Maymont dazzles newly-minted Richmonder

February 1, 2014 · 3 minute read

“Do you know about Maymont? It’s the best!” “Have you been to Maymont yet?” “When are you going to go to Maymont?” “Why haven’t you walked in Maymont yet? You’re really missing something.”

The koi pond and Japanese Gardens. Credit: Leonard Adkins

The koi pond and Japanese Gardens. Credit: Leonard Adkins

These are just a few samples of what people would say to me when I told them several years ago that I had just moved to the Richmond area. Over and over again, I was told I needed to go to Maymont. I admit I was a little skeptical about all of this enthusiasm, but Laurie and I finally got it together to go last spring and—well—I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was pretty much impressed from the minute we walked through the Hampton Street entrance.

Maymont was the home of James Henry and Sallie Dooley from 1893 to 1925 and what immediately struck me was how well they had laid out the various portions of their 100-acre estate were. I was also impressed with how visually-pleasing the architecture of the many structures were—from the straight lines on the pergola to the curves of the descending concrete staircase to the way the footbridge arches over the small waterway in the Japanese Garden.

There’s even a waterfall that drops dozens of feet from the Italian Garden to the Japanese Garden. It may not be natural (water is pumped uphill from the nearby Kanawha Canal from, usually, April to November) and it may not gush thousands of gallons a minute, but, hey, how many municipalities located a two-hour drive from the mountains can boast of a waterfall within its city limits!

The Maymont bears are always popular.

The Maymont bears are always popular. Credit: Leonard Adkins

Laurie (who is really a kid at heart) couldn’t resist taking the stepping stones across the koi pond while I photographed the many eastern painted turtles sunning themselves on the rocks. This is the most numerous turtle in North America, with distinctive red markings on its shell and red and yellow stripes on its head, legs, and tail. Having no teeth, it uses sharp gums and claws to tear fish, tadpoles, worms, and aquatic plants into pieces small enough to eat.

A cactus garden leads to the wildlife exhibit where, after many attempts during more than 19,000 miles of long distance hiking on three different continents, I was finally able to get a fairly close photograph of a black bear in a more-or-less natural setting.

Other creatures found at the exhibit include bald eagles, deer, bobcat, fox, bison (yes, there were bison in Virginia before being wiped out by the early settlers), owls, red-tail hawks, vultures, and more. Forward progress came to a halt when we entered the nature center (there’s a small fee), as I’m a sucker for the antics of river otters and can watch them for hours on end. Maymont’s did not disappoint. They did some intricate twisting and turning interspersed with gazing directly at the audience from inside their watery glass enclosures.

Painted turtles bask. Credit: Leonard Adkins

Painted turtles bask. Credit: Leonard Adkins

And yet, there’s still more. Such as the butterfly garden, wetlands area, and a children’s farm (small entrance fee) with goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, donkeys, cows, rabbits, pigs, geese, and ducks where you and your children are invited to feed and pet a number of the animals.

Thinking about our visit on the way home, what may have impressed me most of all about Maymont is how a non-profit organization that survives primarily on donations (be generous and put a few dollars in the collection box) and grants (with less than 20% of the budget coming from government support) can keep those 100 acres with their many gardens, exhibits, buildings, animals, and trails in such well-groomed condition. It’s almost miraculous.

So…Have you been to Maymont yet? It’s the best!