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Spring Blooms: A Guide to Local Gardens and Botanical Attractions

During the spring months, our natural landscapes around town turn into a tapestry of vibrant colors, from the extensive and expertly manicured gardens at Colonial Williamsburg to the stunning array of plant species that make up the Botanical Gardens Williamsburg VA within Freedom Park. Start by heading out on the Basset Trace Nature Trail – one of our favorite springtime hikes – where you’ll get a perfect introduction to the breadth of plants in full bloom, from the brilliant white flowers of the Lizard’s tail and yellow petals of the Golden ragwort to the subtle purple colors of Wild ginger. Fill your days with strolls through the nearby gardens – wherever you look, spring’s beauty surrounds our Williamsburg bed and breakfast, flowering anew.

Colonial Williamsburg – Touring the Governor’s Mansion Grounds and Joining a Guided Walk Through the Historic Area’s Multitude of Gardens

After starting the morning with a specialty latte, mocha, or chai next door at Aromas Coffee, walk over to the Governor’s Palace, one of the landmarks of the 300 sprawling acres within Colonial Williamsburg. The gorgeous grounds here embody what gardening looked like during colonial times, with elaborate landscaping and a maze adding to the unique layout. The trees planted throughout the historic area form another type of arbored garden, none more impressive than the beech tree “arbors” that create a tunnel of foliage near the Governor’s Palace.

One of the best ways to get a hands-on introduction to the 30 on-site gardens throughout Colonial Williamsburg is to join their Meet the Gardener tour – included with your general CW admission ticket. A master gardener will guide you through different plots, imparting horticultural knowledge and insights into how colonial-era gardeners worked the soil and which tools they used. These tours begin at 9:30 am every Thursday, starting at the Prentis Store near the corner of North Queen St and Duke of Gloucester St (just a 10-minute walk from our location).

Plants, Pollinators, and Botanical Splendor at the Botanical Gardens Williamsburg VA

Just eight miles north of downtown, the Williamsburg Botanical Garden – a lush 2-acre spread that includes over a dozen unique mini garden areas and several hundred plant species – occupies the center of Freedom Park, itself over 600 acres of urban greenery at its finest. When you enter the garden, following the quaint pathways leading from zone to zone, you’ll pass by an herb garden, always a fragrant treat, a collection of succulents, swamp, and marsh sections, and perhaps the most charming, a fairy garden. With hearts painted on rocks and adorable “fairy houses” mixed in with the garden design, kids will love imagining fairies at play, adding a delightful sense of wonder to the afternoon. Surrounding the garden, you’ll also find dense stands of young and old piney woods, part of Freedom Park’s Arboretum – recently recognized as Level 1, of which there are less than 20 in all of Virginia, and lauded for its diversity of woody plants and dozens of tree species.

One of the missions of the Williamsburg Botanical Garden is to be a magnet for pollinators, creating a haven for the bees and butterflies to work their springtime magic. The “pollinator palace” is an ingenious reuse and reimagining of wooden shipping pallets, several stacked high and made to protect bees as they raise their young – if you visit in the spring, it’s sure to be buzzing with activity as the queen bee mates and the colony chases the bounty of nectar throughout the garden.

Another wonderful garden treat is the astonishing variety of butterflies you’ll see, a sight that surely would’ve awed the famous novelist Nabokov, a lifelong butterfly enthusiast. Butterfly experts have noted over 50 species of butterflies throughout the garden, with unique names like the zebra swallowtail, silver-spotted skipper, and holly azure. Look for them in the pollinator bed and amongst the brightly-hued zinnias, cosmos, and milkweed. If you’re into nature photography, bring your digital camera and tripod to set up along the walkways throughout the garden, where you’ll have your choice of lovely flowers and delightfully fluttering butterflies to capture.

More Than Just a Garden – History at Freedom Park and Springtime Classes

Like most places in Williamsburg, Freedom Park's history runs deep, especially right next to the garden at the Free Black Settlement. After functioning for nearly 200 years as the Green Spring Plantation, one of the most well-established plantations during colonial times, land owner William Ludwell Lee gave part of his plot to 30 formerly enslaved people that he emancipated in the early 1800s (notable as it preceded the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865). Three humble wooden cabins recreate the dwellings they lived in some two centuries ago, honoring their role in farming this same land, including where the botanical garden is today, connecting past to present tangibly and powerfully. During your day in the garden, it’s worth taking a stroll and stepping foot into the cabins, which are decorated accurately for that period, much like the living history museums of the Historic Triangle.

The Botanical Garden’s dedicated staff of volunteers organizes several springtime events, starting with their Native Orchids of Virginia masterclass at 10 a.m. on April 20th, 2024, held in the Interpretive Center at Freedom Park. The event is free but requires an online reservation. It is a rare chance to learn about the fascinating variety of orchids found throughout our state. The class is an ideal complement to visiting the garden, especially during the spring, when orchids burst into bloom all over Virginia. The impossibly gorgeous pinks and magentas of the Pink Lady’s Slipper orchid make it the most recognizable of the bunch. But you’ll also learn about more under-the-radar varieties like the Coralroot, which forms a unique underground relationship with fungi as it grows. The garden also hosts its annual Honor Box Plant Sale daily starting on April 27th and continuing through May 26th, when you can browse the appealing selection of plants for sale, priced as marked, with cash payment made the old-fashioned way in a drop box.

Stay with us this spring and experience the magnificent natural beauty of the Botanical Gardens Williamsburg VA!