Oct 20th, 2023

The Best Places for Fall Leaf Peeping in the Garden

A path at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden lined with fall foliage.

Garden paths are lined with yellow, red, and orange leaves in the fall. Photo by Tom Hennessy

Watching the leaves turn in autumn is something I have looked forward to every year since I was a child. Growing up in Richmond, I loved seeing the city transform into a red, orange, and yellow oasis as the fall months progressed. After traveling to and from James Madison University over the past four years, I have seen the incredible beauty of the Shenandoah Valley during the autumn. Luckily, there is also somewhere much closer to home to take in the captivating colors of the season: Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Autumn along Sydnor Lake

November foliage along Sydnor Lake. Photo by Tom Hennessy

To learn which sections, plants, and trees offer the most vibrant fall foliage, I went on a walk with Megan Lacey, a horticulturist at Lewis Ginter. While there are great places to see fall color all over the Garden, Megan’s top locations are the Henry M. Flagler Garden and Grace Arents Garden

Ginko Tree in fall in the Grace Arents Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

The ginkgo tree in the Grace Arents Garden. Photo by Tom Hennessy

“When I think about fall, I think of my favorite species of trees and their colors,” Megan begins. One of the most vibrant trees is the ginkgo in Grace Arents. “The leaves turn a fantastic yellow color, often very quickly,” she says. “Then the tree drops all of its leaves in about one day, which is exciting.”

Ginko leaves in fall. photo by Tom Hennessy.

Golden ginkgo leaves in fall. Photo by Tom Hennessy

Also in Grace Arents are maple trees, which turn beautiful shades of red and orange, a black gum with leaves that go vibrant scarlet, and a dogwood with a deep-red hue. 

October color in Grace Arents Garden.

Along the Garden’s borders are native trees like hickory, which turn a rich, warm yellow color. “Hickories, maples, and stewartias are also found on the Woodland Walk, along with crepe myrtles, which either stay green or turn red depending on the cultivar,” Megan says. “There are a lot of maples in Flagler Garden, too.” She points to one that is still holding onto its green leaves. “This will get a nice orangey-red color to it as the temperatures drop.”

The Flagler Garden path. photo by Meredith Orne

October light along the Flagler Garden path. Photo by Meredith Orne

As we pass a deciduous magnolia and a weeping katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), Megan reminds me not to forget about those trees, because they’ll turn yellow and the weeping katsura will develop a maple-syrup-like scent. “One of the benefits of coming to a place like Lewis Ginter for fall color is that you get to see all of the cool non-natives,” she says.

The weeping katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) in Flagler Garden, which develops a maple-syrup-like scent in fall. Photo by Meredith Orne

There are Japanese maples in front of the Robins Tea House and throughout Asian Valley that have amazing fall colors and strolling the paths here and along Sydnor Lake offer the chance to see the foliage reflected in the water.

Fall foliage in Asian Valley. Photo by Tom Hennessy

Ultimately, Megan’s favorite places to see autumn colors are “wherever there is a big concentration of a lot of different species of plants and trees!” So, if you’re looking to be surrounded by the vibrant tones of fall, the Garden really is the place to be.

Meredith Orne is a marketing intern at the Garden. She has a bachelor's degree in Media Arts & Design with a minor in Business. She also loves photography, writing, art, and graphic design and is excited to learn more about the Garden through these channels.

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