A Garden for the Community
Connecting People with Plants
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was founded in 1984 as a community oriented, non-profit garden. It was made possible by Grace Arents (1848-1926), a Richmond philanthropist who bequeathed funds to create a botanical garden. Grace wished to honor her beloved uncle Lewis Ginter (1824-1897) and her will stipulates the name of the Garden.
Today, the Garden is comprised of 82 acres and includes more than a dozen themed garden areas, including a Conservatory, Children’s Garden and Kroger Community Kitchen Garden growing fresh produce for area food banks. In a typical year, the Garden welcomes and celebrates more than 450,000 guests, including 17,000 schoolchildren and 14,000 member households. A team of approximately 70 staff members are joined by 700 volunteers to make the Garden possible.
The Garden’s mission is connecting people with plants to improve communities.
Created by Grace
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s history begins with the generosity of its first benefactor, Grace Arents, the niece of 19th-century businessman and philanthropist Lewis Ginter. In 1913, Grace purchased the abandoned Lakeside Wheel Clubhouse and its 10 acres in Henrico County from her late uncle’s estate. Before long, she expanded her farm, now named “Bloemendaal” (Valley of Flowers, after an ancestral Dutch town), to 73 acres and a number of support buildings. In 1926 Grace died, and through her will bequeathed Bloemendaal Farm and an endowment of $100,000 to the City of Richmond for a “public park and botanical garden” to be named in honor of her beloved uncle Lewis Ginter.
Nurtured by Concerned Citizens
Grace gave life rights to her companion, Mary Garland Smith, and when Mary Garland died in 1968, Bloemendaal became the responsibility of the City of Richmond’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The City investigated several plans for a botanical garden, but none came to fruition. In the early 1980s, members of the Richmond Horticultural Association gathered a dedicated group of botanists, horticulturists, and concerned citizens in order to uphold the terms of Grace Arents’ bequest.
The Garden Blooms
In 1984, when the Garden was organized and chartered, the property was largely untended and the few buildings on site were suffering from age and neglect. It took three years to open to the public. After 36 years of rapid growth, the Garden now encompasses 82 acres, four lakes, 5,700 unique taxa of plants within 15 distinct outdoor gardens, 11 major buildings including a conservatory and greenhouse, plus an 80-acre branch site, the Lewis Ginter Nature Reserve. In recent years the Garden has been honored with inclusion in a number of top ten lists for botanical gardens in North America.
Images before the Garden
A group of botanists, horticulturists and interested citizens banded together to form the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Inc. to uphold the will of Arents. A lawsuit ensued. An amicable settlement allowed the formation of the Garden. The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was chartered by court decree in 1984.
Mary Garland Smith died at the age of 100. The city of Richmond took possession of the property. The city investigated plans for a botanical garden but none of them came to fruition and the property languished.
Grace Arents died at the age of 78 at her home Bloemendaal Farm. She willed life-rights to Smith and stipulated after Smith’s death that the city of Richmond was to develop the property as a botanical garden honoring Lewis Ginter. She is buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
Grace Arents, Ginter’s niece, bought the abandoned Lakeside Wheel Club. She remodeled the structure, adding a second story, and made it a convalescent home for sick children from the city.
Later with the founding of the Instructional Visiting Nurses Association, the convalescent home was no longer needed and Arents moved into the house with her companion, Mary Garland Smith. She called it Bloemendaal in tribute to the Ginter family’s Dutch ancestors and developed gardens on the property. Bloemendaal means “valley of flowers.”
On October 2, Lewis Ginter died at the age of 73. His death took place at his country home called Westbrook, on land now belonging to the Westminster-Canterbury retirement community. His death was greatly mourned throughout the city, as he was known for his kindness and philanthropy. Lewis Ginter is buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
Lewis Ginter bought nine acres on Lakeside Lake and allowed his colleagues in the Commonwealth and Westmoreland Clubs to build the Lakeside Wheel Club, a one-story structure that was later modified and incorporated into Bloemendaal House. The Wheel Club was a destination for Richmond bicyclists.