Conservatory and Central Garden copy

FORT LEE, Va. (July 28, 2011) -- Once a hunting ground of Native Americans and a destination for 19th century bicyclists, Richmond's Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is a popular tourist destination. It is also a learning center and play area for children and adults, a winter wonderland of lights and holiday decorations and the site of "Diamonds in the Rough," a stick sculpture by Patrick Dougherty, a world famous artist.

Open all but four days a year, the garden is actually a series of themed gardens, a conservatory for exotic plants, educational facilities, a shop, a café and a tea house. Located at 1800 Lakeside Ave. in Richmond, Lewis Ginter is Virginia's official state botanical garden. The facility collects and cultivates plants from around the world. It maintains a botanical library and herbarium.

Summer months bring extended hours to the garden. Through August, the garden is open late Tuesdays for Summer in the Children's Garden, a time of family fun, and Thursdays for Flowers After 5, with wine-tasting, live music, dining and shopping available.

The winter holiday season is the time for model train displays, botanical decorations and half a million lights in the garden.

Dougherty's stick sculpture is unique to the Richmond garden. His inspiration came from the surrounding environment, and it's made from locally gathered natural materials in a sustainable way, according to the garden's website. At least five tractor-trailer loads of sticks and saplings were used. Most were young red maples and sweet gum saplings that came from private rural tracts of land. Dougherty has built more than 200 such sculptures around the world.

Regular hours at the garden are 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily except for special evening hours. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for senior citizens and $6 for children ages 3-12.

Among the special gardens within the complex are a Healing Garden, Sunken Garden, Asian Valley, Rose Garden, a wetland garden, a Victorian garden and a Children's Garden, which includes a wheelchair-accessible Tree House, Adventure Pathway and International Village. There are water and sand play areas as well.

The botanical garden has a helpful website, www.lewisginter.org, where browsers can see what flowers are in bloom, check the lunch menu in the Robins Tea House or Garden Cafe, plan the day's activities or sign up for educational opportunities. Information is also available at (804) 262-9887. The garden has a number of facilities that may be rented for special functions including weddings, receptions and meetings.