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  • Carrie Cochran

Top 6 Gardens to See at Norfolk Botanical Garden Any Time of Year

Hello, adventurers!

As the winter weather finally sets into my east-coast town, I'm finding that it's far easier to reflect on sunnier days than to view the gray-clouded skies outside my window. The scene certainly stirs my wanderlust for warmer climates, bright flowers, and sandy beaches. However, it does bring a particular element of joy to be able to write about something that evokes those warm, colorful memories, and I hope to spread a little of that warmth with you today with a new adventure spot.

A few weeks back, Daniel and I took a long overdue trip to the Norfolk Botanical Garden. While I knew that the Garden hosts a dazzling holiday light display every year, I honestly didn't know much more about it, or what to expect. And especially since we visited in November, I was half-afraid that the gardens would be dull and dead from the cold fronts that had already passed through.

However, like many adventures, the unknown offered a spectacular opportunity for surprise and delight.

Despite the crisp fall temperatures, the Garden was full of color, life, and intriguing displays of flowers and foliage! I was consistently overwhelmed by the amount of beauty and the number of things to see and explore. At least a dozen times, I headed toward a fountain or garden that caught my attention and then got distracted by some other beautiful display or mysterious pathway.

I'm sure that the Norfolk Botanical Garden is even more impressive and lush during the late spring, but I have to stress how impressed I was by the fall beauty of the scene.

The Garden has 28 specified gardens and points of interest for visitors to explore. Since I can't possibly describe each of them in one reasonably-sized post, I'm going to point out some of the most impressive ones that you should see if you go for a visit! These ones particularly impressed me due to their brilliance even in the cold months.

1. The Renaissance Court

Back stairs to the Renaissance Court

The Renaissance Court was hands-down my favorite garden here. As soon as I spotted the first set of stone stairs lined by potted plants and draping vines, my interest was piqued. It felt lush and exotic despite the crisp air.

Up the stairs, a small landing provided a lovely view of the full court with its low, decorative railings, brick veranda, and a stone-walled pond complete with a fountain. An array of palm trees, evergreens, potted plants, barrels, and stone walls all worked together to compose an unadorned yet luxurious setting. The view from the stairs was crisp and clean--every statue and palm tree in place on the perfect lawn. I loved how the beauty here came not from a vibrant display of flowers, but rather the simplicity of the scene.

Opposite the main veranda, a small balcony across the pond offered a less obstructed view of the full Renaissance Court and--in my opinion--would be an absolutely beautiful spot to hold a wedding ceremony.

2. Sarah Lee Baker Perennial Garden

Second on my favorites list is the Sarah Lee Baker Perennial Garden.

We happened upon the Perennial Garden through a little wooded path extending from the Turner Sculpture Gallery and entered through a charming blue archway topped with vibrant red flowers. As I looked back toward the woods, the arch seemed like the entrance to a storybook scene, with its frame of flowers and the dark woods speckled with shafts of sunlight waiting beyond.

My Alice in Wonderland moment

Back in the main garden, the contrast in color and light to the forest was almost shocking. While it was clear that many of the flowers had already gone dormant for the winter, the ones that remained provided a stunning rainbow of blossoms in purples, reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks.

The centerpiece of this garden is a lovely tiered fountain. On two sides, long, tiered stone troughs trickle away toward either end of the space. These were also lined with colorful perennials and--in the spirit of fall--a variety of pumpkins.

I took my time here, enjoying both the colors and variety of unusual flowers along with the peaceful flow of the water features. It produced such a sense of joy and brought a big smile to my face as I explored. I'm looking forward to visiting again when the whole garden is in bloom to get the full experience, but even the bit I got was memorable.

3. Bicentennial Rose Garden

Even if you don't usually stop and literally smell the roses, you'll want to at the Bicentennial Rose Garden.

Being more of a lily person myself, I wasn't expecting to be so intrigued by the extensive rose garden, but I suddenly wanted to see (and smell) all of them!

According to the Norfolk Botanical Garden website, the majority of the 380 different species of the genus Rosa on site can be found here. Row upon row of roses in all sizes and colors extend through the garden, broken up by neat pathways. A few wooden benches and the Rose Garden Arbor dot the scene, providing peaceful spots to sit and relax.

However, I was too busy exploring to relax here! The variety of roses was simply fascinating! Besides a large assortment of roses in the standard red, yellow, and pink families, the Bicentennial Rose Garden has roses in purples, oranges, and creams, as well as multi-colored flowers with stripes, alternating colors of petals, and ombre petals! I even saw plants with three different colors of roses on them!

Besides the extensive color scheme, the flowers also ranged in size from small, delicate blossoms to wide blooms the size of my hand! And somehow, each type of rose smelled a little bit different.

This garden is such a gorgeous and enticing place, and the flowers are absolutely picture perfect!

4. Enchanted Forest

I have to admit, the Enchanted Forest wasn't quite what I expected from the name, but it was a fun excursion nonetheless.

When we visited, much of the Enchanted Forest section bordering Lake Whitehurst had been converted into an adorable doggie-photo area for the 2019 Barkitecture exhibit. Sadly, these are now down for the holiday season, but I hope that the Garden will do it again next year!

A wide variety of little dog houses resided along the main trails where owners could pose their pups for cute pictures inside. These tiny houses ranged from campers to lighthouses and villas and were quite fun to observe due to their intricacy and whimsy.

Besides the Barkitecture houses, the Enchanted Forest had a few signs identifying the trees and a nice selection of trails both paved and unpaved. More adventurous visitors can take the dirt paths along Lake Whitehurst for some pretty views and peaceful walk.

Personally, fall was the perfect time to visit the Enchanted Forest because we could enjoy the canopy of colored leaves overhead.

5. Wildflower Meadow

While curated flower displays are undoubtedly gorgeous, I've always loved the sight of an abundant field of wildflowers. The Wildflower Meadow at Norfolk Botanical Gardens was no different. I absolutely adored the gorgeous spread of yellow, orange, and pink flowers standing proud and high across the meadow.

Once again, I was impressed by how beautiful they were even in November; the meadow was full of bright blossoms defying the winter chill.

This garden has no fancy statues or urns; just a plain wooden fence bordering the wildflowers in a country fashion and emphasizing the beautiful simplicity of the display. But I loved seeing the beauty that comes from nature just doing its job, don't' you?

According to the Garden website, this meadow is also a hotspot for birds and insects in the spring, making it a great spot to observe many aspects of nature at once.

6. Potager Kitchen Garden

If you enjoy educational gardens, you'll certainly have fun at the Potager Kitchen Garden, one of the ten learning gardens on site.

As the name suggests, this garden, based on a traditional French style, focuses on the edible plants you can grow in a home garden. However, it also has a fun selection of flowers lining the white picket fence and brightening up the garden here and there, along with brightly-painted trellises and frames.

Additionally, a couple of greenhouses showcase more edible plants inside their warmer interiors. I loved the cute wheelbarrow arrangements of pumpkins and gourds in honor of fall, and I assume they were some of the ones grown on-site.

It's a great spot to learn about home gardening and get some ideas for starting your own potager garden!

Honorable Mentions:

Here are a couple more gardens that I enjoyed but weren't quite in my top 6.

1. Friendship Pond:

While simple, the Friendship pond is a lovely space featuring a tall fountain in the middle of the pond, a few benches to enjoy the view, and a charming wooden bridge. A variety of flowering bushes and trees surround the perimeter, creating a very picturesque area.

2. Moses Ezekiel Statuary Vista

This long pathway reminded me a little bit of one of the gardens in the Palace of Versailles. On either side of the path, flowerbeds bursting with blooms house eleven marble statues depicting famous painters and sculptors. According to the Garden's website, the statues "were created in Rome between 1879 and 1884."

The garden has a very cool aesthetic, and a lovely view of the Whitehurst Lake in the distance.

If you're in the Norfolk area, be sure to take some time to enjoy the Norfolk Botanical Gardens! It took us about 3 hours to view the gardens in bloom in the fall, but there's a total of 7 miles of trails to explore if you come in the spring or summer.

The cost is $12 per person to enter, which also includes access to the tram tour in the warmer months.

At the moment, the garden is hosting its 25th annual Million Bulb Walk and Garden of Lights drive-thru in celebration of the holidays! Check out the website for their ticket prices and fun family programs during this special event.

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope that you'll take the time to check out the Norfolk Botanical Garden!

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like, and be sure to share it with someone who would enjoy the Botanical Garden as well!

Happy travels!

For more fun Hampton Roads posts, visit the Exploring Virginia page!

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