There are two types of people who visit the Garden… Wait, that sounds like the start of a bad joke. People come to the Garden for many different reasons, but generally people come with a specific purpose in mind or they come to wander around and see what’s here. In other words, for some folks the destination is important while for others it’s all about the journey. This time of year is perfect for both types of visitors.
If what happens on the journey is your style then the variety of flowers all over the Garden will dazzle you. Head through the visitor center and down by the boat basin. Weeping cherries spray branches of pink floral fireworks over the walkway and a windy day will scatter the delicate petals across the path like a welcoming ticker-tape parade. The Sarah Lee Baker Perennial Garden is full of cheery yellow daffodils while the Border Garden beyond features a variety of spring flowering shrubs like quince, Japanese andromeda and laurustinus.
Wander over to the Hofheimer Camellia Garden. Here hundreds of different camellias are bursting into bloom in a shady woodland setting. You could easily spend a lot of time here just crisscrossing through the Garden trying to see all the different shades of pink, white and red camellias in a variety of forms. Then meander your way to the Winter garden to see hellebores and spike winterhazel or head to Baker Overlook, bathed in the yellow glow of a mass planting of forsythia.
The Flowering Arboretum is a particularly good place to take a personal odyssey. The many different magnolias grab your attention, calling to you like the Sirens of Greek myth, luring you from one tree to the next. You will not have to pass between Scylla and Charybdis, but instead pleasantly navigate your way between a magnolia and a flowering Okame cherry. And if you want to avoid the lotus-eaters stay away from the jujube tree near the greenhouse (Trivia of the day: The Ziziphus tree is often thought to be the lotus plant mentioned in the Greek story, Odyssey). However, the fragrant banana shrub may entice you to stick around for a while. Let’s just hope not 10 years.
For other visitors the destination is what draws them here. Again our Camellia Garden is a destination for many. Spending time going through our extensive collection of camellias is a great way look for one you might want to have in your own garden. You may find some familiar old friends or a hot new plant that you need to have. For those hunters, look for a few of my favorites such as the species Camellia lutchuensis and several varieties of Camellia japonica: Dryade, Goggy, Lipstick, Punkin and Kingyo-Tsubaki. The last is really unusual because of its “fishtail” leaf.
There are several spring ephemerals that are worthy of a “destination” trip. In the back of the Bristow Butterfly Garden is a planting of netted iris under some trees. These diminutive dark blue irises are worthy of a trip to see them when in bloom, which is always for a too brief a time in the spring. The Native Plant Garden also has many harbingers of spring sprouting on the woodland floor. Look for the ground-hugging downy rattlesnake plant with its netted leaves or the speckled leaves of the trout lily. Right now the small yellow flowers of the trout lily are starting to unfold, showing us how it got its other common name, dog-tooth violet. Dwarf wake robin buds are emerging from the center of the tiny three-leaved plant, looking like small beaks pushing up to be fed. The Virginia springbeauty is thrusting its delicate white flowers just above the pine needles littering the ground, shouting out like JoJo, the smallest Who, “we are here.” All of these are definitely worth a trip to see in bloom, but their flowering time is brief, so come look for them soon. They may be challenging to find, much like a Where’s Waldo hunt, but well worth it when you find them.
Of course you don’t have to be locked in to one of the “two types” of visitor. Be both. Come with the plan to find our little gems, but enjoy the glorious journey through Garden along the way. Just make sure you bring a lunch. You never know how long it will take.