Largest expansion in NBG history

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – “Here we go, the Garden of Tomorrow, finally today.”

That’s what Norfolk Botanical Garden president and CEO Michael Desplaines said in a Facebook video Friday as he signed the $36 million contract signifying its largest-ever expansion that will address visitation, parking and plant conservation.

The expansion, he said, will be completely paid for by private donors “and our combined success at Norfolk Botanical Garden of what will be next year, 85 years of connecting people to nature through the world of plants.” Virginia Beach-based Dills Architects designed it.

“This will really change the entire experience here at Norfolk Botanical Garden for generations to come,” Desplaines said in an October video.

He said membership and visitation “has increased exponentially,” with nearly 500,000 visitors yearly coming to the Garden.

The Garden held a groundbreaking for what it is calling the Garden of Tomorrow in September 2021, which it said would “create more opportunities and more accessibility while becoming greener and even more beautiful.”

“The vision for the Garden of Tomorrow is to take a beloved and historic coastal landmark to the next level, to become even more ecologically-friendly, even more accessible and even more beautiful,” Desplaines said.

The expansion includes the Brock Parking Garden, Brock Entry Pavilion, Perry Conservatory and the Hall Water Education and Rowing Center.

The parking garden is expected to have more trees, flowers and rain gardens to greet visitors as they drive into the Garden, while the entry pavilion, it said, will allow people to have a better experience with admission, membership, food amenities and tram service all in one place.

It calls the Perry Conservatory “the crown jewel” of the project – a two-story, 26,000-square-foot structure that will feature an outdoor skywalk overlooking one of the East Coast’s largest rose gardens.

The project will mean people will no longer have to wait in lines for the tollbooth. Rather, people will be “immersed in the garden” from the moment they leave their cars.

“Bottlenecks, you can’t ask questions, it’s not a very welcoming experience,” Desplaines said. “Get rid of that congestion at the front gate and move to a walk-in ticketing system.”

Limited by having just 400 parking spaces, especially on days when the Garden can draw upwards of 2,000 to 3,000 people, it will transform it into a parking garden with increased capacity. It will add trees and raingardens to help treat the wastewater from the parking lot, and permeability to retain the rain.

“The idea is, the minute you get out of your car, you should be in a world of nature,” Desplaines said. “You should be in a Garden.”