Column – The (U) VA arboretum — a hidden gem

Published 4:41 pm Friday, December 8, 2023

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North Carolina has a lovely arboretum — a tree “museum” or display center for trees and other botanical species. It’s about an hour south of Asheville. It’s large, well-built, long established, and worth a daylong visit. They specialize in floral gardens and bonsai … all absolutely wonderful.

Virginia??? Not so much. Most people would say none at all, don’t have one, nonexistent.   And they’d be wrong. Yes, Virginia, you DO have an arboretum. But it’s hard to find, experimental and scientific in nature, and run by UVA, not the state. Its official title is The Blandy Experimental Farm— State Arboretum of Virginia. It’s also known as the Orland E. White Arboretum.

It is located in northernmost Virginia, about 10 miles east of Winchester and sixty miles west of Washington, DC., near the “town” of Boyce. Started in the 1920s, it now contains more than 5,000 trees and shrubs worldwide. Their specialties — 200 kinds of conifers, 162 types of boxwoods, a 300 tree ginkgo grove 

that goes bright yellow in October, and miscellaneous cedars, herbs, chestnuts, bamboo, etc.

So … we’ve been to the NC one several times …, So let’s try the Virginia one!

We visited in mid-November because we had the chance to. We recommend the experience to all people interested in Nature.   But it wasn’t easy. Or glamorous. Or colorful. Way too late up there.

It’s located between Front Royal and Winchester. No problem finding it with Siri on the job. Once there, you’re on a 172-acre experimental farm/ laboratory/ office/ trail complex on a 700-acre tract. Horses welcome.

There’s a “loop drive” of a couple of miles that allows an hourlong meander through trees whose likes you’ve never seen. That takes you to “The Quarters”— a National Historic Landmark building that houses offices, classrooms, labs, staff, etc. While we were there, there was an exhibit of beautiful nature photographs by the Shenandoah Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists. Wonderful!

We were too late for the foliage display, though the ground under the ginkgo grove was still yellow with fallen leaves. We can’t wait to go back with time for a hike — spring green? Is Summer lush? Earlier fall foliage next year? We’ll be there for one of those.

We recommend a visit if you’re within 100 miles (including Washington, D.C.). Find it on the Internet at Take the Conifer Walk. Visit the Herb Garden. Explore the Ginkgo grove — a day well-spent.

SUSAN AND BRADFORD “BIFF” ANDREWS are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at