9/15/04: The following article was written in 1999. I revisited Norfolk Botanical Garden this past weekend and found it to be even more awesome than it was five years ago!

Norfolk Botanical Garden

Norfolk Botanical Garden
(757) 441-5830
This spring we had one of the most memorable field trips ever: the International Azalea Festival. Several factors made this a good trip. First of all, I have a college buddy who provided us with a great place to stay as well as navigational insights. If she doesn't drive us around, she draws an idiot-level map. (Getting lost in the Tidewater area with a carload of kids is not fun; I don't get lost when Judy draws the map.) Another factor making this trip so fine was the weather. Spring was blooming, there was no rain, and although this season has more school buses at the attractions, we managed to minimize their influence on our adventure.

It was my eleven-year-old's birthday. He wanted to take a special friend with us and attend the 46th annual air show at the Norfolk Naval Air Station. These events are difficult for me to stomach. They are totally military, totally loud (earplugs are essential) and totally crowded...tens of thousands of people attend. However, if you have a child who enjoys exploring airplanes, this is the place. Many, many planes of all sizes and purposes are open for exploration. While the air show is occurring, people wander in and out of planes; it is amazing. The air show is amazing as well. The Thunderbirds thrilled the crowds with their performance, a jet raced a truck propelled by a rocket engine up the runway, and the sky was busy with all kinds of aeronautical happenings. This year, for the first time, we stayed for the night air show. It was billed as the most sophisticated pyrotechnic display available. My favorite was the neon-green parachuters (looking like aliens) dancing down the dark sky choreographed to Star Wars music...and the fireworks display. The entire event was free.

The next day we went to the Chrysler Museum of Art. It was the grand opening of their Art of Glass exhibit. On the lawn, glass blowers created serious works of art and told stories that delighted the audience. Inside, we headed straight for the M. C. Escher exhibit (which was the original reason we included this museum in our plans). It was wonderful. More wonderful was the fact that this was a strictly "no-touch" art museum and I had to drag four kids out after exploring inside the place for over five hours (and three were 9 - 11 year old boys)!

During the rest of our five days, we enjoyed Nauticus on two occasions. We broke our old record in a virtual reality game called Nessie's Eggs and managed to rescue 16 out of the 21 possible eggs. One worker praised our work and said the only team she has seen score more was a group of adult men from Williamsburg who come monthly to test their skills.

Riding the ferry to Portsmouth, we headed to The Children's Museum of Virginia. We had visited several years ago and the kids wanted to return to check out the new floor. And of course we stopped off at a long-time favorite, the Virginia Living Museum (which is in Newport News).

But, the absolute best part of this trip was finally making it to Norfolk Botanical Garden. We spent an entire morning, left for lunch, and returned for more in the afternoon. What a place! The azaleas were peaking, the spring flowers were shockingly gorgeous, and the many gardens astounded us all and lifted our spirits. The 155 acres feature one of the "largest and most diverse collections of azaleas, camellias, roses and rhododendrons on the East Coast. It is the nation's only botanical garden that can be toured by boat and train, including a new model that is wheelchair accessible."

Admission to Norfolk Botanical Garden is $6.00 for adults, $5.00 for seniors, $4.00 for youth 6-16 years, and free to children 5 and under. The Tram Tour is free with garden admission and the Boat Tour is $3.00 with a $1.00 discount for youth 6-16 years old. It is best to arrive early (they open at 9 a.m.) and get your tickets (and times) for the boat and train rides so you can plan around them. If you can, take the rides first because it helps orient you to the layout and you get a head start on potential crowds. Naturalists give great facts on both rides and the information on the boat ride is quite different from the information on the train ride. After the rides, start walking. Exploring on your own is wonderful. Their map was easy for the kids to independently navigate. Our favorites were the Healing Garden and the Statuary Vista. In the Statuary Vista, the marble statues of great artists like Raphael, Da Vinci, Titian, Murillo, Rembrandt, Phidias, and others were so fun!

Other gardens include: Annarino Bog Garden, Japanese Garden, Bicentennial Rose Garden, Wildflower Meadow, Bristow Butterfly Garden, Enchanted Forest, Trail Garden, Flowering Arboretum, Bird Sanctuary, Conifer Garden, Herb Garden, Ornamental Grass Garden, English Border Garden, Perennial Garden, Fragrance Garden, Sunken Garden, Holly Garden, Renaissance Court, Purity Garden, Rhododendron Garden, and Camellia Garden. We did not find the time for the Norfolk International Airport Overlook but were told you can monitor airport communications and learn about wind speed and direction. We will be sure to check that out on our next visit.

It is impossible to see and enjoy everything in one day or one season. Regardless of how much time you have to explore Norfolk Botanical Garden, you can be sure of pleasure.

Following 64 East towards Norfolk, take the Norview Avenue exit (which is also the Norfolk International Airport exit).
Go straight on Norview Avenue until you see Azalea Garden Road (which is two stoplights from your exit from 64).
Take a left onto Azalea Garden Road and proceed two blocks until you see the entrance to Norfolk Botanical Garden on your right. Visit their web site at http://www.virginiagarden.org

Mary Wilson...
Email: mary@trailz.org

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