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Diggin' In: Richmond, Va., trail a model for 'garden tourism'

September 2, 2014
 

Richmond is rich in gardens.

Some of those gardens in Virginia’s state capital are now connected into what is called the Richmond Garden Trail — eight sites that provide different garden experiences — large public garden, sculpture garden, an estate, classic Virginia garden, historic landscape and small gardens tucked in unexpected places.

"The trail capitalizes on the growing interest in garden tourism, and features a user-friendly itinerary of garden-related experiences within an easy geographic area," says Beth Monroe, spokeswoman at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and one of the trail’s organizers.

"And, there is certainly room for the garden trail to grow to include more sites."

Developed in partnership with Richmond Region Tourism and the historic Jefferson Hotel, the trail features eight initial attractions: the Ginter Garden, Maymont mansion, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Agecroft Hall, Virginia Museum of Architecture and Design, Capitol Square, Valentine Richmond History Center and the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.

Well-known attractions on the trail include the 82-acre Ginter Garden with its 50 acres of plantings and the 100-acre historic Maymont with its national and seven state champion trees.

Some, like the Enchanted Garden at the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, are hidden gems.

"The Edgar Allan Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden was designed in 1921 as Virginia’s first monument to a writer, says Jaime Fawcett, executive director at the museum.

"Museum founders constructed the garden’s pergola, walls, paths and benches from materials salvaged from a variety of buildings in which the author lived or worked.

"Poe exalted the landscape garden as the highest form of poetry, and the Enchanted Garden brings to life the ideal gardens he celebrated in his poems and short stories."

The Garden Club of Virginia is restoring the Enchanted Garden, Fawcett said. Many of the varieties of plants originally planted in the Enchanted Garden in the 1920s will be highlighted.

The Enchanted Garden was planted in 1922 to capture the garden essence in Poe’s poem "To One in Paradise:"

"Thou wast that all to me, love,

For which my soul did pine —

A green isle in the sea, love,

A fountain and a shrine,

All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,

And all the flowers were mine."

Some lesser-known and underused plants good for homes and gardens you will see on the Richmond Garden Trail, according to trail developers, include:

Bromeliads: You may be familiar with bromeliads as houseplants, but consider them in the summer landscape to provide color and interest, suggest horticulturists at the Ginter Botanical Garden www.lewisginter.org .

This summer, the botanical garden uses a bromeliad called Aechmea blanchetiana to create a focal point in front of its conservatory this summer. This non-hardy tropical bromeliad has a striking vase shape, and should be planted in full sun to achieve a deep orange coloring (when planted in shade, the color is more muted). It has a slow growth rate, achieving a height of 2 to 4 feet and a width of 1 to 2 feet. It is relatively easy to care for and doesn’t have any major pest or disease problem. Plant in well-drained soil and water moderately; this plant can succumb to root rot if planted in saturated soils, so avoid high clay content. Bromeliads are not cold hardy in Virginia’s climate, so they need to be brought inside during the winter or treated as an annual.

Pitcher plants: Did you know many Sarracenia, or pitcher plants, are native to Virginia and can be grown outdoors under the right conditions? The Ginter Garden has an extensive collection of Sarracenia plants, which eat insects because they grow in boggy, nutrient-poor soil, so the key is to provide this type of environment. Plant in a well-watered area, but do not put them in standing water, according to Ginter gardeners. A sandy-mix soil is recommended – adding sphagnum moss is also helpful. Sarracenia are generally low maintenance, but they will freely hybridize, so Lewis Ginter cuts the flowers before they go to seed.

Roses: Museum’s Enchanted Garden, www.poemuseum.org , features a variety of roses with Rosa Pink Fairy most abundant, according to museum spokeswoman Fawcett. Pink Fairy is a miniature rose — miniature roses first came into being in the early 1930s as an accidental result of rose hybridizing. This Polyanthus type produces a cloud of small, lightly fragrant, fully double pink flowers all summer with an especially heavy flush of bloom in fall, according to a museum spokesperson. The bush is compact which makes it effective as a ground cover, a low hedge or a powerful presence in a mixed border.

Honeysuckle: At Maymont, plants along Marie’s Butterfly Trail inspire gardeners who love pollinators, according to spokeswoman Kathie Rosenberg. There you find Lonicera Major Wheeler, a native honeysuckle with clusters of red, trumpet-shaped flowers that specially appeal to hummingbirds. This plant thrives in full sun, is hardy in zones 4-8 and blooms all summer long. It is a moderately growing vine that does well on a 6-foot garden support such as a trellis. Another advantage is the foliage does not develop mildew as with other Lonicera, or honeysuckles. This honeysuckle, however, is different from Japanese honeysuckle (L. japonica), which is very aggressive and should be avoided, advise horticulturists. Learn more at www.maymont.org .

Japanese maple: To see truly "living history" visit Capitol Square, a park where the state Capital Building sits, www.vacapitol.org/square.htm . Here you can admire Acer rubrum Jamestown, a seedless cultivar of Virginia’s native red maple. Jamestown is smaller than the wild type, making it more suited to urban and home landscapes. It was developed by Watkins Nurseries in Midlothian, Va., and named in honor of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. Capitol Square's Jamestown red maple was planted between the southwest fountain and the old Bell Tower by the Lawyers of Virginia in memory of the late State Supreme Court Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr.

Fennel: Follow your nose to the Fragrance Garden at Agecroft Hall to delight your senses. The plants found there are not only aromatic, many can be used in cooking. An example is Foeniculum vulgare, or what we commonly call fennel. Fennel was highly regarded in Elizabethan and Jacobean England for its aromatic qualities. It was used to provide a pleasant smell in rooms or to mask less pleasant street smells, which London had in great abundance at the time. Now herbs such as fennel are being used more in borders and containers for their visual beauty as well. Built 500 years ago in England, Agecroft , www.agecrofthall.com , was auctioned, dismantled, shipped and reassembled on the banks of the James River in 1925.

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