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by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Tree Story Instagram Contest image

One of the things I love most about working at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden are the memories that I connect with certain plants and people. Walking around the Garden and seeing those particular plants makes me think of people I love.  Always and forever, I will associate snap dragons with my Nana Ruby, who showed me how to make them create a popping or snapping sound, hence the name.  I’ll always think of my Aunt Sally when I see a flower she called “Blue-eyed Sallies” because her sister, my mom, had a flower “named” after her. You  guessed it — Black-eyed Susans.

But trees hold a magical place in my heart. Trees you can climb! You can sit in their shade. You can visit them year after year and they are the same, and different, all at the same time.  I’ve been known to write a few tree stories over the years, particularly tree stories about how much my son loves the 100-year-old mulberry tree here at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. I treasure these photos because the remind me of that magical time.

My son, as a youngster, in the Children's Garden mulberry tree.

My son, as a youngster, in the Children’s Garden mulberry tree.

Did I mention that I was actually late to work today, because that same child was climbing a tree in our front yard, and didn’t want to get out of the tree to go to school? There’s just something about trees.  If you have a favorite tree or a favorite tree story — perhaps you’ll be interested in our #TREEstory Instagram contest.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is hosting an exhibit, Every Tree Tells a Story — photography featuring trees with extraordinary histories and meaningful stories. After viewing the exhibit and seeing the garden in fall, post a photograph on Instagram that shares one of your favorite tree stories by using the hashtag #TREEstory. The best photo/story combination wins a copy of Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn. Whether it’s right here in the garden or in your neighborhood, every tree tells its own story. Come see the show at the Kelly Education Center in Ginter Gallery II and share your #TREEstory!

The exhibition at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has been made possible with generous support from presenting sponsor, The Davey Tree Expert Company.


Seeing Trees book by Nancy Ross Hugo

by Randee Humphrey, Director of Education, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

beautifulrva sept 2014 edited

Beautiful RVA participants worked in small groups to express their ideas.

Last week, several dozen community influencers rallied at the Garden for a “roll up your sleeves” workshop that focused on developing components for a Community Greening ToolKit.  The ToolKit is an outcome of conversations over the past year about how to create an enabling environment in greater Richmond for more community-based, grassroots greening and beautification projects.  So now, with a $50,000 grant from The Community Foundation, that’s what we’re building, with lots of engagement from the community activists who comprise Beautiful RVA.

 The vision of Beautiful RVA is to  engage and empower citizens to foster an improved quality of life for all in greater Richmond through public horticulture, urban greening, and community-based beautification.  Ultimately, we all want a more economically prosperous, socially resilient, and healthier region, and greening efforts can impact everyone’s quality of life.  All are welcomed to participate in creating a more Beautiful RVA — to connect with this movement, just send an e-mail to randeeh *at* lewisginter.org

 A special thank you to independent radio producer Catherine Komp, whose feature story about Beautiful RVA aired earlier this week on WCVE’s Virginia Currents program during NPR’s Morning Edition.

To join the conversation online, search Twitter for #BeautifulRVA 

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

George Cowart and Dom staff Kimberly Ohrum and Caralos Dickerson

Dominion Power volunteers Caralos Dickerson (left), and Kimberly Ohrum (right), helped Horticulturist George Cowart plant a prunus tree, one of the test trees donated by the National Arboretum. Volunteers worked this week with staff to finish the planting around the Cherry Tree Walk.

One of the cool things about having corporate volunteer  groups come to the Garden to work is that I’m always learning from them.   This morning, two corporate groups from Dominion Virginia Power and Capital One, worked alongside Garden staff and volunteers to complete the planting along the Garden’s new Cherry Tree Walk.  I stopped to chat with Dominion volunteers Caralos Dickerson, and Kimberly Ohrum, as they took a break from their work. Dickerson’s typical day is spent working as a lineman’s assistant, and Ohrum typically works as an administrative assistant helping to dispatch workers like Dickerson to repair projects. Dickerson explained that they started their workday here at the Garden, the same way they start everyday — with a safety briefing. They call it a job analysis at Dominion, but basically, Dickerson explained, the staff talks about any hazards they might encounter, or safety precautions they will want to take. Dickerson, I could tell, was great at this part of his job. He rattled off, trip hazards, insects, snakes, using the tools properly, and even stretching, as pre-job precautions they might want to consider.

water supply

Dominion Power has been instrumental in helping us educate visitors about what they can do in their own yards to help protect our waterways. Replacing turf with ornamental grasses and trees is a great start.

It’s also fitting that  it was Dominion volunteers work working to plant this area. As you can see in the photo above, Dominion funded several signs that help us educate our visitors about what they can do in their own yard to help protect our waterways.

A cart filled with brush and weeds from along the lakeside.

We removed alot of brush and weeds from the lakeside, and planted many natives — grasses & shrubs — plus the beautiful cherry trees will also help filter water run-off.


Capital One work at home team

The Capital One “work at home” team, taking a break from planting. From left to right Karen Thorpe, Ann Hedberg, Tara Benedetti, Amy Ryan, Melissa Kuhnle, Betsy Cochran, Claire Dunford, Mary Van Buren, Cly Holloway, China Harding, and Debbie Korosi.

Since the Capital One “work at home” team, work from home, and not in the central office,  working together in the Garden volunteering was an opportunity to get to know each other better.

Tara Benedett from Capital One

Planting as team-building is a great way to get to know your co-workers. Here Tara Benedetti. is planting some new natives.

On the other side of Lake Sydnor, members of the Pocahontas Chapter of the Native Plant Society worked with Garden staff and Garden volunteers to complete the planting. This was a huge team effort by all, and could not have been completed in such a short time-frame without the help from multiple groups.  We were rewarded by Mother Nature with a good 12-hour soaking rain, just after we finished the planting.

Native plantings along Lake Sydnor

The new plantings for the Cherry Tree Walk go all the way around the lake. Here’s a snapshot of one completed area.

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

Planting tulip bulbs in the central garden

Lewis GInter Botanical Garden staff and volunteers plant tulip and daffodil bulbs in the Central Garden. We are in for a treat, come spring!

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Just one more reason that nature is amazing: here’s the Orange Dead Leaf butterfly (Kallima inachus). Perfect mimic for a dead leaf. Wish I could catch this one with his wings open — then you’d see bright orange and purple-blue. Don’t forget, Butterflies LIVE! closes in just a few short weeks, on Oct. 12th.


orange dead leaf butterfly Orange Dead Leaf (Kallima inachus)

Orange Dead Leaf (Kallima inachus) in the Butterflies LIVE! exhibit at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

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

osmanthus flowers

Osmanthus blooms attract pollinators with their fragrance too!

It’s hard to believe such a small, delicate flower can have such a heavenly fragrance. You’ll find the Osmanthus just across the Lotus Bridge between Bloemendaal House and the Children’s Garden, or you can just follow your nose!

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

Fifth graders taking the temperature of the soil at various radius from the tree trunk.

Fifth graders from George Mason Elementary School taking the temperature of the soil at various radius from the tree trunk.

boy and girl using a compas

Using a compass, and teamwork, to gather data.

girls gathering data

Determining the temperature of the soil at various points distance from the tree trunk. The children found that the temperature closer to the trunk was slightly lower than outside of the tree canopy. Because it was an overcast day, the temperature difference was small.

As part of a partnership with Blue Sky Fund, 5th graders from Richmond Public Schools’ George Mason Elementary School learned hands-on math and science in the Garden. Working collaboratively, students measured air and soil temperature under the tree leaf canopy and outside the tree canopy to determine if trees modify the temperatures of the air and soil around them. Students also measured the water volume to determine if trees impact evaporation of water from the soil.  Students  were able to compare growth rates of two different trees by measuring annual twig growth to discover that different tree species have different rates of growth, and they speculated about weather and other environmental factors that may have contributed to different growth rates.  Have you ever seen kids having so much fun using math, geometry, and algebra skills to solve real-world problems?!  I loved hearing the students’ teacher say that she noticed a clear change in the way some of the children engaged with the science learning differently than they do in the classroom.  For some children in particular, she said, there was a marked difference in the level of focus and interest in learning the material. There’s just something about outdoor, hands-on learning that makes it different than a classroom learning experience.

In the coming weeks, 5th classes from Chimborazo Elementary, Fairfield Court, Belleview, & Woodville Elementary will also participate in this outdoor learning program. Then, the children will come back in October, to see what’s changed.  This program was made possible thanks to a grant from The Dominion Foundation.

By Nicki, Youth Programs Developer, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

michelle okra

Michelle harvesting okra in the Community Kitchen Garden

Michelle Zhu is a long-time participant in the Youth Volunteer Summer Program, a volunteer opportunity for youth (ages 13-18). Participants in this program work a variety of areas including the Community Kitchen Garden, which harvests food for FeedMore’s Community Kitchen. Michelle participates every summer and comes every day, except when she is in Rock Camp (she’s also a totally rad drummer).

Another one of Michelle’s interest is culinary arts. Often, participants in the Youth Volunteer programs get to take home herbs and vegetables as part of the educational experience and Michelle always puts her take-homes to good use. From carrots she made a roasted baby carrot dish with a mustard sauce and she made a root vegetable roast with the beets. With parsley she created pan fried fish with parsely.

Her Chinese heritage makes for interesting conversation when discussing edibles. She explains how Western weeds and ornamentals are often incorporated into Chinese cuisine.

“We do use/grow a lot of good greens like luffa or winter melon (a type of gourd). In addition to that, we find a lot of usage in particular weeds, like dandelions, and some others, so a lot of the more aesthetic plants at the Garden are incorporated more purposefully in our cuisine. It’s all part of Chinese medicine… that we find these unconventional herbs and vegetables to use in our dishes.”

Winter Gourd

Winter Gourd at Michelle’s house

Some of Michelle’s new favorite edibles she learned about and harvested while participating in the Youth Volunteer Summer Program, include okra, cherry tomatoes, parsley, and zucchini. Because of Michelle’s interest in the culinary arts and her advanced participation, I often asked Michelle to harvest the herbs and vegetables we grow in the Garden Cafe’ plot and deliver them to the Garden Café. Michelle mastered harvesting purple basil and parsley, are some of the main ingredients in the Café’s pesto. One of Michelle’s favorite educational components is Food Demo Day when all of the Youth Volunter  participants get to make pesto with the Master Chef in the Garden Café’s kitchen.

Michelle’s window plants

Michelle’s window plants, some of which are cuttings from the Garden which she obtained while participating in the Youth Volunteer Summer Program.

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

Editor’s note:  We love you to meet our new staff members. You, our biggest fans, get the inside scoop on who’s new to the Garden, and learn a little something about how we got here and why we love to work here too. Hope you’ll stop and say hi if you see us while you are here! Meet Assistant Facility Events Coordinator Sarah Neely, our newest staff member. 

Sarah Neely in the Asian Valley

Sarah Neely in the Asian Valley

Q: What is your favorite part of the Garden?
The Asian Valley is hands down my favorite place to wander. It’s such a different space in the Garden and has really peaceful and quaint pathways with my favorite — bridges! I have a soft spot for a good bridge that’s over a stream or babbling brook.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
I really enjoy meeting the brides. Each one has a different vision and excitement they bring when planning their special day. It’s fun to see what type of wedding they decide to have and what they end up doing with the venue. There aren’t many places that you can leave the office and find a little oasis to clear your head and everyone at the Garden has been very welcoming and helpful, which has been a great feeling since day one.
Q: Tell us something surprising about you that (people) coworkers might not know.
I do target shooting! I have a boyfriend in the Army that taught me how to shoot, and my first time the employees at the range were calling me “dead eyes.” Apparently I’m a natural and a deadly shot with a 9 millimeter. I think it’s due to all the hours of playing Duck Hunt as a kid.
Q: Where did you work before you came to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden?
For the past 8 years I have worked in various part time positions from a private nanny, to tutor to  catering coordinator. I worked at Burkwood Swim and Racquet Club for 8 years as mainly an Aquatics Manager and a Swim Instructor Coordinator. I also worked at I CATER as an assistant event coordinator to the head caterer, where I handled many events including weddings, showers  and luncheons. Every December, since I was 6 years-old, I volunteered with the Richmond Times-Dispatch at their annual Holiday Hoops High School Basketball Tournament. Eventually I was and then was hired to work  as assistant to the tournament directors, a job that also  included coordinating catering/hospitality, as well as sales and marketing efforts. So, I have worn many different “hats” over the years. Finally,  I’ve found a job that incorporates them all!
Q: Where did you grow up?
Right here in Virginia! I’m a small town girl from Old Church. It’s the boonies of Mechanicsville, where you see a lot of cornfields and get stuck behind big tractors on the way into town. Almost forgot, tons of deer too!
Q: What do you do in your free time?
Hiking trails in the mountains and exploring new restaurants, vineyards, breweries and music all around Virginia. Anywhere that I can put up my Eno hammock and enjoy nature is a plus on my excursions. I’m an avid volleyball player and swimmer, so whenever I get a chance to participate in races or pick-up games I jump at the opportunity.

Sarah Neely

Sarah having a bit of fun with her new job.


VSU students planting parsley at the entrance to the Children’s Garden .

A group of pre-service teachers, grad students and faculty from the Education, Biology, and Agriculture departments at  Virginia State University participated in a hands-on workshop with Children’s Garden program developers Kristi Orcutt and Kristin Mullen.

vsu 2

VSU students measuring the Darlington oak in the Grace Arents Garden

As part of a National Science Foundation  grant, the pre-service teachers ‘dug into learning’ in the Central Garden, Children’s Garden Farm Garden, at the compost bin, on the Tree Trail, and under the Darlington Oak in Grace Arents Garden. They’ll each use their experiences here to develop a multi-disciplinary inquiry-based lesson for their Science Exploration Day on September 27th.

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