If you are searching for the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit, look no further than the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. Probably better known for its beautiful blooming flowers in the spring and summer, the garden becomes a "Gardenfest of Lights" with over 500,000 blossoms of red, green, pink, blue, purple, white and golden lights guaranteed to get you in the holiday mood.
Your journey begins the instant you set foot in the welcome center where you are greeted with the sounds of the season being played joyfully by a live band. For the next hour or so you are transported into a winter wonderland as you stroll throughout the 40 acre garden where a blending of natural and man made elements make the evening come alive. Displays are divided between outside and indoors, offering you the opportunity of visiting indoors and warming up whenever you choose.
The outdoor gardens are filled with unique Christmas lights from the hand-blown glass orbs to lights wrapped to resemble grapes dangling from arbors covering the walkways. As you journey along the paths you never know what you will find from magical fish jumping along the fountains edge to a pink flamingo or a pair of swans swimming in the water. If you are lucky, you just might catch a glimpse of a wolf as he sneaks silently through the forest of lights. If you feel like you are being watched, look a little closer and you may find that some of the trees are actually looking back at you.
Take a break from the cold weather to journey inside the 63 feet tall domed conservatory which offers more than 8,000 feet of flowering displays. As soon as you open the doors you will feel instantly cozier as your senses are filled with the scent of blooming flowers and greenery. Wandering among the over 200 orchids and tropical flowers it is easy to forget it is below freezing outside.
The centerpiece of the Conservatory during the “Gardenfest of Lights” is the signature tree, decorated to reflect this year’s theme “Season of Wonder”. The tree is covered with an assortment of fairies in all shapes and sizes next to brilliant red balls made out of rose petals affectionately dubbed as red artichokes. Also while in the conservatory, children and adults alike will also enjoy visiting the thatched roof English cottage garden display where every detail has been included down to a mouse hiding in the windowbox.
What holiday would be complete without a model train display? Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens “Gardenfest of Lights” provides this with exceptional flair. Its unique model train village is exceptionally beautiful. As you watch the locomotive wind its way through the town, you will realize that there is more to this magical scene than first believed. The entire village is made entirely of plants and natural materials gleaned from the gardens! Pinecone scales and roof shelf fungus become roof shingles on the town’s buildings, money plants become windows, miniature red chili peppers become decorative lights, even the bell on the schoolhouse is made of an acorn. Once again, no detail is spared. You could literally spend hours in wonder and the natural architecture of this amazing exhibit.
Perhaps the favorite spot in the outdoor gardens for children of all ages is the Children’s Garden where a kid-friendly tree house looms far above the ground giving you a wonderful vantage point of the entire grounds. It offers a spectacular view of the lights twinkling in the gardens and dancing in the reflections of the ponds and fountains. It is also here in the Children’s Garden where you will find hot chocolate and other warm beverages and snacks to warm you along your journey. All you have to do to find it is follow the sounds of happy children. If you desire more than a quick snack and a warm drink, there are other dining options available on the grounds. Both the Tea House and the Garden Café are open for dinner during the festival of lights.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens is the perfect place to catch the holiday spirit as your senses are filled with the sights, sounds and smells that are sure to warm the heart. It offers a more personal and simpler alternative than a drive-through light display. However, like the fragile flowers in the springtime, these blooms will only last a few short weeks. Be sure to visit the "Gardenfest of Lights" while it is still in full bloom.
For more information visit: www.lewisginter.org
Directions: From I-95 take Exit 83B, the Parham Rd Rt. 73 West Exit. Take a left at the second stoplight onto Brook Road (Rt 1 South). Take a right at third stoplight onto Lakeside Avenue. The Garden entrance is on your right as you travel down Lakeside Avenue.
Garden Hours: Daily 9AM-5PM
Gardenfest of Lights Hours: 5PM-10PM, Nov 25 - Jan 8 (except Dec 24, 25 and Jan 31)
Gardenfest of Lights Admission: Adults $9.00, Seniors $8.00, Children (3 -12) $5.00, Under 3 free