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Garden Getaways, near and far
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Garden Getaways, near and far

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Late summer travel plans may be in limbo as the delta variant of COVID-19 is now dominant in the U.S. But it is still possible to get away and have a good time this August.

Gardens in and around Virginia are safe places to spend a day outdoors. Though springtime is considered peak garden weather, August, when trees are heavy with fruit and green and wildflowers reign supreme, has plenty of natural beauty. Whether you plan on staying overnight or traveling for just the day, there are plenty of options to consider.

Spend the day in Georgetown

Georgetown is the more laid-back and refined sister of Washington’s neighborhoods. And she has an abundance of gardens to visit.

The gardens at Dumbarton Oaks were designed by renowned landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand and are an oasis within the city. The Harvard University-owned property boasts 16 acres of terraces, gardens, orchards, meadows and wooded pathways. Walking boxwood-lined paths lead to rose gardens, rarely seen vistas of the city and even an orangery. If you are comfortable visiting the indoor museum, its world-class collection of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art is worth seeing. The gardens are open Tuesday through Sunday, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and timed tickets are required: doaks.org/visit.

Nearby is Tudor Place, a Federal-style home that housed six generations of Martha Washington’s descendants. Along with the largest Washington Collection outside of Mount Vernon, Tudor Place sits on more than five acres in the heart of Georgetown. According to its website, coneflowers, lilies, hostas, zinnias, phlox, Spanish flags, spider flowers and many others are in bloom. The gardens and museum are open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. and visitors need timed tickets: tudorplace.org/visit/plan-your-visit-2.

After visiting those two surprising spots in the heart of a city, make a day of your visit by exploring the waterfront and other attractions. There’s plenty of shopping, food and drink in Georgetown.

Staying in the commonwealth

If the traffic close to Washington scares you away, check out the gardens at Mount Vernon. The historic site even has a Mount Vernon plant finder app for families who want to roam and discover.

Many people know the property for Washington’s home, but it also shares George Washington’s love of horticulture. In his time, visitors were “delighted by bountiful offerings of fresh vegetables and fruits from Mount Vernon’s gardens and reveled in after-dinner walks amongst all manner of plants,” according to its website. Today, visitors can stroll through Washington’s four gardens once again. Also near the great house, on the banks of the Potomac, is a four-acre farm that explores Washington’s role as a farmer. It offers visitors a chance to learn more about the lives of the enslaved workers who put Washington’s ideas into practice, too.

Like Georgetown, Mount Vernon is a day trip unto itself. And that’s just considering the outdoor activities. Check the website for up-to-date information on daily events: mountvernon.org/plan-your-visit/calendar. The property has plenty of dining, too, with a food court, food trucks and a restaurant.

Less than an hour away

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has lots to do, and it’s only about an hour’s drive from Fredericksburg.

Any couple looking for a special night out—and outside—can “escape to a garden paradise” on Wednesday nights through Aug. 25. Lewis Ginter is permitting picnic fare and offering food for sale in its Garden Café. At the moment, sneezeweed, purple passionflower, rose mallows, Japanese windflower and zephyr lilies are blooming and on view.

Families, too, can take advantage of the garden’s full rotation of events including the child-focused “Secret Life of Bugs” presentation and “Storytime in the Garden.”

Visitors can walk in and purchase tickets for daytime visits, and the botanical garden is offering extended evening hours until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Find out more: lewisginter.org.

A farther jaunt

In Southwest Virginia lies the sleepy town of Wytheville. Its mountainous terrain has plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, including Shot Tower State Park with its 57-mile trail that follows an abandoned railroad bed along the New River. Another attraction is Big Walker Mountain. At an elevation of 3,405 feet, the mountain’s lookout features an observation tower and a swinging bridge.

But garden lovers should check out Beagle Ridge Herb Farm. The 160-acre wooded retreat specializes in lavender, but also has more than four miles of nature trails, as well as display gardens and a butterfly house. Relax in the gardens and enjoy a cup of herbal tea, learn about herbal crafts and natural lotions or just take in the breathtaking views. The farm is open Thursday through Sunday.

Stay in Wytheville and check out the local shops and eateries or stay in Roanoke and make the trip to town.

A garden for beachgoers

Many locals are escaping to the Virginia Beach area this time of year. While there, check out the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. The gardens feature 175 acres to discover and 14 miles of paths to explore. Among the collection are roses, camellias, crape myrtles, a butterfly house and a three-acre children’s garden.

Now on display is the “Washed Ashore” show. It features massive sculptures made from beach debris aimed at educating the public about plastics and trash that litters beaches. It’s artistic, and a learning opportunity.

Find out more: norfolkbotanicalgarden.org/washed-ashore-2021

Far out

If you find yourself traveling south (or returning north from a trip to warmer climes), consider a stop at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens. Run by the UNiversity of North Carolina, it’s a conservation site, with a mission to safeguard rare and endangered plant species from extinction, and educate new generations of plant lovers. It even hosts charming and interactive events like tomato tastings and outdoor yoga in the garden.

“Year-round native plant gardening makes for a unique and beautiful landscape, from the tiny ephemerals that pop up in early spring to the stunning, architectural seed heads of fall,” explains the website.

And the landscapes have a little something for everyone. A Children’s Wonder Garden includes digging areas, wooden blocks, a fairy place, a picnic lawn, the little woods, a bird blind, and a pollinator garden. The carnivorous plant collection explores how the southeastern U.S. is home to the world’s most diverse collection of insect-eating plants. Inside raised beds, you will find insectivorous plants like sundews, pitcher plants, and the world-famous Venus flytraps. They also show off mountainous and coastal ecosystems, plants used by Native Americans in traditional medicine, and a whole garden of poisonous plants.

Find out more: ncbg.unc.edu/ncbg

Wherever you choose to roam this August, there’s a garden waiting for you to explore and a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience for every traveler.

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