Families grappling with the speed with which summer has come and gone will be pleased to know that the folks at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond will continue to feature its special seasonal delights through September to extend the season for all to enjoy.

A highlight of these is “Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks,” a special collection of 13 displays throughout the garden featuring 24 fascinating, larger-than-life sculptures created by internationally acclaimed artist Sean Kenney from half a million Lego bricks. Each display highlights connections with and within nature.

Meticulously crafted with awe-inspiring artistic skill (and great patience), the sculptures depict a range of subjects—from a bald eagle and praying mantis to a gardener and rototiller. At one site, seeming to defy gravity, a hummingbird partakes of a flower’s nectar and, at another, a brilliant monarch butterfly alights on a milkweed plant. Composed of as many as 60,000 Lego bricks, each sculpture takes on a smooth appearance, and, in addition to capturing the image of their subject, the sculptures convey the unique personality of each.

“Kids are amazed at the number of blocks involved! We have interpretive signage that tells how many bricks are in each sculpture,” said exhibitions manager Ellyn Parker.

The “Nature Connects” sculptures were selected by the New York artist from a collection of hundreds of works comprised of a total of 3 million Legos. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden featured an exhibit of Kenney’s work three years ago, and three favorites will make a return appearance, including a photo-op mosaic that visitors can pose with.

A scavenger hunt booklet is available with clues that children can follow to discover where the sculptures are located throughout the grounds.

“This treasure hunt will introduce visitors to different features of the garden,” said Parker. “We have positioned the sculptures in their natural habitats, so children will be learning about the environment as they search for the different displays. For example, we put the bald eagle in our conifer garden, the snake (sizing up a nearby mouse) is near the water, and our duck and ducklings are next to a lake. The exhibit is a wonderful fulfillment of our goal to provide education while connecting people to nature and to each other.”

Young visitors can also craft Lego creations at stations with bricks in the Children’s Garden and in the library.

The exhibit is on display through Sept. 22, and this Labor Day, the garden will host Genworth Free Community Day with free admission to all—as a special gift to the community.

“Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks” is one of the special features of the garden’s summer theme: “Come Play and Grow in the Garden,” which is also the inspiration for the “Art of Play” exhibit on display through September.

Each of the works—created by six local and regional artists—is a whimsical, interactive plaything that guests of all ages are invited to try out. Visitors will have an opportunity to sit astride a life-sized wooden horse, and are invited to play on a space-age seesaw, look through the lens of a giant kaleidoscope and make their personal impression on a giant pin-toy wall.

Just as the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was designed to provide an environment where families could learn through interactive activities, this exhibit features art that’s meant to be played with.

The garden provides special activities every day of the week, including Flowers After 5, with live music and family activities in the Children’s Garden. Other highlights for young visitors in the Children’s Garden include a welcoming tree house, periodic Drop-in and Dig the Outdoors gardening sessions, and pop-up art projects offered by staff. A hands-down favorite is WaterPlay, a splash pad with sprays and jets that will be open for playtimes through September on days when the temperature reaches 70 degrees or above, so families will want to bring along children’s bathing suits and water shoes.

Families will also have an opportunity to visit M & T Bank “Butterflies LIVE!” an indoor exhibit in the Conservatory, where visitors can view hundreds of tropical butterflies, many of which came into being at the garden. The fascinating, fluttering butterflies will continue their adventures until Oct. 14, when they will move on to their new home.

“At a time when kids have fewer opportunities to explore the outdoors, it’s really wonderful to offer a place where families can come and experience nature together. The garden has wooded areas and lakes and ponds where they can hear frogs or see a turtle. It’s great for kids to be able to run free and roll down a hill, hula hoop in the garden, get their hands dirty, or climb a tree. It’s a wonderful way to get up close with nature without having to travel far,” said Parker.

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

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