The manor reborn: Belle Haven blooms through the seasons

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“A lot of stuff is secret—you couldn’t see the hostas until a week ago,” said Jan Glennie-Smith during a late April visit. Photo: Lucy O Photo “A lot of stuff is secret—you couldn’t see the hostas until a week ago,” said Jan Glennie-Smith during a late April visit. Photo: Lucy O Photo

“It hadn’t been touched for 50 years and was a beautiful disaster.” That was Belle Haven, Jan Glennie-Smith’s historic Scottsville estate, when she moved there 22 years ago. The house, built around 1880, overlooks the James River and anchors a sweeping tract of woods and fields. “I started just by uncovering the foundation gardens,” she remembered, walking through what’s now a carefully tended series of gardens, some formal and some wild.

Photo: Lucy O Photo
Photo: Lucy O Photo

Despite “not knowing how to trim a spider plant” when she began transforming this property, Glennie-Smith dove in and has spent the decades since cultivating expertise along with her beds of perennial flowers, ornamental trees, and fanciful touches (like a bluebird sanctuary where birdhouses perch on poles entwined with climbing vines).

She needed not only to learn plants, but to become a landscape architect of sorts—designing, for example, the “Secret Garden” just off one side of the house. It’s a sand and brick terrace, shaded by a kingly oak tree and enlivened with hydrangeas, hostas, azaleas, camellias, and potted geraniums. Different varietals come and go throughout the season. “A lot of stuff is secret—you couldn’t see the hostas until a week ago,” she said during a late April visit. “In the autumn, the sedum comes up between the azaleas and the geraniums turn to asters.”

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Photo: Lucy O Photo

On the “West Lawn,” a fountain is the centerpiece of a formal plan (her aesthetic: “symmetry which you then mess with”) that, as one walks further from the house, dissolves into open lawn, a wildflower circle, and a path to a beautifully preserved barn and an 11-circuit labyrinth mowed into long grass. Belle Haven now functions as an event venue, but it’s clearly still a beloved home.

“I spend a lot of time letting the land dictate what to do,” Glennie-Smith said. “It’s definitely not a one-note garden; it’s a continuing show.”

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