Among this year’s offerings during Historic Garden Week, a local star will be Verulam Farm. The Ivy estate has been an Albemarle mainstay for nearly 80 years, and these days it’s serving not only as a private residence but a grand backdrop for weddings and other occasions.
In 1936, Courtlandt Van Clief, a New York attorney, commissioned a young Charlottesville architect to design an estate house on 1,700 rolling acres near what’s now the Ivy exit off I-64. Marshall Wells rose to the occasion, creating a Georgian Revival home with imposing brick facades. His collaborator, Charles Gillette—noted designer of many estate gardens in Albemarle and Richmond—used a sunken garden, croquet court and towering magnolia trees to join house and land.
The result is a dignified setting, perched on a hillside site from which verdant views ripple into the distance, the hillsides dotted with the Friesian horses raised by Verulam’s current resident, Melton McGuire. Since purchasing the estate in 2002, “He has maintained and tried to keep the original structure,” said Kennon Ibbeken, who oversees events at Verulam.
In 2010, McGuire hosted a Sub Dudes benefit concert in Verulam’s 100-year-old barn, and it got people talking about the space as a possible wedding venue. “People started seeing the value of the barn,” Ibbeken said. Verulam got up and running as a wedding spot in 2013.
“We’re pretty new,” Ibbeken said—yet brides are already booking for 2016. The farm offers packages at various levels, combining barn and house access. Some couples get married in the grassy fields and others pick a spot within the purview of the house and its surrounding formal gardens.
One end of the residence has been converted to a bridal suite. One enters via Verulam’s stately central hall, featuring a checkered marble floor and a mural of the estate, restored by McGuire after a previous owner removed it. Behind a pediment-topped door is a sitting room, bedroom and galley kitchen for the use of bridal parties. A clawfoot tub and marble tile set a luxurious tone in the large bathroom (where it’s easy to imagine a bevy of bridesmaids getting prepped for a ceremony).
Gillette’s croquet court, under a canopy of six shady oak trees, makes an elegant ceremony spot, and the pool and poolhouse are just down the hill. One couple erected a chuppah near the pond, with the woods as a backdrop. Everywhere are vignettes composed of brick walls, boxwoods and blooms—and everywhere beyond is the long view toward the mountains.
Down the hill is the barn, its exterior neat and trim in forest green and white. A wide bridge—really an elevated deck—leads from the dam of a nearby pond to the door of the upper level, a former hayloft. From here, the experience is all about the vistas: pond, horse paddocks and Blue Ridge sunsets.
Inside, exposed framing makes a rustic backdrop for whatever décor a couple might imagine (wine barrels, Boston ferns and Mason jars being past examples). Paper lanterns hang from the ceiling.
It’s all perfectly Virginia. For those not subject to impending nuptials, Historic Garden Week will offer a chance to soak in the atmosphere.
Historic Garden Week’s first official event, in 1927, has Charlottesville roots: A flower show raised $7,000 to save some of the trees planted by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.
Since then, the event, which is organized by the Garden Club of Virginia, has raised more than $17 million to restore and preserve Virginia’s public gardens, including Mount Vernon, the Pavilion Gardens at UVA and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.
From April 18-25, six regions throughout Virginia show off their best and brightest landscapes. In our area, that includes various residential gardens, Morven and Verulam Farm.
Want to see more of what Historic Garden Week has to offer? Visit vagardenweek.org for event details.