The Olmsted Initiative

In 2020, the Garden Club of America challenged garden clubs around the nation to spearhead projects celebrating the 200th birthday of Frederick Olmsted, the father of American Landscape architecture.  The Garden Club of Norfolk accepted this challenge.  There were a variety of ways in which we could pay tribute to Olmsted, but the most appealing one was to follow in his footsteps.  Olmsted believed public parks were important for an individual’s health and wellbeing.  He also believed public parks were the great social equalizer because public parks welcome everyone.  Olmsted’s vision was to design beautiful spaces using the best of what Nature produces to create a place of respite for the human spirit.  Thus began our Olmsted Initiative. We set our sights on enhancing land along the Elizabeth River Trail at Jeff Robertson Park in West Ghent.

GCN Members and Volunteers working at the site.
GCN Members and Norfolk Master Gardeners working
Local Navy volunteers working at the site

If you are interested in offering donations towards the Olmsted Initiative, we are currently fundraising for educational signage for the Tribute Garden and also partnering with the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation for donations towards a much-needed hydration station for the site. This hydration station would not only provide a water source for the many walkers, joggers, and bike riders who travel on the trail (over 469,000 in 2021) but would also have a pet fountain to hydrate our furry friends.  

Our goal at Jeff Robertson Park is to inspire our community to “go native” in their own backyards.  As greenspace in Norfolk is at a premium, it is important that we all contribute to transform all available public and private land with plants of ecological value. The Garden Club of Norfolk hopes our projects at Jeff Robertson Park will encourage others to join our family of partners listed below, as we could not do this project without them.

The Three Phases of the Olmsted Initiative

Phase 1, also known as Bluebird Arboretum, occurred in 2021.  It involved the rescuing of 6 native trees from invasive plants as well as the planting 15 native trees at the southwestern portion of the park. We wanted to expand the tree canopy across from the Weyanoke Bird Sanctuary by offering a mixture of fruit and nut trees that attract pollinators and local wildlife as well as trees to capture carbon, stormwater, and host endangered species. Click here for a detailed list of trees planted in Phase 1.

Trees in Phase 1

Phase 2, the Olmsted Tribute Garden, is an ecological corridor of keystone native trees, shrubs and perennials layered along the northwestern side of Jeff Robertson Park.  This garden, which is over 2/3rd the length of a football field, serves several purposes:  1) aids in carbon capture and controlling stormwater runoff   2) provides habitat and sustenance for our native pollinators, particularly bees, and local wildlife 3) showcases the beauty and value of our native plants. A Spring planting of additional perennials is scheduled for Spring of 2023 to add to the 1850 perennials planted in Fall 2022.  It is also our goal to install a hydration station and educational signage about the importance of our native plants at this site.  Click here for a detailed list of shrubs and perennials planted in Phase 2.

Phase 2 site plan – some changes from this original plan were made

Phase 3, the Retention Pond, is still in its infant development but our desire is to remove invasive plants and create more of a beautiful natural setting east of Bluebird Arboretum.

Phase 3 Retention Pond at Jeff Robertson Park
Overview of Phase locations

In the News/Awards

Olmsted Tribute Garden Receives $4000 Grant for Hydration Station from Serco, Inc. – May 2023

City of Norfolk Awards $1500 Retain Your Rain Grant to Elizabeth River Trail Foundation for Garden Club of Norfolk Olmsted Tribute Garden – October 2022

Olmsted Tribute Garden receives Garden Club of America $3000 Partners For Plants Grant – September 2022

Garden Club of America article, Bluebird Park Gets a Facelift, Olmsted Style – December 2021

Just for Fun

Olmsted Kick Off Celebration Party Picture Montage

Phase One Video Montage