NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

State Arboretum of Virginia

By: Michelle Harper

State Arboretum of VirginiaWe have ridden past the brown sign proclaiming the State Arboretum of Virginia on Route 50 in Boyce, Virginia (approximately 10 miles east of Winchester) many times without stopping to investigate. Quite honestly, this was mostly due to the fact that we weren't sure what an Arboretum really meant. After learning from the dictionary that an arboretum is "a place where an extensive variety of woody plants are cultivated for scientific, educational, and ornamental purposes", we decided it was the perfect place to ride to on a gorgeous spring afternoon.

Blandy Experimental FacilityThe Arboretum was originally called the Orland E. White Arboretum for its founder who arrived here in 1926 after 700 acres was donated to the University of Virginia for horticultural research and experimentation. Due to his diligent efforts the arboretum thrived to become the official State Arboretum in 1986. Currently 175 acres of this land is open for enjoyment of the general public. The remaining acreage is part of Blandy Experimental farm, a living research lab for visiting scientists and students from the University of Virginia.

Blue bells and yellow flowersImmediately upon entering the gravel parking lot, we began to feel at ease in the natural setting. One of the first sites we were presented with was that of an herb garden. Just beyond the initial view was a picnic area for all to enjoy, as well as a perrenial garden in full-bloom. We were happy to find out that the area is pet friendly and noticed many pet owners taking advantage of the lovely surroundings to walk their dogs. Once we left the parking lot we passed an educational center where many classes are held throughout the year for visiting school children.

State Arboretum of VirginiaWe then followed the signs indicating a gift shop and pointing to a rather large brick complex. We later learned that the building was a former servant's quarters used by slaves to service the large mansion that can still be seen over the hill. The quarters, originally built in the 1830's, were expanded in the 1940's and now contain a gift shop, dormitory, lab, library and kitchen for students working on the farm. As soon as we crossed the arches of the quarters into the interior portion of the Arboretum, we were immediately greeted by two volunteer guides who were more than happy to answer questions and provide private mini tours and suggestions of trails and sites to see while on the property.

Dogwood blossumI do not have a green thumb so I had much to learn as the volunteer enthusiastically pointed out many interesting things such as the fact Ginko trees have been around since prehistoric times. He also informed us that not all conifers (trees like pine, spruce and firs) are evergreens and some can actually lose their needles in the winter. There are over 1,000 varieties of plants and trees in the arboretum, which contains half the world's collection of pine trees. All the trees in the arboretum have been meticulously labeled and dated. Additional signs are also scattered throughout the trails to provide more detailed information and interesting facts.

Garden in bloomEven if you weren't interested in learning more about trees, you can certainly appreciate the scenic beauty as you stroll along the grounds. You may chose from several walking trails that include a stroll though Dogwood Lane, an old abandoned road that once lead to the mansion over the hill. You may also choose to stroll along the Virginia Native Plant trail or just sit on a bench and admire the quiet beauty of the natural area. To get a great overview of the area, another option would be to drive the 3 mile Loop Drive (portions are gravel so be careful). Brochures are available that will identify points of interest along your drive.

The arboretum is also used for many special events and even has an outdoor amphitheater for concerts and weddings. Other events offered include informational lectures, walks, tours and various educational programs. The Arboretum also hosts an annual Garden Fair every Mother's Day weekend, in which plants are available for purchase. There is no admission for entry. However, donations are accepted. The Arboretum is open every day from dawn to dusk. It is the perfect place to learn something or just kick back and relax. You can even hug a tree, if you are so inclined and nobody will think twice about it.

Virginia's State Arboretum is located on Rt. 50
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