Sep 23rd, 2020

Childhood Memories of Dot

Whenever I visit Lewis Ginter, there are three things I always make sure to see: the hydrangea bush on the far end of Sydnor Lake, the Conservatory, and Dot’s Garden. In their own way, each of these places reminds me of my grandmother, Dot Robelen. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was one of her favorite places in Richmond, and she volunteered in the Garden Shop for 21 years. Gardening was such an important part of my grandmother’s life, and she loved to share her appreciation for plants with others, including me.

A bench in the lush green of Dot's Garden

A bench for a moment of peace and reflection in Dot’s Garden, part of Flagler Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Childhood Memories

Hydrangeas have been my favorite flower ever since my family visited Cape Cod with my grandparents when I was 7 years old. It was an exciting trip for me because we got to take a plane to Boston, something I had only done once before. I woke up the first morning we were there to my grandmother whispering for me to get dressed so we could go to the bakery for breakfast. No one else in the house was awake. When you’re a kid, a trip to a bakery is always fun, but the town had sidewalks everywhere, so we got to walk to the pastries, which made it even more fun. The walk took twice as long as it should have, though, because I insisted that my grandmother and I stop and look at every hydrangea that lined the sidewalk, and there were lots of them. I loved all the different colors: the pinks, the purples, the blues, and the whites. The tiny sepals that made up the big flowerhead fascinated me. In the early morning air, the hydrangeas smelled so sweet and so fresh. We finally made it to the bakery, and I got to help my grandmother pick out pastries for everyone. She carried the big box, and I ate my treat on the walk back, staring at the hydrangeas the whole time. Whenever I walk past the hydrangea bush at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, I think of that walk I took with my grandmother and how patient she was with me while I appreciated the flowers.

My grandmother loved gardening, but she also loved reading. She made it a point to give my brother and me beautifully illustrated children’s books. My dad and I liked to read those books together, and our favorite was called Miss Rumphius.  A the time, the book was sold in the Garden Shop, so Dot probably brought it home to me after one of her volunteer shifts.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nikko Blue' brings back childhood memories.

Hydrangeas like this Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ bring back childhood memories of a time in Cape Cod.

Miss Rumphius was about a woman named Alice Rumphius, who lived a life full of adventure, but as an old woman wanted to do something to make the world more beautiful, as her grandfather had advised her when she was a child. Because she loved flowers, she decided to scatter lupine seeds everywhere she went. But before this happened, one of Miss Rumphius’s first adventures was leaving her small town to work as a librarian in a big city. On her days off, Miss Rumphius would visit a conservatory in the park. “When she stepped inside on a wintry day, the warm moist air wrapped itself around her, and the sweet smell of jasmine filled her nose,” the book said. Whenever I step inside the Conservatory at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the warm moist air wraps itself around me, and the sweet smell of the orchids in the East Wing fills my nose, reminding me of reading books with my dad and my grandmother.

Dot's memorial marker

When my grandmother passed away in September 2014, my grandfather decided he wanted to do something special to honor her. Exactly one year and one day after her death, Dot’s Garden was dedicated, and my family and my grandmother’s friends came to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to celebrate her life. Dot’s Garden is located off of the Woodland Walk in the Flagler Garden. Just like my grandmother, the garden is understated and elegant. It’s a place for quiet contemplation. I always take a minute to sit on the bench and remember her while I’m sitting there. Her spidery handwriting labeling our Christmas presents. The birthday shopping trips she would take me on. The Puffins cereal she would feed my brother and me for breakfast. The way she would decorate her house for every holiday, big or small. When I look at the hostas growing in Dot’s Garden, I can’t help but smile thinking about the clear fishing line fence at her garden at home to protect her hosta from the deer. She would always remind me to be careful, and I would always run into it anyway.

Caroline is a PR & Marketing intern and a senior at the University of Richmond majoring in leadership studies and journalism.

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