years.  We asked a few longtime volunteers to say a few words about her and what she’s meant to the Garden Volunteers.

“Darlene has a way of making each volunteer feel special and important to the garden. Darlene really makes each volunteer feel that their time given to the garden is important and appreciated. ” ~Nancy Penick,  head of the volunteer plant sale committee.

“She truly cares about all volunteers and if they were ill or going through challenges, she was right there. She would visit you in hospital and you would end up with some food, not just her famous brownies. Of course, Darlene is one special person and will be missed by many, not just the volunteers.  She enjoyed the plant sales and it was a joy to see her working away on labels and culture information while wearing a special plant sale hat.” ~Julie Abbott, Garden Volunteer for 29 years.

As for me, I remember they day I met Darlene (over 7 years ago) like it was yesterday. She was assisting volunteers who were serving rose-flavored ice-cream during our October Rose Fest. I’d been on staff a mere 3 weeks, and was thrilled that not only did she know who I was but was ecstatic to see me.  Many volunteers consider Van Laan  like family, and I am one of them.

Van Laan’s quiet retirement meant she sent this message to staff and volunteers after her departure. It’s beautiful and we’ll like to share it with you:

“Small words for large feelings” ….. The Garden is special for me because of you, my friends.  I am overwhelmed as I think of the variety of experiences shared and friendships we have made.  It is not possible to capture or to meaningfully celebrate the last 11 years – especially to say goodbye to them. The words are so small – thank you for your support and kindnesses to me and for your dedicated service to the Garden. You have made this experience the best part of my journey!  So goodbye to this Volunteer Manager position only – I will see you in the Garden!


Volunteers looking at gift book

Volunteers looking at the “Plant sale book” made by Nancy Penick in Darlene’s honor.

nancy penick and darlene

Can you feel the love?

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