Monday, September 07, 2009

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Looking back through my Blog Archives I realize I've never really posted about Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. I did do a short piece about Grovin' in the Garden '07 where I was first introduced to Son Volt. Somehow I missed blogging about seeing a band of men wearing and playing gourds there way back in '06. Well, today I will atone for my past neglect of this gem of Richmond culture by giving an glowing account of our visit there this past Sunday.

The main attraction is an exhibition called ButterfliesLIVE. The event is being held in the North wing of the greenhouse and features a variety of exotic butterflies and moths. You enter through an air-lock style staff-controlled doorway and receive stern instructions not to step on any priceless specimens! Entering the butterfly sanctuary you really do have to remember to look at your feet from time to time as your eyes are irresistibly drawn to the vibrant fluttering wings filling the air. Signs helpfully remind you to watch your step. In fact this one sign was incredibly accurate! When the butterflies close their wings many species to an incredibly good job of blending into the surroundings. The result is not only are they had to see against the paving stones, but in fact the longer you spend looking around, the more and more creatures you spot sitting on every leaf or branch. Each time I thought I was ready to leave, my attention would be caught by another variety.

One of the most amusing things about the exhibit was watching the photographers. Obviously the Botanical Gardens draws many budding camera enthusiasts and we are no exception having brought Kristal's dSLR. Taking a picture of a butterfly in flight, in an open room, is like the ninja catching the fly with chopsticks. But people will make themselves dizzy trying. Certain folks, who have accepted the futility the airbourne shot are instead focusing intently on a perched individual. It is a large specimen. The underside of it's wings are a drab brown so it is inconspicuous as it rest with wings folder together. Occasionally, the wings will open as the butterfly stretches and yawns. This is the moment we have been waiting for, as the upper side of the wings are electric blue so intense the color-junkie viewfinder-cowboys go weak at the knees.

Also in the greenhouse are the garden's collection of orchids. Again, a very popular destination for photographers as the shapes and colors are exquisite. However the greenhouse is a very small portion of what the garden has to offer. Between the main building and the greenhouse they have a herb garden that explains the medicinal properties of the various plants. We were particularly struck by the black ornamental pepper. Then as you wander down the hill from the entrance you enter a veritable maze of paths winding through different habitats and themes. The Japanese gardens transition into a wetlands bursting with carnivorous pitcher plants. At the bottom of the hill there are areas for all the family including a kiddies garden. We were very keen to see what autumn crops they had growing. It turned out they had collards, cabbage, broccoli and even a few carrots poking up.

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