Crossing the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula through the engineering marvel of the Bay-Bridge Tunnel is one good reason to head to Norfolk from the Eastern Shore. Driving both under and over the confluence of the great Chesapeake Bay watershed and the Atlantic Ocean is exhilarating. The other equally inspiring very good reason is to take a look at the Norfolk Botanical Garden – all 175 acres of it.
It started out as a plan to create an azalea garden to rival the one in a city to its south, Charleston, South Carolina. That was in 1939, the waning days of the Depression. 200 African-American women and 20 men were hired with a WPA grant to begin clearing the site’s 150 acres of undergrowth by hand. It was back-breaking work for twenty-five cents an hour. Now a statue stands in the WPA Memorial Garden to commemorate those who turned the first shovelfuls of dirt to create it but who were not allowed to visit as guests until 1965.
The azalea garden still explodes with color every spring. But now those beauties are joined by over fifty other gardens including a healing garden, fern glade, wildflower meadow, Japanese garden, renaissance garden, sensory garden, rose garden, colonial herb garden and a garden of Virginia natives.
Add in an arboretum for warming up among flowering orchids and other tropicals.
A walk through the Moses Ezekiel garden of seven foot painter and sculptor statues is just as inspiring on a winter day and probably a lot quieter.
Thinking ahead of a planned trip, one of the many classes taught at the garden might conveniently work out. Courses cover everything from winter pruning, moss gardening, gardening for songbirds, making kombucha or spritzes and sprays and garden yoga or T’ai Chi. A lot is happening in the Norfolk Botanical Garden.
What we did see which surprised me were Camellia shrubs bursting with fat buds. Being from the north, I’m unfamiliar with camellias. Flower buds in December? That did not happen where I came from. The flowers captivated me so much that I went right home and ordered “Pink Perfection” for my garden. We just made it within the hardiness zone, so we’ll see what happens come spring.
The city of Norfolk joined Helsinki, Copenhagen and Warsaw in adopting mermaids as its symbol. Mermaid statues float all through the city in front of the schools, libraries and of course the Botanical Garden.
Why visit a botanical garden in winter? You won’t see much in flower. But you will get to walk in a lovely setting, with a clear view of the garden’s bones. It’s my humble opinion that no matter what time of the year you happen to visit a city, a trip to its garden is worthwhile. And this one is spectacular. At the very least you will make note of what you would like to return to in the spring or summer or autumn.