Three Southern Cities: Part 1

Richmond: A city steeped in history, beauty, flowers, and Southern hospitality—all of which I experienced firsthand on my first visit.

I flew up to Richmond a few weeks ago to speak to the Boxwood Garden Club about flower and was completely wowed by all I experienced there. My hostess met me at the airport and then, on the way to her home, I got to dart in and tour the gardens and outbuildings of Tuckahoe, Thomas Jefferson’s childhood home. What a treat! The quarter-mile allée of cedars led us to the white clapboard Colonial house, rambling stands of zinnias and celosia, a Charles Gillette rose garden, and numerous fairy-tale garden rooms. The house itself quietly gazed across a sweeping lawn to the James River. As we left, we met one of the current owner’s sons who had just moved home after Princeton to help with the “family farm.” (He was in the process of implementing organic vegetable gardening.)

From this lagniappe, we went on to a sumptuous dinner party where I ran into a fellow Hollins College alum and several other charming and gracious flower lovers. The next day, after my presentation for the Boxwood Garden Club at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, I had the distinct pleasure of lunching at Bloemendaal (Dutch for “valley of flowers”), the ancestral home of the late Grace Arents, niece of Lewis Ginter, the original owner of the land where the Garden now sits.

After lunch, Frank Robinson, the Executive Director and custodian of the vision of the Garden, led me through several of the 10 Signature gardens, among them, the Healing Garden, the Children’s Garden, and a rose garden comprised of all disease-resistant varieties, procured in order to adhere to the Garden’s chemical-free ethos. The magical conservatory, housing a vast orchid collection, and was full of preparations for the GardenFest of Lights in late November when the entire Garden would be lit up like a Christmas tree.

On our way out, we looped back through the Robins Visitor Center where Frank walked me through the cafe and shared the labyrinthine tale of acquiring the botanical prints of one Alexandre Descubes. The walls of the café are lined with these phenomenally detailed representations of flora from exotic locales—believed to have been drawn to illustrate William Hooker’s Journal of Botany—as compelling an attraction as the outdoor flora.

Mr. Robinson has been the director of Lewis Ginter for 17 of its 22 years, and to witness his tour of the gardens is to be in the presence of a proud yet humble parent. Robinson acknowledges the wonderful and invaluable help the gardens receive from top-notch staff, the Garden Club of Virginia as well as other garden clubs, and countless patrons, and the enthusiasm generated by all the programs and events that run throughout the seasons.

I want to live at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
But, I’d be content just to visit Richmond on a regular basis.

To enlarge the images of Margot’s visit to the Boxwood Garden Club, click on the thumbnails beow:

Stay tuned for my next trip…

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