Oh to be in Charlottesville, now that spring is here – and now that it’s Historic Garden Week! We might not realize it as we tour elaborate gardens of grand estates in all their April glory, but we have generations of garden club members to thank for their preservation. “I’d always tended to think of garden clubs as an excuse for idle well-to-do women to socialize,” says one local garden lover who read about the movement while waiting for spring. “But I was wrong. Members were serious hands-on gardeners, and believed deeply in the importance of gardens to society in the new post-agrarian United States.”
That’s a great description of the women of the Albemarle Garden Club, who banded together in 1914. In 1920 they helped found the Garden Club of Virginia. In 1927 they hosted a flower festival at Monticello that raised $7,000 to restore trees planted at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson. In 1929 they dreamed up a bigger idea.
“Our hundred year-old club was right there at the forefront of Historic Garden Week,” says longtime club historian Mary Pollock. “At a Garden Club of Virginia luncheon on May 18, 1928, our club members and others at the head table came up with the idea of instituting Historic Garden Week as the means to pay for their first restoration, Kenmore in Fredericksburg. Historic Garden Week funds are still used today partly to fund the extraordinary work done by the Garden Club of Virginia in the preservation and restoration of historic and beautiful Virginia homes and gardens.”
Today the Garden Club of Virginia has 47 member clubs and 3,400 volunteers and is undertaking restoration projects at 41 properties including Mount Vernon, the Pavilion Gardens at the University of Virginia, and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.
Gardeners young and old, united and unaffiliated, will celebrate Historic Garden Week for the 81st time Saturday, April 26 through Saturday, May 3. More than 250 gardens, homes and historic landmarks and over 2,000 flower arrangements created by Garden Club of Virginia members will be on display across the commonwealth, in what the club proudly calls “America’s Largest Open House.” For its part, the Albemarle Garden Club will host open homes and gardens Saturday, April 26 through Tuesday, April 29.
Every Historic Garden Week features a different assortment of properties. Of special interest in Central Virginia this year are several spots listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Bellair Farm, Redlands, Esmont, and Christ Episcopal Church Glendower. Historic Garden Week perennials opening as always include Morven and the gardens at Monticello, plus the University of Virginia’s Carr’s Hill, West Lawn Pavilion homes and gardens, and Morea Garden and Arboretum.
“From a historical perspective, the properties selected reflect the Jefferson era in the styles of the homes and their landscapes,” says club spokeswoman Christina Teague. “Agricultural heritage is highlighted at Bellair Farm, which has been continuously farmed for over two centuries. Here the focus is their Community Supported Agriculture program and their strategies for sustainability that preserve the land and provide food for the community.”
The 853-acre Bellair farm eleven miles south of downtown Charlottesville was important to the early history of Albemarle County. Construction on the main house was begun in 1794 by the Reverend Charles Wingfield, Jr., who served as Magistrate and Sheriff of Albemarle County and, at Thomas Jefferson’s personal request, officiated at Jefferson’s sister’s funeral. In 1817 Wingfield sold the farm to another leading local citizen, Martin Dawson, who helped found the Albemarle Educational Commission, supported the establishment of the University of Virginia and three academies in Nelson and Albemarle counties, and in his will gave the University of Virginia what was then its largest private bequest.
The two-story main house, which overlooks the Hardware River and the Green Mountains in the distance, is in Federal architectural style, with 1930s and 1960s Colonial Revival style additions. The grounds include a mid-nineteenth century guest cottage, a 1930s guesthouse, a mid-nineteenth-century pyramidal-roofed smokehouse, and an early-twentieth-century overseer’s house.
The estate at Redlands near Covesville in Albemarle County is still owned by the same family that patented the land in 1730. The elegant two-story, five-bay brick home Redlands home, started in 1789 by Edward Carter of Blenheim, and completed by his son Robert Carter in 1798, features fine woodwork and the furnishings of successive generations. The Georgian entrance façade was reproduced from Tidewater models, while the Federal interior reflects the influence of Thomas Jefferson. Redlands was last opened for Historic Garden Week in 2002. Visitors this year will see a newly established mixed meadow along one side of the entrance drive, and newly planted trees in the field below. “The house has such an incredible view of the countryside,” Pollock says, “that it is almost nutritious!”
Erected circa 1816 and recently restored, Esmont retains many of its original features, including its ornamental plasterwork and herringbone parquet floor. The Flemish bond brickwork is credited to William B. Phillips, a brick mason who helped build numerous University of Virginia structures for Thomas Jefferson, including the Rotunda, the cisterns and serpentine garden walls, and Pavilions I, IX, and X. Jefferson called Phillips’ work at the University “the best work done” at the university.
Esmont’s twin parlors, now used as the living and dining rooms, boast Philadelphia marble mantels. European antiques and art are on display throughout the house. The grounds include an octagonal chapel built partly of reclaimed materials, a dairy now serving as a garden shed, and a smokehouse. Esmont was last opened for Historic Garden Week in 1999. Light refreshments will be served.
Bellair, Redlands and Esmont will be open Sunday, April 27, noon to 5:00 p.m. and Monday, April 28, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets for these three estates – the Southern Historic Albemarle portion of the tour – are $35 in advance, and $40 on the day of the tours.
The construction of Christ Episcopal Church, Glendower in Albemarle County was financed by 62 subscribers, including the Carters of Redlands and the Cockes of Esmont. A temple-form structure built by brick mason Phillips and carpenters James Walker and James Widderfield, who also worked for Thomas Jefferson on the University of Virginia, the church was consecrated in 1832 and remains in use in St. Anne’s Parish today. The church interior and cemetery will be open Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
One historic property that has benefitted from the Albemarle Garden Club’s conservation and restoration efforts is the club’s original meeting place, Morven, just up the road from Monticello and Ash-Lawn. Thomas Jefferson, who once owned the 7379-acre estate, referred to it as “Indian Camp” for its proximity to a Native American settlement. In 1813 Jefferson deeded the land to David Higginbotham, a local merchant, who engaged regional architect Martin Thacker to design and build a three-story brick manor house in the late-Georgian/Federal Style.
Samuel and Josephine Marshall bought Morven in 1906 and expanded the Main House with a two-story addition by Baltimore architect Howard Sill. It was at Morven in 1914 that Josephine Marshall and eight other women formed the Albemarle Garden Club for “the study and culture of flowers.”
Landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders restored its formal and cutting gardens in 1930, adding entrance gates, brick detailing, and slate seats, and making designs to plant shrubs, perennials, and annuals in a palette of purple, blue, pink, white, and yellow. The late John Kluge donated Morven to the University of Virginia Foundation in 2001. Kluge expanded the gardens, which today include tulips, pansies, phlox, lilacs, viburnum and deutzia, a dove tree, a pair of Osage orange trees, and a Chinese chestnut.
Morven will be open to visitors on Saturday, April 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except in the case of rain or wet conditions. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 the day of the tour. The house is handicapped accessible, but the gardens are not.
At Monticello, architectural historian Gardiner Hallock will speak on “Restoring Monticello’s Kitchen Road,” Monday, April 28, at 10:00 a.m. The talk is free but registration is required. Gabriele Rausse, Director of Gardens and Grounds, will speak on Thomas Jefferson’s fruit and vegetable gardens at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 29. A walking tour of the gardens will follow. The event is free but registration is required.
Monticello’s Curator of Plants, Peggy Cornett, will talk about Jefferson’s flower gardens and the plants that define our horticultural heritage Tuesday, April 29, at 2:00 p.m. The talk is free but advance registration is required. A tour of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants nursery at Tufton Farm will follow. Ticketholders will receive 10% off all purchases.
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia’s beautiful grounds attract visitors year ‘round. The Garden Club of Virginia began using Historic Garden Week monies to restore the Pavilion gardens and their distinctive serpentine walls in 1947. Work continues today. The club will conduct tours of the gardens at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 April 26 through April 29, departing from the Rotunda steps.
Carr’s Hill on the hill above the corner of Rugby Road and University Avenue serves as home to University of Virginia presidents. Designed by the New York architecture firm McKim, Mead and White, and finished in 1909, Carr’s Hill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It will be open from noon to 4 p.m., April 26 through April 29.
Floral arrangements will be on display in Pavilion homes I, III, V, VII and IX on the West Lawn. The Edgar Allan Poe Room will be open.
Named after the mulberries cultivated for experiments with silkworms, Morea Garden on Sprigg Lane surrounds a historic Federal-period home built by John Patten Emmet, one of the first professors chosen by Thomas Jefferson for the University. Albemarle Garden Club started the landscaped botanical collection in 1964. The tour is limited to the gardens.
A Gardening Heritage
In its own 101-year history, Snow’s Garden Center in Charlottesville has landscaped Historic Garden Week properties, advised their owners, and even served as an official event sponsor. Again this year, Snow’s will offer every ticketholder a $5 gift certificate.
“One of the reasons that so many people like the Charlottesville area is that we’re far enough south that you get a good transition of four full seasons,” says Snow’s co-owner Scott Price. “Spring is always welcomed in by Garden Week, and the gardens show so much diversity. You’ll see a naturalized garden, you’ll see a Japanese garden, and you’ll see a formal garden.”
“Participating in Historic Garden Week is rewarding, especially knowing that the proceeds go for restorations of historic homes and gardens in our beautiful state,” says native Virginian and third generation Albemarle Garden Club member Wendy Winkler, head hostess this year at Morven. “I love the camaraderie. Morven holds a special place in my heart since it is the place where our garden club started. It is also where my mother recruited me to serve as a hostess the first year I became a member.”
Winkler’s grandmother, Hazlehurst Bolton Perkins, teamed up with Jefferson scholar Professor Edwin Morris Betts to write the classic handbook Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Garden at Monticello on the Garden Club of Virginia’s 1941 restoration of Monticello’s grounds “exactly as Jefferson planned and laid them out.”
“Being a member has opened my eyes to a wealth of knowledge in horticulture and conservation,” Winkler says. “I have so many fond memories.”
By Ken Wilson