For starters the ticket system is confusing. You buy tickets to arrive at a specific time in half hour intervals but you can stay as long as you want and I didn't understand why this was necessary at all. What's wrong with just selling tickets and having a recommended time of arrival? Their parking lot is big enough for special events like the 4th of July, there were even people setting up camp outside on the hills around the parking lot having little BBQ's of their own.
Getting inside and walking the gardens for a day I started to realize why they limit the number of tickets they sell in half hour intervals. There is ONLY ONE place that sells food and drinks for people to eat lunch or dinner. Now they were holding a special event for fireworks and additional vendors were setup but they were all in one area! So you can't get a drink if you visit the entire right side of the facility or walk all the way out into the meadow garden other than a public water fountain they have hidden way back in this end building. I almost died of dehydration walking around this place.
Finally I found some sort of delicious-looking BBQ happening but this was only for people who spent the money on the fireworks show happening later that night. I asked the girl if I could upgrade to get some real food, and she said Nope! So inside the regular building I went where I paid $8 for the smallest peperoni pizza in the world that tasted like air. And the glass they gave me was tiny, like what they sell as a Small everywhere else, which was only about $2 though. And it came with "unlimited refills" but frankly there didn't seem to be anyone watching the drink area; it's all self serve so I could have fill up a 2 liter for all they knew.
They should be selling collectable water bottles that come with free refills the day you buy it and setup more stations around the park where people can buy and refill them, similar to how an amusement park does it. I should be able to upgrade my dinning choice right then and there to special BBQ's, Buffets, and wine tastings etc... instead of having to walk all the way back to the main entrance for a wrist band.
I would have voiced all this to the little suggestion survey card but someone made off with the pen or pencil for doing so... so I just tossed a blank card inside to show what I thought of the place which was not much.
Most of the gardens were vast stretches of lawn with plantings only right next to the pathways. These plantings did look nice and worked well with a corridor effect (looking down the hall). There were points of interests such as sculptures and fountains and the occasional neat plant they highlighted but the amount of lawns this place has really drags the whole place down.
There was a Japanese Stewartia that was absolutely infested with Japanese Beetles.. which might not be a bad thing but generally no one wants this pest insect.
There's a main conservatory that's full of all sorts of tropical plants, and even included a rather nice pond section but it would have benefited from a guide or two or audio tour like a museum exhibit to highlight what I'm looking at and why it's important.
Something where they'd put a number on the plant tag and you could listen to a botanist, curator, landscape designer, translator, or voice actor, talk about why the plant or feature is so impressive. They could rotate which ones are of interest in and out or limit it to specific gardens. Generally without the information and history behind it, it's really just another pretty flower among hundreds.
I was happy to see a grove of Bottlebrush Buckeye but disappointing to see absolutely nothing was pollinating them. Actually there were almost no butterflies flying about at all. The only ones I saw were out in the meadow garden and I know from the Mt. Cuba Center that this plant is normally covered in hummingbirds, and large butterflies. They're growing it correctly at least. The plant wants to push up an army of suckering stems to form it's own grove which was extensive. The photo above was taken at the top of a hill and they extended all the way down around the pathway.
This is what it was like looking in.
But the real reason for going was for the newly installed Meadow Garden, which I'm happy to say was drawing a decent crowd. All of the bird watchers and generally non-handicap guests were at least giving one pathway a stroll.
Early on I was a little confused though. I thought they had sprayed Round UP on the pathways which is why they looked like dead grass but then I realized, nope, someone started to roll out the sod for god knows why and it's just dying from lack of water. A bizarre choice but perhaps it was something left over from last year. A good design choice I thought were these corner sections where instead of seeding in plants randomly, they had plugs to specific plants. Eventually this will ensure guests get to see specific plants up close and personal.
Another specific plug planting next to one of the rest and viewing areas. Behind me there were some benches, sheltered by the sun with built in telescopes for everyone to look out upon the meadow.
The occasional butterfly would flap about but for the most part they found a bit of butterflyweed and clung to it.
Black-eyed Susans speckled parts of the meadow with their little yellow disks.
There were a few places where they seemed to be better established and taller.
Red-winged Blackbirds fluttered about the meadow and all the bird watchers seemed to enjoy them particularly. I accidentally interrupted more than one person trying to take a photo I'm sorry to say.
Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, was a real highlight here.
I love the way the color of the dried grasses adds to this, still blowing with the breeze along with the green, and still with yellow flowers dotting all over.
False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides, was another draw but mostly for bumblebees.
I really enjoyed the meadow garden a lot because there weren't big boring patches of lawn. If you're going to have big sweeps of lawn, at least do something with them; maybe even take that "golf course look" literally and maybe a mini-golfing or croquet. Or even make it more perfect than it already looks? A large carpet of moss maybe?
So the Meadow garden has my interest enough that I think I'll return sometime, maybe in September and I'll be sure to give the whole place another chance.