By Ken Wilson –
Metropolitan Home’s 2002 “House of the Year,” a minimalist affair with all-white décor. An 1847 Gothic Revival stone church, a mid-nineteenth century chestnut log corn crib, and an original Sears and Roebuck kit barn. Not to mention thirty-five hundred tulips—that you didn’t have to plant.
The sights and delights and curiosities are many and varied on the 2018 Historic Garden Week Tour, Saturday, Sunday and Monday April 21-23 in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area.
Hosted locally by the Charlottesville Garden Club, with Rivanna Garden Club and Albemarle Garden Club, Historic Garden Week dates to 1927. That year the Garden Club of Virginia held a flower show and raised $7,000 to save trees at Monticello planted by Thomas Jefferson himself.
Since grown to 47 member clubs and 3,400 volunteers, the Club has contributed over $17 million to preservation and restoration of such treasured Virginia sites as Mount Vernon, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, and the Pavilion Gardens at the University of Virginia.
Tour proceeds currently fund work at more than 40 of Virginia’s historic public gardens and landscapes, plus a research fellowship program and a new initiative with Virginia’s state parks. Charlottesville Garden Club members have helped plant gardens at Penn Park, the Daughters of Zion cemetery, Blue Ridge Juvenile Detention, the McIntire Botanical Garden, and in a plot by Route 29 South. The Club also helps Nature Camp and ARC Natural History Day Camps. Here’s what’s gorgeous, elegant, and open for viewing on this year’s local tour.
The big event this year is the Southwest Mountains Rural Historic District House and Garden Tour of Keswick Hunt Country homes on Sunday, April 22 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. This five-site driving tour will begin at Castle Hill Cider and include Ben-Coolyn, Castle Hill, Chopping Bottom Farm, East Belmont and Grace Episcopal Church. On-site parking will be available at all properties except for Castle Hill, which will only be accessible via shuttle service from the adjacent Tour Headquarters.
Grace Episcopal Church
Originally known as the Middle or Belvoir Church, and later as Walker’s Church, the first Grace Episcopal Church was a square wooden building erected in 1745. A new structure, built from stone quarried from a nearby farm, was begun in 1845, but a fire in 1885 destroyed all but the walls, the bell tower, and the 1,575-pound church bell. The rebuilt stone structure, now on the National Register of Historic Places, dates to 1896. Horse-mounting stones, still in use in the early 1900’s, may be seen north of the building.
The Keswick Garden Club will create floral arrangements for the Sanctuary and Parish Hall, inspired by the church’s stained glass windows, and docents will lead tours of the church and cemetery throughout the day.
Drive through the stone gates of East Belmont and you’re on a 1,250-acre horse farm with gorgeous and panoramic views of lush fields and distant mountains. A riding ring is shaded by an orchard of Chinese chestnut trees. A 100-year-old dairy barn, purchased as a kit from Sears and Roebuck and erected on site, was converted into the family’s horse stable in 2009. A stone apple barn is now a guesthouse, and a double-sided corn crib (c. 1860) is now a taxidermy-themed hunt cabin, while a renovated Lakeside cottage offers incredible views of the lake and farm.
Two hundred brood cows graze on the property, and eleven fenced paddocks house horses, including a Clydesdale named “Bud,” plus two Belgian mules. A petting zoo has three goats, two donkeys and a pig. From the pool house and patio visitors will view a gated formal garden and a cutting garden. The main house, not on the tour, dates back to the early 1800s and is surrounded by old Kentucky coffee trees and mature boxwoods. East Belmont is owned by Ceil and Kenny Wheeler and is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Like Ben-Coolyn, Chopping Bottom Farm, and Castle Hill, it is protected for future generations by a conservation easement.
Chopping Bottom Farm
Inspired by the designs of prominent Washington architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, Chopping Bottom Farm owners Anne and Tony Vanderwarker worked with Charlottesville architect Jeff Dreyfus to create a contemporary, minimalist take on traditional Keswick architecture that was named Metropolitan Home’s 2002 House of the Year.
The home’s multiple modules mimic a farmhouse and its outbuildings, and the minimalist theme continues indoors with contemporary Italian and French furnishings and all-white décor showcasing a collection of American folk art and photography. The all-glass front of the house offers a stunning view of a seventy-foot lap pool—and the Southwest Mountains.
In keeping with the architecture, the landscaping—maples, Chinese elms, and cedars—is also minimal. The house itself is surrounded by cutting gardens and a shade garden near a stream running alongside the property. A nine-foot square and 20-foot-high studio—open to tour visitors—sits on a knoll overlooking the property.
Gardens at Ben-Coolyn
The name Ben-Coolyn is Scottish for “breezy hill,” a befitting designation for a 145-acre farm with commanding views of the surrounding countryside. Originally known as Clark’s Tract, the estate dates back to the 18,000 acre Meriwether Land Grant of 1730. It is on the Historic Garden Week tour for the first time this year, thanks to owners Katie and Christopher Henry.
The main house, which will not be open to visitors, was built in the 1870s and is surrounded by large oaks and elegant parterre gardens with tulips, roses, peonies, flowering trees, and water features. A chestnut log corn crib (c. 1850) is one of the largest and best-built in the county. A balloon-framed bank barn is built on an older rock barn foundation. Other structures include a guest cottage by the pool and a charming glass greenhouse.
Ben-Coolyn’s previous owners, Ann and Peter Taylor, spent decades restoring and developing its park-like grounds and gardens, creating an arboretum with hundreds of canopy trees in an old hayfield and planting numerous native trees, including 176 willow oaks along the driveways, as well as deciduous flowering magnolia cultivars and crosses. Peter took the lead in designing the arbor and gardens. A nearly 100-year-old boxwood hedge lines one side of the main drive.
The Taylors recently purchased Castle Hill, a 1,600-acre farm with a two-part historic home dating back to 1764. Dr. Thomas Walker, colonial leader, explorer, prominent physician, and guardian to the young Thomas Jefferson after the death of Jefferson’s father, Peter, built the original clapboard Georgian dwelling on what at the time was a 15,000-acre tract. William Cabell Rives, minister to France, U.S. Senator, and Confederate congressman, added the stately Federal brick portion in 1823.
In the early 20th century the house was home to Rives’ granddaughter—also the goddaughter of Robert E. Lee—the daring novelist, poet and playwright Amelie Rives. Rives was first married to John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler, an heir to the Astor fortune, and then to the Russian painter Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, to whom she was introduced by Oscar Wilde. She is buried on the property. (Chanler and Rives are the subject of Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age, a much noted 2007 biography by local author Donna M. Lucey.)
Previous Castle Hill owners Stewart and Ray Humiston spent a decade restoring the home and grounds, which are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Taylors have taken up the torch. “Peter is an incredible gardener,” says Charlottesville Garden Club member Sarah Everett. “He is meticulous, he is passionate, and he is all about conserving land.”
Visitors will approach the house through an arched folly flanked by an ancient boxwood hedge. Inside they will find formal gardens, a 14-stall horse barn, small cottages, a guest cabin, and extensive fenced pastures. Thirty-five hundred tulips, all planted by Peter Taylor, are expected to be in bloom. The Tree Stewards—a group of trained community volunteers committed to promoting healthy urban and rural forests in Virginia—will lead walks on the property throughout the day.
Speakers will include Ms. Lucey, emeritus UVa professor Ed Lay, who has written about Keswick area architecture, and Barclay Rives, an expert on both Keswick history and his famous Rives relatives.
Parking for Castle Hill, plus maps and directions to all properties, will be available at Castle Hill Cider in Keswick. The cidery will serve as the Tour’s Marketplace, hosting 35 vendors, along with musicians and a large Ikebana installation. Fink’s Jewelers will raffle off a necklace with a white gold flower with diamonds, along with earrings to match.
Tickets for the Southwest Mountains Rural Historic District House and Garden Tour are $50 for adults and $10 for children 6-12 on the day of the tour, and will be available exclusively at Castle Hill Cider (6065 Turkey Sag Road in Keswick). Only cash or checks will be accepted.
Tickets for Morven will be sold separately.
Morven Estate House And Gardens
History buffs and garden lovers in Central Virginia cherish Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Monroe’s Ash-Lawn, but many have never seen the 7,379-acre estate of Morven, just a couple of minutes up the road. 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 designed by regional architect Martin Thacker and begun in 1820 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.
Landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders restored Morven’s 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 gardens include a dove tree, a pair of Osage orange trees, and a Chinese chestnut. Local artists Karyn Smith, Randy Baskerville, Ron Boehmer, Terry Coffey, Matalie Deane, Julia Kindred, and Julia Lesnichy will be painting “en plein air” in the gardens of East Belmont, Chopping Bottom, Castle Hill and Morven.
Morven will be open on Saturday, April 21 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., weather permitting. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children 6-12. Cash or check only. In case of cancellation, tickets will not be refunded.
UVA’s Morea Garden and Arboretum
Morea’s historic Federal-period home was built in 1830 by John Patten Emmet, Jefferson’s choice as UVA’s first professor of natural history. Located on Sprigg Lane, off Emmet Street just north of Alumni Hall, it is named after the mulberries cultivated for experiments with silkworms. Morea’s arboretum was planted by the Albemarle Garden Club in 1963, and now includes hollies and many native Virginia plants, plus Kentucky coffee trees, Osage orange trees, and a champion linden. The free, self-guided tour is limited to the gardens.
University of Virginia Pavilion Gardens
Thomas Jefferson’s designs for the University of Virginia’s Lawn and Pavilions are among the glories of American architecture, and his Pavilion Gardens are celebrated for their elegant brick serpentine walls. Originally filled not only with flowers and trees, but with smokehouses and animal sheds, they were eventually marred by additional buildings, roads, and walls. Using an engraving of Jefferson’s sketch for the Lawn as its guide, the Garden Club restored the gardens from 1947 through 1965 to reflect their initial layout—if not their utilitarian character. The Pavilion Gardens are open throughout the year.
View University of Virginia’s Pavilion Homes and Gardens on Monday, April 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.