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 well-being.  He also believed they 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 Olmsted Tribute Garden.  We recently partnered with the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation and other community members to purchase, through donations, the first tri-level hydration station in Norfolk, which is located at the site. This hydration station provides a water source for the many walkers, joggers, and bike riders who travel on the trail (over 469,000 in 2020) as well as provides 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:

The Three Phases of the Olmsted Initiative

Phase 1, also known as Bluebird Arboretum, occurred in 2021.  It involved rescuing 6 native trees from invasive plants as well as planting 15 native trees at the southwestern portion of the park. We wanted to expand the tree canopy across 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.  It is also one of the largest rain gardens in Norfolk.  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.  Phase 2 is almost complete with the last expected planting scheduled for Spring 2024.  In the interim, we are raising funds to install educational signage about the importance of these native plants at this site.  Please consider donating! 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

The Elizabeth River Trail Foundation mentions the Olmsted Garden and the first Hydration Station – December 2023 Notes from The Trail

The Norfolk Tree Commission awarded The Garden Club of Norfolk with their 2023 “Project of the Year Award” for The Olmsted Tribute Garden – December 2023

The Elizabeth River Trail Foundation thanks the Garden Club of Norfolk for their help raising funds towards the first hydration station along the trail – September 2023 Trailblazer Newsletter. 

The Olmsted Tribute Garden Receives The Garden Club of America $2000 Partners for Plants Award – September 2023

ERT Trailblazer Spotlight features GCN member and Olmsted Chair, Liz Paiste – July 2023

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

The Garden Club of Norfolk awards Laurie Fox with the Community Enhancement Award. This project would not be possible without her incredible support.

Olmsted Kick Off Celebration Party Picture Montage

Phase One Video Montage