Stepping onto the grounds of Norfolk Botanical Garden on any given day brings a feeling of peacefulness.

Along the walk around the grounds, visitors will discover the O’Connor Grain and Hop Garden. The horticulturist behind this garden, Alex Cantwell, describes it as a place designed to showcase the education aspect of beer.

Alex is a self-described plant nerd whose idea for the beer garden stemmed from the influence of being a bartender at O’Connor Brewing in Norfolk. She was inspired by the brewers who would have an idea for a new recipe and work to make it happen. 

“The culmination of them coming up with a recipe, brewing it, testing it, and sharing it with the public…I want that. I want something that I can create and share with people that they enjoy.”

In addition to the experience she gained from her internship at the Hahn Horticulture Garden at Virginia Tech and her continuous work at Norfolk Botanical, Alex has been allowed by both her jobs to be able to attend hop conferences. It’s at these events where she got the idea for the three hops display structures. 

“It’s perfect with the brewery and the garden because the brewery has sponsored my trips to these conferences whereas the garden is letting me go as a garden employee and representative.”

For her to be able to go to those conferences and use the knowledge to implement at the garden has been a great opportunity both for the growth of the beer garden and her own knowledge of the process. 

Much of the work done has been trial and error. Norfolk is not the ideal place for hops to grow. The climate is a big issue, but she tries to pick varieties that will grow well here.

“Hops don’t like the humidity, which we have a lot of here. We’re definitely a lot further south than they would normally grow…the day length affects the hops growth.”

In addition to her upkeep of the Grain and Hop Garden, Alex is also in charge of the Children’s Garden. One of her biggest passions besides beer is teaching, though. She teaches a few classes at the garden, “The Horticulture and History of Beer” and “Gardening for the Home Brewer.”

She hopes to be able to teach more classes both at the garden and at O’Connor. 

“My goal is to educate both sides on a similar topic. Whether it be beer fans on the horticulture of beer, maybe get them into horticulture, or horticulture people on the aspect of beer and the beer industry and how it’s definitely on the rise in Virginia.”

Check out Norfolk Botanical Garden’s website for more information about the Grain and Hop Garden and for a list of upcoming events. A video of the garden can be viewed here.

Alex hopes there will be regular brews produced using the hops from Norfolk Botanical, so keep checking O’Connor Brewing for new recipes being tested.