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Palace of Gold

Palace of Gold
New Vrindaban, West Virginia

One of my more ambitious garden excursions took me and some curious friends into the hills of West Virginia. Our destination was the mythical Palace of Gold, an architectural marvel built to honor a prominent member of the Hare Krishna faith.

A giant, opulent temple is not exactly what one would expect to find in the rustic terrain of rural West Virginia, but it made a stunning statement against a largely untouched backdrop of blue-green Appalachian mountains. The busy rose garden and large lotus pond offer some impressive floral displays, but the main attraction is the palace itself, which seems to tower above it all, demanding attention and awe. Overall, I was most impressed with how expertly the natural elements were used to accentuate the visual impact of the temple.

As we wound along the country roads toward our destination I caught a few tantalizing glimpses of the palace, which appeared like a mirage, beckoning us onward despite our disbelief. Even after the initial impression, each newly-encountered vantage point of the palace was equally amazing. Built entirely by untrained devotees of Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The place was originally intended to be his home, but it became a memorial temple when he passed away before its completion.

The three-tiered palatial structure rises from the green hillside with grand stairways flanked by imposing lion statuary marking each level. With a color scheme of pink painted walls, red-brick accents, and black wood walls embellished with gold decorative motifs of lotus and peacock imagery, the temple is totally over-the-top but manages to be tasteful and just shy of gaudy. (Not that I have a problem with gaudy!)

Standing in the archway opening in a weathered-pink wall that was draped with a thick blanket of bright green ivy offered my most memorable view of the castle-like structure. The pink wall with a tidy trim of white and pink impatiens leads the eye down a long, inviting path, which I didn’t hesitate to follow. I loved how decorative patterns on the building are echoed in the placement of landscape elements—for example, the repetitive use of oval-shaped boxwood bushes along the walls at regular intervals and ornamental grasses that added occasional accents. Running parallel to the building on each level were narrow beds of erect cana lilies edged with impatiens that were barely contained by their scalloped brick edging. There was an overall geometry to the design of place that I found satisfying.

Off of one side of the palace is the rose garden, which offered an oasis of color, intoxicating aroma, and even more striking views of the shrine rising above it. Roses of every color and variety reached upward in a colorful tangle, competing for attention with the ornate gold swirls on the walls above. This garden did not seem a trivial afterthought, but a fully-realized plot showcasing over 150 varieties, all surrounding a small fountain.

Behind the palace, past a few more gazebos and gardens, is a sweeping view of the lotus pond and the mountains beyond. A dramatic pathway lined with small trees that were proudly perched in gigantic ornamental terra-cotta planters looked like it could stretch out into infinity. It felt to me like walking the sizable pond, over-crowded as it was with gorgeous lotus flowers, we completed the whole experience, and got yet another stunning view of the aptly-named Palace of Gold.

Final Rating: The crazy adventure that was my visit to this strange, enchanting place was totally worth it for the aesthetic overload it provided on every level. Its remote setting only makes the Palace of Gold all the more awe-inspiring. The excessive opulence was both heightened and muted by the soft greens and blues of the surrounding landscape. I really appreciated the skilled integration of the plants and flowers into the overall property, which were treated as equally important as other design elements that made up the visual feast. I find I can often discern a real sense of purpose that religious gardens have in contrast with the average pleasure garden, and I find that refreshing sometimes. If every church boasted luxurious gardens such as this, I might have become religious! FIVE BLOOM RATING

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