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AWLA Gardens Get a Summer Makeover in Honor of Late Local Business Owner

View the ceremony virtually at the link below.

The dedication for Brenda Wilson will be held at the AWLA on Saturday July 23 at 11am. Public are welcome to view virtually at the link below.

ALEXANDRIA, VA–Brenda S. Wilson was a prominent business owner in Alexandria; she and her daughter had started the dance dress company Encore Ballroom Couture together, which Julie still runs today. When Brenda passed away in the fall of 2021, her husband of over 50 years, Walter E. Wilson, and her daughter, Julie Michelle Wilson, knew they wanted to honor her memory in a way that would stand out and stand strong. Julie and Walter also knew that the the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria was very close to Brenda’s heart.

On July 23 at 11am, Julie and Walter will officially dedicate the renovated front garden and a memorial bench at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria to Brenda. The public is welcome to view the ceremony virtually, at this link to maintain peace in the garden and respect for the late Brenda Wilson.

A red head woman stands next to her mother with white hair, both wear red sweaters, arms around one another
Julie and Brenda backstage of the TLC Show Say Yes to the Dress at Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City, 2019. (Courtesy Julie Wilson)

When Julie was younger, she and her mother would visit the AWLA nearly every weekend and play with the animals, giving them company, entertainment, and genuine joy; and they received the same in return.

So a thought popped into Julie’s head. “What if we dedicated a bench to her at the front entrance of the AWLA?” Her father, Walter, was on board, and it snowballed from there.

a red bench with a memorial photo and inscription to a woman, Brenda Wilson
The bench dedicated to Brenda Wilson. It will be placed at the AWLA in the gardens. (Courtesy Julie Wilson)

“I had the front of building painted, power washed, and the fence and the patio fixed,” begins Julie. “We had an arborist come to check the trees, we did weeding, redesigned the garden… What was just going to be a bench has become the entire front of the building.”

Another thing Brenda loved was gardening. “She loved her tomato plants,” Julie asserts. “She had a beautiful yard and was always adding things to her garden. I’ve never personally designed flower gardens before. This is my first time but my mother would always read the book The Rose to me when I was younger. It teaches you how to build flower gardens so it is meaningful to me to build this garden for her.”

Julie took those childhood lessons from The Rose, and a little help from her aunt—a master gardener—and got to work with her father, Walter. They began renovating the AWLA gardens in the spring of 2022, and after three months of sweat and dirt and colorful flowers, they will reveal their creation to an intimate crowd of AWLA staff, friends, family, and city council.

The garden is sectioned into different zones, each zone with specific types of plants and purpose.

a garden full of small colorful flowers with a cardboard cut out of a dog and a cat
The front garden at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. (Grace Billups Arnold)

At the end is a natural aviary, complete with plenty of trees and bushes and shrubbery for the birds. “We will even have little nesting stations for the birds to make nests, so it will be a nice area,” notes Julie.

From the aviary, you step into the rose garden, with coral roses; followed by topiaries; Brenda’s bench; a berry patch full of a variety of blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries.

a pathway in a garden at the animal welfare league of alexandria
Several pathways, stones, and walkways will divide sections of the garden. (Grace Billups Arnold)

Then comes a tropical garden with hibiscus, ponytail palms, red hot pokers, and catnip—fitting for the AWLA. A section of greens will support praying mantis, ladybugs, and the like, and the entryway will welcome all pollinators, bees and butterflies, and such, to houses built for each respectively.

Surrounding the garden will be the woodland area of pine, magnolia, shrubs, azaleas, junipers, a feeding station and houses for squirrels.

a garden with a squirrel house in the middle
The garden will hold various houses for bees, butterflies, squirrels, and more. (Grace Billups Arnold)

Julie assures, “The entire garden will be wildlife friendly.”

Julie goes on to recall, “When we did her funeral, we opted for donations to be sent to the AWLA. This was a special place for myself and my mom. We came here often and would always visit with the animals. It was just always a nice place for us to go, so it was just a natural thing for us to select them to receive the donations. After my mom passed, I came to the AWLA and approached them to see if there was a way we could honor my mom here at the shelter.”

a woman and man sit shoulder to shoulder to pose for a photo
Brenda and Walter. (Courtesy Julie Wilson)

Now Julie’s mother and Walter’s wife will forever be honored at one of the brightest places in the city, inside and, now, out.

If you are interested in visiting the AWLA garden or donating otherwise, visit

An invitation that reads: Celebrating the dedication and ribbon cutting for the Brenda S. Wilson Memorial Gardens. Saturday July 23, 2022 11 in the morning at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria Please join virtually."
View the ceremony at the virtual link.

CAN’T MISS: Alexandria Recognized by Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association

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