Norfolk Botanical Gardens Upcoming Events

Words by Penny Neef.
Images as credited. Feature image courtesy of
Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

The Norfolk Botanical Garden is my happy place. NBG never closed down in 2020. When the Covid pandemic reared its ugly head in Hampton Roads, NBG took an immediate right turn. They closed down their buildings. They went to online ticket sales with contactless entry. They cut back on hours, but never closed their gates.

The Garden is 175 acres of wide-open space. The flowers kept blooming. The turtles kept basking in the sun. The butterflies kept fluttering. I wrote all about it right here. NBG was my sanctuary the third week of March, when there was so much uncertainty and anxiety.

Well guess what? There is still so much uncertainty and anxiety, more than 6 months later. We’ve all adapted and adjusted, at least most of us. Virginia’s largest Botanical Garden has also adapted and adjusted. It is still my happy place. They’ve opened up the restrooms (thank you). The Marigold & Honey Café is open for limited hours. The Gift Shop is open with limited capacity. Ticket sales are still online. You can read the NBG “Commitment to Safety” here.

The botanical gardens, a statue in the middle of a brick walkway, bushes and plants surrounding it.
Photo courtesy of Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Education is part of the mission of Norfolk Botanical Garden. NBG is offering a number of outdoor classes and other garden experiences, with social distance and safety considerations. There is Sunset Kayaking, outdoor yoga and Garden Walk and Talks, led by the horticultural staff.

There are also indoor classes for both children and adults. The complete calendar of classes and events, including flower arranging, worm composting, digital photography, and water colors are listed here.

It is a great advantage to be a NBG member. Classes and events are discounted for members and there are some members-only events. Information about NBG membership is here.

NBG also celebrates the arts. The Garden is hosting a series of three concerts for members only this fall. Artists from Virginia Opera will perform outdoors in the Garden’s Renaissance Court for an audience limited to 100 members. This is a beautiful area of the Garden that feels like it was transported from a castle in Europe.

The view from under a light up tree at the NBG Lights extravaganza, strings of small green and gold lights come up to a point about center of the image that glows bright white.
Photo courtesy of Penny Neef.

The Garden Staff are already wrapping the trees with over a million lightbulbs in preparation for the annual Garden of Lights extravaganza. This year it will be online ticket sales and drive-through only. Garden of Lights begins November 13 through January 2, nightly from 5:30 – 10:00. It’s an annual tradition in our family.

The wildly popular Lantern Asia will be back in April, 2021. If you’ve never seen this event? Display? Art installation? Not quite sure what you call it, because it’s all of that and more; it is not to be missed. If you have seen it in past years, it’s worth going again. Lantern Asia grows larger and more innovative every year.

The Asian Lanterns exhibit at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, a lit up whale swims over lit up mushrooms and fish
Photo courtesy of Penny Neef.

There is always something new and different to see at Norfolk Botanical Garden. Something is always blooming, even in the dead of winter. Things are always happening. It is a big wide open, beautiful space, full of fresh air. You can be far away from anyone and enjoy it all. It will soothe your soul, guaranteed.

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.