Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Virginia was created in 1938, bearing the name Azalea Garden at that time, as a project of the Works Progress Administration. Since the majority of the male labor force were busy on other projects, the area was cleared by 200 African American women and 20 African American men.

The Norfolk Botanical Garden Society began managing the gardens in 1993, and in 2005 the gardens were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Norfolk Botanical Garden consists of 175 acres of themed gardens, 52 to be exact, as well as numerous species of birds and butterflies.

The twelve miles of trails of this Virginia Historic Landmark weave in and out of five year-round gardens, the WOW Children’s Adventure Garden, and many other gardens that are open for the majority of the year. Most of the themed gardens are open spring until fall. Norfolk Botanical Garden offers guided tours and educational programs in addition to housing one of the biggest collections of azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and roses on the East Coast.

The Eagle Tribute Plaza was created in honor of a pair of bald eagles that had been nesting in the nearby garden since 2003. The Eagle Cam was set up so people could view the bald eagles from around the world. Sadly, on October 15, 2011 the female eagle died as a result of being struck by an airplane arriving at Norfolk Airport. The plaza now displays a bronze eagle statue as a memorial to the female American bald eagle, built with the support of the Eagle Cam viewers. The Eagle Tribute Plaza is situated near the entrance to the Tropical Garden.

The Japanese Garden, created in 1962, displays plants such as the Japanese Live Oak, False Cypress, Flowering Cherry and the Japanese Red Maple. The garden was originally dedicated to Moji, Norfolk’s sister city in Japan, but was re-dedicated when Moji was renamed Kitakyushu in 1963. The Japanese Garden gives you a feel of traditional gardens in Japan, following the hill and pond style.

The symmetric terraces and elaborate balustrades of the Renaissance Garden were created in 1984. Modeled after the wide vistas and classic lines of the Italian Renaissance, this garden is one of the more ornate and classical of Norfolk Botanical Garden’s themed gardens. The Renaissance Garden also features a reflective pool, behind which the International Azalea Queen is usually crowned each year in April. Also located in the garden is one statue in each of the four corners of the upper level that represent the four seasons.

Norfolk Botanical Garden’s Sensory Garden is designed as a treat for visitors’ senses. Visitors are encouraged to explore the garden using sight, smell and touch to experience the many different herbs and perennials. When the weather heats up, the stimulating aroma of the plants fill the garden.

200 African American women and 20 African American men worked in harsh conditions to clear the way for Norfolk Botanical Garden back in 1938. The WPA Memorial Garden was created to honor those women and men. For four years, they worked through scorching heat and freezing cold, dealing with the likes of snakes, ticks and poison ivy to remove dense vegetation. Through long hours of hard work they were able to change a marsh into the Azalea Garden that represented the landscape architecture of the time.

The World of Wonders: A Children’s Adventure Garden consists of 3 acres of educational and hands-on exploration designed for kids. Children, and possibly parents too, should be aware that they may get wet in parts of the garden, as each section provides a different interactive experience or lesson.

The World Plaza is definitely one area of the WOW Children’s Adventure Garden that visitors should be prepared to get wet while exploring. Children can learn about the world’s oceans and other major bodies of water while being entertained by fountains, fog, bubbles and jet sprays. Note, however, that the fountains are turned off during the winter.

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The Passport Gardens area of the WOW Children’s Adventure Garden offers an exploration of a variety of biomes from different parts of the world. Biomes include the Australian Outback, the South American Rainforest, the Eastern United States Deciduous Forest, the African Grasslands, and the Mediterranean Chaparral. Children will have the opportunity to learn about the different plants in each biome and how the people from that area live in the environment.

The Dirt Factory gives kids the chance to learn about bugs, dirt and plants through fun hands-on experiences. They can climb and dig to their hearts’ content. Inside a massive treehouse, children have the opportunity to learn about bugs and seeds. The root viewer allows visitors to see how different plants grow underground. The farmer’s house and barn provides an interactive lesson about fruits and vegetables. The fun for kids doesn’t have to end when they leave Norfolk Botanical Garden. The Potting Table offers kids a chance to plant their very own seed in a pot they can take home with them.

Visitors can climb Discovery peak for a tour of crops grown around the world. The plants are grouped by continent. What you’ll be able to see varies by season. Adults and children alike can learn how cotton and bananas are grown, as well as what crops, such as sugarcane, actually look like. The Discovery Peak is an interesting and interactive way to learn about the importance of different plants.

Discovery Peak also consists of the Edible Demonstration Garden, which features a large assortment of edible plants grown in Tidewater. Amongst the variety of plants there are displays to show how not much room is needed to grow a garden, such as the two vertical “living walls.” There are also several fruit trees in the garden.

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The Plant Safari section of the WOW Children’s Adventure Garden lets children explore four unique habitats of North America. In the Whichway Woods, visitors can experience the forest layers and learn how important trees are to our daily lives. The wetlands of Frog Bog offers an experience of crossing the bog via a floating bridge and learning about the aquatic wildlife that live there. Guests can also explore the habitat of the Southwest to learn about the plants and animals that reside in the region and how they have adapted to the desert. To learn about Native Americans and their food sources, explore the Grain Plain where you will also have the chance to sit in a Tipi.

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In 1976, the Bicentennial Rose Garden was created to commemorate the United States Bicentennial. The garden features over 300 varieties of roses throughout its over 3,000 rose plants. The Bicentennial Rose Garden, one of 130 All-American Rose Selections Display Gardens, is best viewed from mid-May to October.

Tropical and subtropical plants line the canal below the NATO Overlook, offering visitors a chance to explore plants that can’t be seen anywhere else in Virginia. Thanks to the protected hillside and mild water which creates a more temperate microclimate, these plants are able to survive the winter. While the Tropical Garden can be visited throughout the year, the types of plant visitors will see change by the season. Birds of Paradise can be seen in the spring, while Voodoo Lilies, Cigar Flowers and Indigo can be viewed during summer. In the fall, visitors can explore Bottlebrush, Hibiscus and Lion’s Ear, but in the winter will see Daphniphyllum, Dioon and Gum Tree.

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The scenery of the Four Seasons Garden and Wildflower Meadow continually changes. The meadow offers visitors a chance to see more of a natural landscape in contrast to the designed gardens. With the ever changing landscape comes a variety of different plants that change by the season. With over 50 kinds of wildflowers and grass, you’ll find Poppies, Sunflowers, Five Spot, Bachelor’s Button and Gayfeather.

The Sarah Lee Baker Perennial Garden is a 1 acre circular garden with more of a formal landscape style. The garden features over 200 types of perennials. Bluestar and Iris can be found in the spring, Canna Lily and Whirling Butterflies in the summer, Confederate Rose and Salvia in the fall, and Kerria in the winter. These are just a few of the many beautiful plants visitors can enjoy. Guests can also cool off and relax by the limestone fountain and terraced canals.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake is the site of where it all began, where the 220 African women and men began work on the then Azalea Garden in 1939. This makes Mirror Lake the oldest part of Norfolk Botanical Garden. Visitors can even enjoy the sight of the original azaleas every spring. A variety of orchids, ferns and mountain laurels can also be found around the lake and along the trails throughout the surrounding woods. An assortment of birds call Mirror Lake home, as well.

The Norfolk Botanical Garden offers a wide variety of educational classes and programs for all ages. There are numerous educational and interactive children’s programs, scout programs, guided field trip programs and homeschool days. Adult classes tend to focus on exercise, gardening and art. Some examples of adult classes are yoga, Pilates, tai chi, dance and painting.

Back to: Best Things to Do in Norfolk, Virginia

6700 Azalea Garden Rd., Norfolk, VA 23518, website, Phone: 757-441-5830

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