Oct 16th, 2008

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Strives to be Green

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

Everyone knows that Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is full of green plants, but did you know that Lewis Ginter is also always trying to think of new ways that it can be green to the environment? Recently, I’ve found out Lewis Ginter is doing alot of things to help the earth.

Did you know that we now have two new bike racks — one in the east parking lot and one in the west parking lot? Now, it is easier than ever for employees of Lewis Ginter and visitors to ride their bikes here.

What else are we doing that’s green?  Well, we’ve got a whole list of things!

Did you know that unlike many gardens that heat their greenhouses, here at Lewis Ginter we heat the soil in our Conservatory because it uses less energy?  Hot water circulates through rubber hoses that heat the soil so air temperatures can be held to moderate levels.

Plus, in February, as part of our 25th Anniversary Celebration, we are hosting an entire 3-day symposium on green gardening and sustainablity. Gardening in an Era of Climate Change: Is the Sky Really Falling? will feature nationally-renowned speakers on sustainable practices in gardening and how horticulture is being transformed by environmental, societal, and technological changes in the 21st century. The symposium will address the how the impact of individual and institutional choices affects sustainability and the environment.

Registration will open in November.


Here are some of my other favorite things we are doing at the Garden to stay green:

Water Management Plan: The Garden recently had a water management plan designed for the purpose of developing and demonstrating best practices and sustainable strategies for water usage. Some good practices are already in place — the Garden collects rainwater from the roofs of its buildings and funnels it into an irrigation lake; the Children’s Garden uses rain barrels. Horticulture carefully monitors and controls water usage. Gardens are being designed with water usage in mind, for instance the new Rose Garden uses underground drip irrigation and includes a constructed wetland at its base for filtration. As part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Garden is poised to set an example and be an educational resource.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Already practiced in the Children’s Garden, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is moving toward Integrated Pest Management or IPM. IPM is an effective, environmentally friendly approach to pest management that relies on a combination of commonsense practices. The goal of IPM is to see a reduction of pests to acceptable numbers with the least environmental impact.

Rose Garden: The new rose collection reflects some of the newest and most geneticallysuperior hybrids, bred for disease resistance, rebloom and fragrance. The majority of the cultivars are from nurseries in France, Italy, Germany and England, and most are new to the Virginia region. The selections have been carefully made with concern for environmental responsibility to minimize the need for chemicals to control disease and insects. The location of the Garden, on the hillside, should help in providing natural air movement, which will also aid in minimizing fungal diseases.

Children’s Garden: Staff and young visitor help grow herbs for use in the Café and Tea House. Fruits and vegetables are harvested for theCentral Virginia FoodBank.
The Children’s Garden also uses environmentally friendly materials that are long lasting and do not carry preservatives that would be harmful to children who come in contact with them. For example, the rampway to the Tree House is constructed of a WeatherBest, a recycled plastic product. The shingles on the Tree House are made of recycled rubber

GardenFest of Lights: In 2007, staff began replacing incandescent lights with LED holiday lights that are slightly more expensive,yet pay for themselves in the first yearthrough electricity savings. For example, the electrical cost to light a holiday tree with LEDs is 13 to 17 cents per season compared to $6 to $10 for incandescent lights. Already, more than 25 percent of theGardenFest lights have been converted – totaling more than nine miles of LED strands in a 500,000-light display.

Meriwether Godsey (the Garden’s caterer): For group events, the Garden’s caterer has substituted reusable tumblers for disposable plastic cups and uses fully compostable hot cups and napkins made of 100% recycled material. Food containers are made of a corn-based product.

Garden Shop: “Green” merchandise includes Rich Earth and Eco Pots, reusable tote bags and helpful gardening resources. Watch for new arrivals as they become available.

Lora M. Robins Library: Environmental stewardship is covered by a bounty of resources, including books for children.

In many cities, nearly a third of the volume hauled to the landfill is landscape refuse, such as lawn clippings, leaves, branches and wood chips. Homeowners who compost at home remove some burden off our landfills. The clippings are “free fertilizer”!
Identify bugs before you spray, squash or stomp – most bugs are good bugs, not pests.
Consider planting native trees and plants, especially ones with berries, fruits and flowers to invite birds, butterflies, and other wildlife into your yard.


When you are watering, focus on trees and shrubs – especially newly planted ones. Newly planted trees and shrubs are vulnerable to extremes in heat and moisture and can be expensive to replace if roots are damaged by drought.
It’s good to water established lawns and shrubs about one inch per week, but you can cut that to one quarter of an inch per week during times of extreme drought. (Use a rain gauge to track how much water you are using.)
For newly established plants, water when the root systems are dry.
The best way to tell is to put your finger in the soil about two to three inches deep around the young roots – if the ground feels dry, it is time to water.
Be sure to also look around your yard for signs of stress. If you see wilted leaves or leaves turning yellow, pay attention to these plants. Azaleas, which are shallow-rooted plants, show signs of stress quickly and are a great “indicator” plant.
It is better to water deeply and less frequently. For instance watering once a week, allowing water to drip slowly into the root systems for three to four hours, is more helpful than frequent shallow waterings. Watering deeply helps establish deeper root systems. Be sure to monitor weekly.
The best time to water is early in the morning just before dawn. It’s important to get the soil thoroughly wet. The morning sun will dry off the foliage, which lessens conditions for fungal diseases. Watering in the morning is also good because evaporation loss is minimal – the humidity is higher and the winds are calmer.
The best way to water is to allow water to drip through the hose right into the root system. Gushing water is not good because it washes the soil away and the water often runs into other areas instead of soaking in around the plant’s roots. One easy tip is to build a dam of soil around the base of the newly established plant. The dam holds the water in around the plant, allowing it to seep into the root system.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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