By Ken Wilson –
“Gardens above all else are for sharing.” – Emily Whaley
Would any gardener beg to differ? Emily Whaley knows: after all the planning and the plotting, and the digging and mulching and watering and tending have done their work comes a garden’s finest hour, when gardener and friends stroll through, approving and admiring, snipping and sniffing . . . and plotting and planning already for next season. And so the cycle begins again.
“I think what I enjoy most about Historic Garden Week and what I tend to count as among my favorite memories,” says Christina Teague of Albemarle Garden Club, “is when I’m at a property and it gives me a vision for landscaping in a totally different way. It’s great for getting ideas.” Fellow club member Shelah Scott agrees. “My favorite part is seeing how other people have organized and designed and maintained their gardens,” she says. “You get a sense of how each person feels about flowers or vegetables or all kinds of different things. There’s an enormous variety and you always learn something. You get ideas.”
For 90 years now, the non-profit Garden Club of Virginia and its 47 member clubs have been giving people ideas—and giving them joy. Since its first Historic Garden Week in 1927, which raised $7,000 ($98,000 in today’s dollars) to save trees planted by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, Historic Garden Week has helped fund the restoration and preservation of nearly 50 public gardens around Virginia, including at Mount Vernon, the Pavilion Gardens at the University of Virginia, and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library. Each spring, for most of its 90 years, it has opened privately held gardens and estates to let the general public share their delights.
Statewide, nearly 200 private homes and gardens will be open for viewing on 30 tours during the 84th Historic Garden Week, April 22 through 29, in what has been dubbed “America’s Largest Open House.” Garden Club of Virginia volunteers will create over 2,000 spectacular floral arrangements to decorate the rooms, mostly with flowers from their very own gardens. Here in Central Virginia, from Saturday, April 22 through Monday, April 24, Albemarle Garden Club, Charlottesville Garden Club and Rivanna Garden Club will host the local events, featuring five properties northwest of Charlottesville with beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain views. As has become traditional, Morven Estate and select University of Virginia homes and gardens will also be open to the public.
Saturday—Morven Estate Gardens and House
History buffs and garden lovers who cherish Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Monroe’s Ash-Lawn will want to see Morven, just a couple of minutes up the road, listed on both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Known in Jefferson’s day as “Indian Camp,” probably in reference to the Monacan tribes that lived nearby, Morven boasts a three-story brick manor house built ca. 1820 in the late-Georgian/Federal style. The last private owner, the late John Kluge, gave the farm to the University of Virginia Foundation in 2001. The first floor of the manor house, which retains its 19th century ambience despite 20th century renovations and additions, is on the tour.
Landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders restored Morven’s formal and cutting gardens in 1930, adding entrance gates, brick detailing, and slate seats, and making designs for shrubs, perennials, and annuals in a palette of purple, blue, pink, white, and yellow. Tulips, pansies, phlox, lilacs, viburnum and deutzia, among other shrubs and perennials, fill a series of distinct garden rooms. Visitors will see a dove tree, a pair of Osage orange trees, and a state champion Chinese chestnut. All may be seen on Saturday, April 22, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., weather permitting.
Sunday—Views of the Blue Ridge
Sunday’s tour departs by shuttle from the parking area at Foxfield, and features five country estates and homes along Garth and Ridge Roads: Southfield, Choill Mhor, Midway, Laing House, and Fox Ridge.
Teague calls the gardens on Southfield’s twenty acres, with their unusual native and non-native woodland plants, winter flowering shrubs, flowering trees, Japanese maples and spring flowering bulbs, “a true gardener’s garden: if you are interested in plants and unique plants, that’s the garden to see.” The original one-story home, which will not be open, was designed in 1982 and patterned after an English manor house. Gardens extend in all directions, and are surrounded by woods, except to the South, where the Blue Ridge Mountains may be seen in the distance. Footpaths through the woods and around the house are dotted with whimsical statuary and water features. Complimentary refreshments will be served at the pool house between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Built in 2005, Choill Mhor (“great woods” in Gaelic and pronounced “Kyle More”) is an English Country Manor home set on 50 acres with gardens and numerous original and newly planted native trees. Perennial gardens containing peonies, baptisia, brunnera, leucanthemum, nepet, calamintha, and hydranga are of traditional boxwood parterre design. Thousands of daffodils, narcissus and camissia dot the landscape. An old oak tree shelters a shade garden with ferns, spring ephemerals, and many varieties of Bleeding Hearts, and a pollinator garden which blooms in summer.
The farmhouse at Midway dates back to the early 19th century, sits on land originally part of a 715-acre land grant from King George II, and was once at the center of a prosperous hemp, flax and tobacco plantation. The house is dominated by a long two-story gallery, has Flemish-bond brickwork on the east wing facade, mouse-tooth cornices, and stepped parapets with corbeled shoulders. The formal garden was laid out in 1936 based on a design by Charles Gillette, and is planted, in accordance with Gillette’s plans, with roses in a color spectrum ranging from pale to intensely saturated.
Custom built in 2007, the Georgian-influenced Laing House has grey-painted bricks and a shake shingle roof, and overlooks the Moorman’s River, with extensive western views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Inside are Asian antique furnishings and objets d’art alongside the owner’s own Oriental brushwork paintings. Outside, informal gardens with daffodils, tulips, lilies and crocus surround the house. Bushes and trees include boxwood, azaleas, Japanese maples and a double-blossom dogwood. Many of the property’s 30 acres are wooded.
Set on 280 acres with extensive Blue Ridge Mountain views, Fox Ridge is an active equestrian farm, with cross-country horse jumps, a Hunter riding ring, and a 20-stall working barn with close to a dozen horses in residence. Its slate-roofed Neo-Georgian red brick home was built in 1945 and remodeled in 2015. The central portion of Quaker Cottage is a log cabin dating back to the 1800s. Next to the cottage is a small cemetery with two graves from 1797, nine unmarked graves, and a Williamsburg-inspired garden. Gardens on the property include a boxwood parterre garden, a vegetable garden, and a boxwood allee with flowering bulbs and shrubs. Hellebores, hostas, daffodils, and lily of the valley line the side driveway.
Views of the Blue Ridge properties are open only to shuttle riders, and parking is not permitted at the properties themselves. The tour will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., with the last shuttle leaving Foxfield at 5:00 p.m. Food trucks will be on hand at Foxfield.
Monday—Morea, Carr’s Hill, Pavilion Gardens, and East Pavilion Homes IV and X
UVA’s Morea Garden and Arboretum
Morea’s historic Federal-period home on Sprigg Lane off Emmet Street was built in 1830 by John Patten Emmet, Jefferson’s choice as UVA’s first professor of natural history, and named after mulberries cultivated for experiments with silkworms. Its arboretum, planted by Albemarle Garden Club in 1964, includes hollies and other native Virginia plants, plus Kentucky coffee trees, Osage orange trees, and a champion linden. Morea’s gardens will be open to the public 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Carr’s Hill was designed by McKim, Mead and White and finished in 1909. Located at the corner of Rugby Road and University Avenue, it serves as home to University of Virginia presidents and will be open from noon to 4:00 p.m.
Also on Monday, April 24, UVA’s Senior Preservation Planner Brian E. Hogg and University Architect Mary V. Hughes will speak on “Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda: Beginning its Third Century” at 2:00 p.m. in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Proceeds from Historic Garden Week restored the University’s Pavilion Gardens and their surrounding serpentine walls between 1947 and 1965. The Garden Club of Virginia hired Colonial Williamsburg landscape architects Alden Hopkins and Donald Parker to design the Colonial Revival gardens. Work in the gardens continues to be supported by the Garden Club of Virginia. Tours of the gardens, conducted at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., start at the steps of the Rotunda facing the Lawn.
Restoration and Preservation
All this activity is nothing new, as Mary Pollock can tell you. Pollock’s mother Elizabeth Weedon was a member of Albemarle Garden Club for 50 years. Pollock joined in 1991, after returning from New York City, and was quickly appointed historian. Pollock can tell you the Club was formed in 1913, that the Regional Summer Flower Show at Farmington in 1927 may have been a precursor to Historic Garden Week, and that in the same year club member Mrs. William R. Massie established a medal “to be given each year to the member or Club accomplishing the most outstanding work in the protection, restoration or preservation of the natural beauties of our Commonwealth.”
While the tours enchant the public each spring, the garden clubs do so much more. “The three tenets of the Albemarle Garden Club are conservation, horticulture and floral shows and judging,” Teague says. “We’re always working hard on conservation issues. One of our ongoing projects Is maintenance and cataloguing of all the plants in the bog garden at Washington Park. Each year we identify and label the plants; they go into a national database.” Funding UVA graduate students in landscape architecture, planting a garden with school kids to teach them where their food comes from, and providing flowers for UVA hospital patients each June, the clubs stay active—and civically engaged—year ‘round.
“It may sound schmaltzy or saccharine,” Pollock says (although it doesn’t) “but I would like to say how very proud I am to be associated with my Club, whose members have done so much for Historic Garden Week over the years—in that way benefitting our city, county, state, and even country, under the aegis of the Garden Club of Virginia, and its mission to preserve for the future its state’s lovely old homes and gardens.”
Views of the Blue Ridge tickets are $45 per person if purchased by April 20 either online at www.vagardenweek.org or through local merchants Kenny Ball Antiques, Caspari and Folly Home Furnishings via cash or check. Tickets may be purchased the day of the tour at Foxfield for $50 per person, $10 for children ages 6-12. Cash and check only, at Foxfield; please print and bring pre-purchased tickets. Tickets for Saturday’s Morven Estate tour are $15 for adults and $10 for children 6-12. (Cash & check only. No refunds if tour is canceled due to rain. The house is handicapped accessible. The gardens are not.) Tours of UVA gardens and properties are self-guided and free.