Tuesday afternoon, we made a short drive to our local botanical garden, dragging Anita and Ray Michielini with us—we have to drag our visitors to all the local places we brag about. Just beyond the edge of town, before you get to Wolf Trap (the National Park for the Performing Arts—still currently part of the National Park Service which still existed as of this writing) is a 95-acre plot of beauty that is now part of the Northern Virginia consortium of parks (https://www.NovaParks.com). The visitor center entrance to the garden hosts many exhibits describing native northern Virginia flora and fauna. There is a wonderful fireplace surrounded by chairs and couches—however, I’ve only been there once when the fireplace was lit. Being a Tuesday, we were not competing with hordes of nature lovers blocking the sights and overpowering the sounds of the nearly hundred acre woods (just a bit too small to catch a glimpse of Winnie the Pooh). On the weekends, it’s so overrun by wedding and portrait photographers that they’ve actually instituted a strict reservation policy for those types of staged photo shoots. Don’t worry if all you want to photograph are birds, butterflies, flowers, or fish…and an impromptu picture of your hiking buddy trying to pet a goose.
The 95 acres is laid out in a very secluded but open manner so all you experience is the environment they are showcasing at that spot without feeling closed into a small space. There are several ponds where you will see different things at each—the turtles tend to hang out in the western pond in the Virginia Native Wetlands area, the giant goldfish (koi) and ducks swim under the pier and gazebo in the large center pond, and the geese tend to congregate in the easternmost pond—although this is not a strict segregation.
There are paved walkways throughout the gardens, but you can also head back into the dirt paths through the woods if you are little more adventurous. The wonderful volunteers (and paid staff) who maintain this park do a fantastic job of varying the plantings so there is something interesting to see every month of the year. During the coldest months, you can wimp out and head indoors to the heated Atrium Gardens.
About ten years ago, the Korean community joined with the park to create a Korean Bell Garden—the first of its kind in the western hemisphere (impressive, huh?). Hanging inside a traditional Korean structure is the biggest bell I’ve ever touched. We watched this area being built over the past few years and it’s very serene to experience. And, there is much more to this section than a bell. Following the path above the bell garden you come to a lonely gazebo on the top of a hill. The view is awe inspiring. The trek back down takes you by a refurbished log cabin and gardening area where camps and classes take place. If you stray off the path a little bit, you can catch sight of the behind-the-scene workshops and storage for the gardens. While I’ve never been shooed away from this area, you’ll probably want to be respectful of the tools, equipment, and greenhouses.
Not being six years old any more, we didn’t stop to play with the toys in the children’s garden. But, if no one’s watching…maybe next time.