This article reads more like a story than an encyclopedia entry.(June 2010)
|Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden|
|Location||1800 Lakeside Avenue, Richmond, Virginia|
|Collections||Conservatory, Rose Garden, Children's Garden, Sunken Garden, Asian Garden, Victorian Garden, Healing Garden|
The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 50 acres (200,000 m2), is a botanical garden located at 1800 Lakeside Avenue, on the North Side of Richmond, Virginia. It includes the Lakeside Wheel Club built by Lewis Ginter and expanded and remodeled into Bloemendaal by his niece Grace Arents.
The Garden's three-fold mission is (1) to provide education to the community about the plant world, (2) promote the best in horticulture and landscape design and (3) work toward the goal of being a leader in botanical and applied horticultural research.
The gently rolling terrain that is the site of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was once the hunting ground of Powhatan Indians. Known to the Powhatan as "Oughnum" this name underwent a number of modifications beginning in 1690, when Nathaniel Bacon, president of the Council of Virginia, granted James Moore of New Kent County a patent for 573 acres (2.32 km2) on "Uffnum Brook."
A prominent Quaker named John Pleasants was the new owner, followed by Thomas Williamson, who purchased the tract for less than 50 pounds in 1716; over the next 89 years ownership of the land remained, for the most part, in the Williamson family. Violence erupted in 1781 when Samuel Williamson's home was pillaged by General Benedict Arnold's Revolutionary War raid on Richmond. A dwelling, Oak Cottage, was built during this time, and a portion of the Williamson land along with this cottage was purchased by Virginia Governor Patrick Henry. in 1786. An outdoorsman, the liberty lover fished and hunted on the land, much as the earlier Native American inhabitants had done. He sold the parcel to James Thompson in 1788.
The Williamson ownership of the remaining property came to an end in 1805 when the tract, now called Ufton, was sold to John Robinson, a prominent lawyer. Robinson owned the land for 23 years and planted groves of trees and a peach orchard on the property, signaling the beginning of its destiny as a spot of horticultural significance. His brother, Anthony, indulged a comparable passion for plants at his home, Poplar Vale, now Byrd Park. The property, described as "healthy, well-watered, in a good neighborhood" was sold at auction in 1828, and over the next fifty-odd years its owners were successively, Newton Hill, James Hill, Jr., Nathaniel King and Mildred King Ladd.
On Mildred Ladd's death, Ufton was divided among her heirs, and it was from one of these in 1884 that Major Lewis Ginter purchased the 10 acres (40,000 m2) which were to become the Lakeside Wheel Club, Bloemendaal Farm and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. The millionaire's avid interest in planned, landscaped suburban development began during a visit to his company's Australian office in 1888. The attractive residential developments in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne prompted Major Ginter's desire to create the same settings in Richmond.
Upon Ginter's return to Richmond, the Major began acquiring additional area on the northside. He created the Lakeside Wheel Club on the land he bought four years earlier. The clubhouse he built was a one-story Victorian structure surrounded on two sides by a covered veranda. The original concrete approach walks with their inlaid leaf patterns, the steps, concrete newel posts and wrought iron lamp standards remain today. The adjacent valley and waterways had long been the site of a millpond and were dammed to create Lakeside Lake. In the Gay Nineties cycling was a popular sport, and cyclists, cheered on by Richmond belles, peddled out to the Club on the cinder Missing Link Trail which ran along the Boulevard and Hermitage Road. Spectators of the cycling sport rode out on the Lakeside trolley and were discharged at the end of the line near the dam. After the grueling ride from town, cyclists could sit on the Wheel Club's long gallery and refresh themselves with homemade ice cream, while boaters drifted on the lake below. Earlier, north of the lake, Ginter has established Lakeside Park, with a zoo and Richmond's first professional nine-hole golf course. The granite base of the bear pit and many fine specimen trees planted in an arboretum setting remain the present day Jefferson Lakeside Club.
When Lewis Ginter died in 1897, a large portion of his estate was inherited by his niece, Grace Arents. Arents devoted her life to philanthropy and gave generously to many causes and institutions. She was especially interested in helping the children of Oregon Hill. In 1913, she conceived the idea of a convalescent home in the country for sick infants who might benefit from the fresh air. To realize her dream, Miss Arents purchased the abandoned Lakeside Wheel Clubhouse and its approximately 10 acres (40,000 m2) from the Lewis Ginter Land and Improvement Company. The structure was remodeled in the Dutch colonial style and named Bloemendaal Farm after a small village in the Netherlands which was the Ginter ancestral home. The translated name means "flower valley." The roof was raised to provide a second floor of bedrooms, a classroom, a library and a playroom for the sick children. Miss Arents traveled extensively in Europe, and her trip diaries describe the joy she derived from her visits to continental botanical gardens. Her interest in horticulture, already strong, was heightened by her travels and found abundant expression at Bloemendaal Farm. She imported collections of rare trees and shrubs, constructed a series of three ridge and furrow greenhouses and laid out a border of herbaceous perennials along the side of the greenhouse range. Her great love of roses is evident in the photographs of Bloemendaal Farm taken in the 1920s. This garden, adjacent to the Bloemendaal House, exists today as the Grace Arents Garden. The immense ginkgo on the front lawn, the massive American hollies and the southern magnolias were planted by Miss Arents. Over the years, Miss Grace added piecemeal to the original area. Thus, she reunited some of the land that had belonged to the Powhatans, Patrick Henry, the Williamsons, John Robinson and others, and Bloemendaal Farm became widely known as a model for the best agricultural practices of the day. Seventy-eight-year-old Grace Arents died suddenly on June 20, 1926 leaving Bloemendaal Farm to the City of Richmond as a botanical garden and public park in perpetual memory of her Uncle Lewis Ginter to be known as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
The City of Richmond took the title to Bloemendaal Farm on February 27, 1927, but was unable to carry out Miss Arents' wishes as a clause in her will gave life rights to the property to her companion, Mary Garland Smith. Miss Smith continued to live quietly at Bloemendaal caring for the house and farm until in death in 1968 at the age of 100.
On her death, the administration of Bloemendaal became the responsibility of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation. A nursery was established to produce trees for the city streets, and for nearly a decade a small fiberglass greenhouse supplied thousands of bedding plants each year for the public parks. The city investigated several plans for a botanical garden, but none of them came to fruition and Bloemendaal Farm languished.
The Grace Arents Trust had grown substantially over the years. In 1981, First and Merchants National Bank, the trustee, asked the court for guidance. The Richmond Horticulture Association became involved in the issue, and a group of botanists, horticulturalists and interested citizens banded together and formed Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Inc. with the purpose of upholding the will of Grace Arents.
Eventually an amicable settlement was reached, and in early 1984, Lewis Ginter, Inc. was chartered by court decree as an independent non-profit corporation charged with the creation of the community's long-awaited botanical garden. The court appointed a committee of five to oversee the dispensation of funds form the Grace E. Arents Trust. The original group, its purpose fulfilled, joined with the newly appointed Board of Directors.
As one fit is first duties, the board chose Robert S. Hebb, horticulturalist and author, as the executive director. He arrived from the Mary Flagler Cary Arboretum of the New York Botanical Garden to assume the position in November 1984. Early the next year, the Pittsburgh firm, Environmental Planning and Design, won the competition to create a master plan.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was soon open on a sustained basis, and Bloemendaal House was repaired and refurbished through the generosity of individuals and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. A small staff of nine "pioneers," operating from the newly refurbished structure carried out all the duties of the Garden, initiated the educational programs and began building plant collections.
The Bloemendaal Society, the Garden's volunteer organization, was organized in January 1988 to accommodate the Garden's volunteers. In addition to offering seminars and garden tours, the Society catalogued the books in the library and opened a gift shop, The Shop in the Garden. Volunteers also organized the Gillette Forum, a landscape and design symposium named in honor of the "interpreter" of the Virginia Garden, Charles F. Gillette. Evidence that there was a community interest in landscape design led the Garden to establish a professional level course in Landscape Design under the auspices of George Washington University.
As plant sales, lectures, garden walks and tours became outside signs of the Garden's expansion, plans for implementing the master plan steadily advanced. The renovated Bloemendaal House was attached to a small adjacent cottage with an addition designed by Marcellus Wright, Cox and Smith, and the building was opened as a Visitors Center in September 1988. The new building provided space for a horticulture library, a historic interpretation room, and a herbarium and laboratory.
Bloemendaal House was enhanced by five life-size porcelain sculptures depicting native American wildflowers. These lovely porcelains were created by Patrick O'Hara of Cork, Ireland and were a gift from Lora Robins.
Soon after the dedication of the Visitors Center in September 1988, the Garden Club of Virginia chose as its annual historic restoration project the renovation of the Grace Arents Garden. Their consultant, Dr. Rudy Favretti, former professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Connecticut, collaborated with the Garden's staff to rebuild the early 20th-century garden. Old photographs were used to recreate the rectangular beds and brick walks radiating from a central axis. The original sundial was placed in the center of the axis and two trellised archways and a gazebo were reconstructed to complete the design. A dedication was held in September 1990.
Around this time the Garden purchased 7 acres (28,000 m2) of adjacent land fronting on Woodman Road and additional area on the northern perimeter, increasing the size of the property to 82 acres (330,000 m2). A lake and park were funded by the Department of Historic Resources and were completed in 1991.
A generous donation from the Flagler Foundation set in motion phase one of the master plan. The Henry M. Flagler Perennial Garden, honoring the well-known financier and philanthropist, was designed and initiated in the spring of 1991.
Before the planting of the Flagler Garden began in earnest, Robert Hebb resigned in August of that year. He left behind a legacy of plant material collected from all over the world and a strong foundation from which the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has continued to grow.
Garland S. Sydnor, Jr. a dedicated board member who had long been connected with the Garden, stepped in as acting director and served ably in that position until 1992.
In February 1992, Frank Robinson, former director of the American Horticultural Society, was appointed executive director of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Ian Robertson Associates, a landscape design firm in Charlottesville, Virginia, devised a planting plan for an expansive collection of woody plants, trees, perennials and bulbs, exceeding 12,000 plants covering large areas of land that were to become the Flagler Garden. Inspired by the design concepts of Gertrude Jekyll, the design focused on careful planning of color and textual configurations, bloom sequences and season interest and change.
The Garden was dedicated on a sunny Sunday on May 9, 1993. A surprise to the garden's benefactors Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Lewis (through the Flagler Foundation) was the unveiling of a granite sculpture, "Slow Dance," created by the Lewis's grandson, Charles B. Foster. The peace was given in memory of Joyce Hunnicutt Sydnor, a longtime friend of the Garden and co-founder of the Bloemendaal Society, commissioned by her husband, Garland S. Sydnor, Jr.
The completion of this first major element of the master plan inspired a series of philanthropic gifts and new thematic gardens were built. The master plan was reviewed at length by the planning committee of the Garden's board of directors, and a revised plan evolved between 1993 and 1995.
A generous gift from Lora and Claiborne Robins provided an important new amenity for the Garden, the Lora and Claiborne Robins Tea House. Expanding upon a small representation of a Japanese Tea House and a Zen Garden in the master plan, the building, designed by James Irby and Associates, was completed in November 1993. Providing full-service dining, the restaurant boasted a spectacular view of the lake and the perimeter of the Flagler Garden. After Mr. Robins's death in July 1995, Mrs. Robins provided a further gift for designing The Asian Valley, a garden to house a collection of plants derived from the flora of east Asia, to honor the memory of her husband. Osamu Shimizu, a well-known Washington, D.C. area garden designer and native of Japan, was commissioned for the job.
Martha West, a member of the LGBG board, and her husband Reed, saw the opportunity for a resplendent garden on the lake immediately in front of the Robins Tea House. Ian Robertson was commissioned to design the Martha and Reed West Island Garden. A series of boardwalks connect the lakeside with three islands, which are interplanted with aquatic and insectivorous plants. An example of the fragile wetland ecosystem, the garden demonstrates the adaptation of plant species to this unique environment.
In memory of his wife, Philip M. Minor gave the Lucy Payne Minor Memorial Garden, which highlights extensive Daffodil and Daylily collections. A Garden Club of America judge, Mrs. Minor was celebrated for her charming and distinguished flower arrangements. A small gazebo provides a long view of the lake and a secluded spot for reflection.
Through the generosity of Ben and Jacquie White, the Margaret Johanna Streb Conifer Garden became a reality in the spring of 1996. Honoring Mrs. White's mother, the garden, enhanced by a graceful white summer house, features dwarf conifers and is sited on a lovely point of land overlooking the lake.
A cottage garden, embellished with a collection of old fashioned roses given by Mrs. J. Harwood Cochrane in honor of a friend, Ollie Jones, was designed and installed by the horticultural staff in an area adjacent to the Bloemendaal House. Nearby, through the generosity of the Memorial Foundation for Children, a children's garden came into being, which has since served as an outdoor classroom for the Garden's Education programs. The Vienna Cobb Anderson Wildflower Meadow, funded by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Anderson III in memory of Mr. Anderson's mother, was planted along the south shore of the lake.
The gardens continued to evolve with memorial collections commemorating friends of the Garden. Among these were The Nancy Roberts Pope Memorial Narcissus Collection, the Dr. Irving Roberts Rhododendron Collection, the Madeline Livesey Friendship Garden, the Polly Brooks Minor Bulb Collection, a collection of hardy rhododendron, azaleas and allied plants given by Joan and Bill Van Arnam in memory of her father, and the Christian Azalea Collection, funded by Mr. and Mrs. Wirt Christian in honor of Mrs. Christian's mother.
As the landscape flourished, the need for buildings to support the programs and services related to the growing number of visitors became increasingly apparent. At the board of directors' request, a feasibility study was undertaken to determine the viability of initiating a capital campaign effort. As a result, the Garden began working with the Sheridan Group, a fund-raising consulting firm, on the structuring of a capital campaign.
In the spring of 1995, Clinton Webb, then executive director of the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, announced a gift of $500,000 to support the development of a new education complex honoring Charles F. Gillette, Virginia's well-known landscape architect. The grant required a dollar-for-dollar match.
Three significant gifts came in response to the Mary Morton challenge. These included a gift from a local Richmond foundation to support the library and gifts from Central Fidelity Bank and the Windsor Foundation.
The year 1995 ended with a flurry of good news. Two major gifts were announced; one from Lora Robins for the construction of a Visitors Center to honor her husband, Claiborne; the second from Anne Holt Massey for the construction of a new greenhouse range.
Once the funding was in place for the E. Claiborne Robins Visitors Center and the Anne Holt Massey Greenhouses, the Planning Committee launched a national search to select an architect for the project. Jaquelin T. Robertson, a Richmond native, and partner in the New York City-based firm of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, was chosen to lead the design effort, in association with the Glave Firm of Richmond.
While new buildings were being planned, the existing buildings were not neglected. Under the guidance of a board committee, Bloemendaal House was extensively redecorated. A new kitchen was installed and a paved terrace was added in front of Bloemendaal House.
As the executive director's time became increasingly focused on long-term planning and fund-raising, the need for a person to concentrate on the day-to-day operations of the Garden became more apparent. In the fall of 1996, the Garden announced the appointment of Holly H. Shimizu to the new position of managing director. Mrs. Shimizu had previously served as assistant executive director and chief horticulturist for the United States Botanical Garden Washington, D.C.
The massive job of planning the infrastructure (the fundamental facilities and systems serving the entire future Garden such as roads, utilities, parking areas and a pedestrian path) was begun. In addition to the placement of facilities, infrastructure work would include the widening of Lakeside Avenue, a newly located entrance and the construction of a reservoir to accommodate the Garden's long-term irrigation needs.
The groundbreaking for the E. Claiborne Robins Visitors Center took place on March 21, 1997. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden officially launched its public capital campaign on May 1 of that same year. Bruce C. Gottwald, chairman of "A Growing Vision," announced the Botanical Garden's ambitious goal of $35 million for its next stage of development with the encouraging news that $19 million had already been committed by individuals, corporations and foundations from the Richmond Community.
Construction began in July 1997 for the first phase of the Garden's expansion, including the Robins Visitors Center, the Massey Greenhouses, the extensive infrastructure to support the facilities and expanded parking.
The new facilities would permit the garden to broaden its services to the Commonwealth and play an ever-increasing role in the regional and statewide tourism, economic development, promotion of the state's nursery industry and gardening activities, and as a center for education and recreation.
In the fall of 1997, it was announced that landscape architect Rodney Robinson of Wilmington, Delaware, had been selected to design the Central Garden. This garden would be entered through Robins Visitors Center and would serve as its link to The Asian Valley and the Flagler Garden, and future Conservatory and Education Complex.
In the meantime, site work continued. By early winter of 1998, the major grading, underground utility systems, internal roadways and parking to support the master plan had been completed.
In the fall of 1998, the Massey greenhouses were completed with the first crop of winter bedding plants under production.
And, rising dramatically on the crest of the hill was the 23,000-square-foot (2,100 m2) Robins Visitors Center. The "growing vision" of a national model of horticultural education, floral design and botanical research was becoming a reality.
A $41 million capital campaign completed in 2004 provided the Garden's major facilities for horticulture, education and community events. Significant structures include The Robins Visitors Center (1999), Massey Greenhouses (1999), Education and Library Complex (2002), classical glass-domed Conservatory (2003), and Children's Garden (2005). Total annual visitation has increased from 65,000 in 1997 to 254,824 in 2006, and membership increased from 3,808 to 12,106. With the addition of a 1.5-acre (6,100 m2), botanically intensive Children's Garden in September, 2005, Lewis Ginter is now the most comprehensive public garden on the east coast between Philadelphia's Longwood Gardens and the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
The addition of the Education and Library Complex in October 2002 greatly expanded educational offerings to new, diverse constituencies. A year-long series of educational programs in 2003 introduced the new complex and featured nationally prominent speakers. The series attracted almost 4,000 people from all areas of Richmond and most regions of Virginia, as well as other nearby states. The increased capacity and effectiveness of our educational facilities have generated a 61% increase in registration for the Garden's regular adult education programs in the three years since the complex opened.
The University of Richmond's landscape design classes are taught at Lewis Ginter. Virginia Commonwealth University houses its herbarium at LGBG, which the Flora of Virginia project uses in its preparation of a modern state Flora to be published by the University of Virginia Press. In an ongoing collaboration, LGBG, Virginia Tech, and the Virginia Nurserymen and Landscape Association have joined forces in a Plant Introduction Program which selects, tests, propagates and distributes to growers and garden centers new or uncommon ornamental plant species which adapt well to Virginia growing conditions.
The millionaire's avid interest in planned, landscaped suburban development began during a visit to his company's Australian office in 1888. The attractive residential developments in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne prompted Major Ginter's desire to create the same settings in Richmond. (The handsome gilt-framed watercolor of Sydney Harbor, which hangs in the hallway of the Bloemendaal House at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was presented to Ginter by his Australian employees.)
On returning to Richmond, the Major began acquiring vast areas on the northside and a country home of his own, Westbrook. (The estate became Westbrook Sanatorium in 1911 and was torn down in 1975.) Forming the Brook Turnpike Company, Ginter repaired Brook Road at his own expense, obtained a charter for the Bloomendale Stock Company and developed the Ginter Park and Sherwood Park residential districts. Northside was chosen as a locale because of Ginter's belief that it was "a foolish waste of eyesight to drive east into the rising sun each morning and drive west into the setting sun each evening."
Major Ginter's interest in northside had surfaced in 1884 when he purchased approximately 10 acres (40,000 m2) along the west side of Uffnum Brook from the heirs of Mildred King Ladd.
Here he constructed the Lakeside Wheel Club.
The clubhouse he built was a one-story Victorian structure surrounded on two sides by a covered veranda. The original concrete approach walks with their inlaid leaf patterns, the steps, concrete newel posts and wrought iron lamp standards remain today. The adjacent valley and waterways had long been the site of a millpond and were dammed to create Lakeside Lake.
In the Gay Nineties cycling was a popular sport and cyclists, cheered on by Richmond belles, peddled out to the Club on the cinder Missing Link Trail which ran along the Boulevard and Hermitage Road. Spectators of the cycling sport rode out on the Lakeside trolley and were discharged at the end of the line near the dam. After the grueling ride from town, cyclists could sit on the Wheel Club's long gallery and refresh themselves with homemade ice cream, while boaters drifted on the lake below.
Earlier, north of the lake, Ginter has established Lakeside Park, with a zoo and Richmond's first professional nine-hole golf course. The granite base of the bear pit and many fine specimen trees planted in an arboretum setting remain the present day Jefferson Lakeside Club.
Lewis Ginter died of diabetes at Westbrook in October 1897 at the age of 73. An obituary noted that "Death could not have torn from Richmond a more useful and beloved citizen." A large portion of his estate, as well as his keen desire to enhance the life of Richmonders, was inherited by his niece, Grace Arents. After her uncle's death, Arents remodeled the Wheel Club in Dutch colonial style, named it Bloemendaal Farm and made it her home. Bloemendaal Farm soon became a model for the best agricultural practices of the day. In her will, Arents honored her beloved uncle by giving Bloemendaal Farm to the City of Richmond as a botanical garden and public park in memory of her Uncle Lewis Ginter to be known as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
Grace Arents is the niece of Virginia entrepreneur and philanthropist Lewis Ginter. When Ginter died in 1897 a large portion of his estate, as well as his interest in philanthropy and horticulture, was inherited by his niece, Grace Arents.
Small of stature, with thick glasses and a gentle but determined nature, Miss Grace, as she was called, devoted her life to philanthropy. She gave generously to many causes and institutions but is known especially for her contributions to and associations with St. Andrew's Church and the Arents Free Library. The children of Oregon Hill were another special concern, and in 1913, she conceived the idea of a convalescent home in the country for sick infants who might benefit from the fresh air.
To realize her dream, Miss Arents purchased the abandoned Lakeside Wheel Clubhouse and its approximately 10 acres (40,000 m2) from the Lewis Ginter Land and Improvement Company. The structure was remodeled in the Dutch colonial style and named Bloemendaal Farm after a small village in the Netherlands which was the Ginter ancestral home. The translated name means "flower valley." The roof was raised to provide a second floor of bedrooms, a classroom, a library and a playroom for the sick children.
Later Miss Arents was instrumental in forming the Instructive Visiting Nurses Association, which ended the need to care for children at Bloemendaal Farm. She gave up her house on Franklin Street that she had inherited from Major Ginter and moved to Bloemendaal Farm, taking with her a companion, Mary Garland Smith, a teacher at St. Andrew's School.
During the last decade of her life Miss Arents traveled extensively in Europe, and her trip diaries describe the joy she derived from her visits to continental botanical gardens. Her interest in horticulture, already strong, was heightened by her travels and found abundant expression at Bloemendaal Farm.
She imported collections of rare trees and shrubs, constructed a series of three ridge and furrow greenhouses and laid out a border of herbaceous perennials along the side of the greenhouse range. Her great love of roses is evident in the photographs of Bloemendaal Farm taken in the 1920s. This garden, adjacent to the Bloemendaal House, exists today as the Grace Arents Garden. The immense ginkgo on the front lawn, the massive American hollies and the southern magnolias were planted by Miss Arents.
Over the years, Miss Grace added piecemeal to the original area. Thus, she reunited some of the land that had belonged to the Powhatans, Patrick Henry, the Williamsons, John Robinson and others, and Bloemendaal Farm became widely known as a model for the best agricultural practices of the day.
Grace Arents died suddenly and unexpectedly on June 20, 1926, at the age of 78. In her obituary, it was noted that "Friends of Miss Arents indicated that they had never known her to refuse an appeal for funds for any cause in the interest of social uplift or community betterment."
I do give, devise, and bequeath my farm in Henrico County, known as Bloemendaal Farm with the dwelling house and all buildings... to the City of Richmond... as a botanical garden and public park in perpetual memory of my Uncle Lewis Ginter to be known as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
Thus Grace Arents, in her will, honored her beloved uncle. Like her uncle, she was a visionary and regarded wealth as a trust rather than a means of self-gratification. The contributions they made to their adopted cities are beyond measure.