Walk It Out, Smell the Roses, Stay Safe @ Norfolk Botanical Gardens

Words and Photos by Penny Neef.

Social distancing, self- isolation, flattening the curve. It’s happened so fast.  I had my hair cut ten days ago without a worry in my head. Just in the nick of time as it turns out. My daughter, the doctor, calls from the University of Michigan every morning to check up on us and find out where we’re going and what we’re doing. More on those calls in another article.

There is one place besides the grocery store and our own backyard that has been daughter/doctor approved. That is the Norfolk Botanical Garden. They are still open and welcoming visitors. The Norfolk Botanical Garden is art and natural beauty at its finest. It is right here in our own backyard. It is our backyard, if we had 175 acres with more than 175 varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas, 3000 rose bushes, maybe a million daffodils, an enchanted forest, a cute little veggie garden, 16 miles of trails, a lake and turtles.

Michael Desplaines, President and CEO of Norfolk Botanical Garden, says, “There’s lots of room. People can spread out. You’re never in close contact with anyone here.”

The silver-haired guy I live with and I were there just the other day. We love the NBG. We have been members since the first day we visited, seven years ago, shortly after we moved to Hampton Roads. I call it my happy place. Who doesn’t need a happy place right now?

A stump seat surrounded by pink flowers at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

The Norfolk Botanical Gardens is being smart. You must buy your ticket or membership online to get in. You stay in your car down the long driveway to enter the gardens. There is a booth at the gate. The friendly attendant reaches out and scans your ticket- no physical contact. All events and classes have been cancelled. The main building and gift shop are closed. They have left several restrooms around the garden open. Bring your own snacks or even a picnic lunch. For a complete rundown you can check ou the NBG’s “Commitment to Safety”. 

Those 175 acres of natural beauty are open people. The garden is beautiful anytime of the year. There is always something blooming, but this time of the year may be my favorite time of the year at NBG. The cherry trees are blooming. Thousands of daffodils line the banks of the canal. It smells like spring, like rebirth, like renewal. It smells like hope.

The azaleas are just beginning their spectacular bloom. The NBG was started as a WPA project in 1938. It began as an azalea garden, with over 200 African American women and 20 men clearing the land and planting four thousand azaleas and two thousand rhododendrons. The azaleas are my favorite part of the NBG. Take a stroll through the Enchanted Forest in about two weeks and you will be walking through walls of red, pink, purple and white azalea blossoms towering over your head. It is one of Mother Nature’s greatest works of art.

My grandchildren love Norfolk Botanical Garden too. It’s a place to get outdoors and just run. It’s a place to follow a path through the woods. It’s a place to spot turtles. There is a giant sandpile to play on, bring wipes.

A LEGO spider dangles from a tree at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

From now until June 7th, there is a special exhibit around the garden, “Nature Connects – Art with LEGO Bricks”. Thirteen larger than life LEGO sculptures are scattered throughout the garden. There is a giant LEGO spider hanging from a tree made of thousands of LEGOs, a gorgeous peacock, and a family of deer. Each sculpture, by LEGO artist Sean Kenney, has a sign indicating the number of LEGOs involved. It’s a lot.

This June, the “Flamazing Flamingos” will be in full bloom throughout the garden. These giant flamingo topiaries will be made up of over 80 plants.  They will be planted and maintained by the flamazing gardeners at NBG. 

The gardeners and volunteers are still at work all over the gardens. I had a lovely socially distanced conversation with a volunteer master gardener in the vegetable garden the other day. We maintained our distance and talked about the right time to plant kale, spinach and lettuce seeds. That would be right now. I’m still getting used to these mild Virginia springs.

Did I mention that you can bring your dog along for a walk through the garden on Sundays? There is fresh water available throughout the garden but they ask that you BYOB – bring your own bowl for Fido.

A path with trees at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Now is the time to become a member at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.  Memberships are a great deal. For all the details on membership options, you can click here

It’s good to get to the garden early, when there are less people around. We only passed one other person in the Enchanted Forest area the other morning. The garden opens at 9:00 am daily. Of course, do not go if you are self-isolating for any reason.  

If you need to get out, walk a little or a lot, enjoy the colors and the smells, Norfolk Botanical Garden is a perfect place. I promise you it will soothe your soul.

Remember, at this time, you must purchase your tickets or membership online here BEFORE heading out to the gardens. 

What’s 20% of Nothing?

Words and Picture by Melissa Corrigan.

On the normally loud, boisterous evening of St. Patty’s Day, a small group of service industry veterans stood huddled around the fire pit at local restaurant and bar, Torch Bistro, in the Chelsea district. They wore Chucks and Vans, each sporting the T-shirt of their respective employer, clutched PBR tallboys, and talked quietly while Dropkick Murphys played in the background.

Any other year, this would be a huge tip night for them. But this year, they’re out of work. 

As coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has swept across the nation, restaurants have been faced with tremendously difficult decisions. Close or not close? Limit service to take-out/delivery options only? Major consequences hung in the balance…the health and safety of employees and patrons vs. the annihilation of already slim profit margins and their employees’ livelihoods.

Ultimately, most restaurants have closed their dining rooms or closed altogether, and hundreds of service industry workers have been put out of work. Although national and state legislation is being passed at record pace to ensure these affected individuals won’t be evicted or face utility shut-off, these individuals still need to eat and have a basic standard of living for themselves and their families. Since traditional fundraisers are typically held live, that’s simply not an option.

We are, however, living in the new digital age. Bartenders and servers can now accept ‘tips’ via cash apps and PayPal, ensuring they can continue putting food on their tables and maintain their households. A brilliant and currently anonymous employee at the Center for Ethics and Policy in Pittsburgh created a simple Google form for the Pittsburgh Virtual Tip Jar. This individual had the foresight to include simple instructions for replicating the model in any city, which we’ve done for Hampton Roads.

Our Hampton Roads Virtual Tip Jar is now live, and the list of bartenders and servers is growing by the minute. You can find your favorite drink slinger or burger server on the list and send them some financial assistance directly via Venmo or Paypal. While local and national nonprofits are working as fast as possible to set up specific funds and application and distribution processes, those endeavors take time and our service industry friends need cash now

Below are two links: the first is the direct link to the Hampton Roads Tip Jar. The second is a document with a list of resources, including some national funds and projects, for restaurant employees who have found themselves suddenly under or unemployed.

Hampton Roads Tip Jar

Hampton Roads Service Industry Resource List

Many restaurants in Hampton Roads are still offering take-out and delivery options that may keep these businesses afloat through the coming days and weeks, but the vast majority of bartenders and servers find themselves with no income, effective immediately. Please consider looking up your favorite server, or finding a friend on the list, and sending them some direct assistance. 

Hampton Roads is a diverse, vibrant, and generally close-knit community, especially those in the service industry. In times like these, all we truly have is each other…and just try to figure out 20% the value of a friendship or a neighbor’s financial stability. Tip now!