If you walk along the serpentine brick walls by the Pavilion Gardens on the grounds of the University of Virginia, you will see a plaque commemorating the restoration work of the Garden Club of Virginia. Inside, right about now, the daffodils and periwinkle are blooming, and the tulips are on their way. In fact, thanks to Club restorations, right about now there are gardens all across the state budding with living history.
Each spring the club and its 47 member clubs with their 3,400 volunteers throw open gates and doors on historic properties, inviting the public to wander at will. The first Historic Garden Week event, a flower show in 1927, raised $7,000 to save trees Thomas Jefferson had planted on the lawn at Monticello. Nowadays, Historic Garden Week offers 32 separate, mostly self-guided tours, covering over 250 properties, attracting approximate 30,000 visitors a year, and raising funds to preserve and restore public gardens at such treasured sites as Monticello, Montpelier, Poplar Forest, and UVa.
The 2015 Albemarle-Charlottesville House and Garden Tour will take place Saturday, April 18, through Tuesday, April 21. Hosted by the Charlottesville Garden Club, Rivanna Garden Club, and Albemarle Garden Club, this year’s tour features four properties in the Ivy area, including historic estates, restored Gillette gardens, and contemporary landscape architecture. In addition, the Tour will feature Morven Estate House and Gardens, UVa’s Carr’s Hill and East Lawn Pavilions, and special events at Monticello and Ash Lawn-Highland.
Linda Macilwaine is one of several Charlottesville Garden Club members who has been making flower arrangements for Historic Garden Week homes for more than 20 years. “Members from each of the three clubs who host Garden Week are asked to cut flowers from their own gardens and condition them for these arrangements,” Macilwaine says. “It is always great fun to see how creative and imaginative the arrangements are. Traditionally we only use flowers that are in season and would appear to have come from the property owner’s gardens. That way we can leave the flowers in the garden for our touring guests to enjoy. I always look forward to this time of year because arranging is somewhat like painting, and time evaporates when you are working with beautiful and fragrant blooms creating shapes and lines and combining colors. Of course we laugh and chat a lot while we are working and retell a lot of funny stories from past garden weeks!”
The four Ivy properties will be open to the public Sunday, April 19 from noon to 5:00 p.m., and Monday, April 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Advance tickets for this Country Home and Gardens Tour are available for $40 online, and in Charlottesville at The Boar’s Head Inn Store, Caspari, New Dominion Book Shop, The Senior Center, The Virginia Shop, and J.McLaughlin. Tickets may also be purchased at any of the individual properties for $45 on tour days.
The oldest property on the tour, the Bloomfield estate, was originally part of a 2,000-acre land grant to Charles Hudson in 1735. Its grand, Jeffersonian-style brick home – two stories with a three-bay front and a center hallway – was built in 1849 for a Louisiana man named Paul H. Goodloe.
Bloomfield “has quite an interesting background,” says Meredith Mercer, co-chair of this year’s Albemarle-Charlottesville Tour. “One of its owners was a man named J. Tatnall Lea,” a former Union soldier from Philadelphia. “During the Civil War he was taken captive by the Confederates, and he escaped. As he was escaping over the Shenandoah Valley, he apparently came through Virginia, and right into this area, and saw the beautiful rolling hills and promised himself that after the Civil War was over he would come back and buy property. And in fact he bought Bloomfield.”
Although it was built as a private residence, over the years Bloomfield has seen several alterations to accommodate several uses – as a preparatory school for UVa, as a finishing school for girls, and as a home and school for handicapped children. The current owners have made it a home again, restoring its original grandeur.
Macilwaine expects the center hall at Bloomfield to feature a large arrangement incorporating tall dogwood branches plus lilac, bright tulips, andromeda, spirea, lenten roses, “and maybe a few tree peonies in bloom to complement the warm and beautiful colors there.”
In the rejuvenated gardens, original stacked-stone walls and large hedges of ancient American boxwood flank lush perennial beds, mixed borders, flowering shrubs, specimen trees, and a beautiful pool with breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge. A cutting garden sits over the remains of the foundation of an original outbuilding. A small orchard, a restored pavilion, and an elevated kitchen garden are also of interest.
Located atop a knoll at the foot of Ragged Mountain, Verulam commands a breathtaking western view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1936, New York attorney Courtlandt Van Clief commissioned Marshall Swain Wells, one of the first graduates of UVa’s School of Architecture, to build a Georgian Revival manor house on the 1,700-acre estate.
Wells was known for his intricate moldings, his blending of indoor and outdoor spaces, and his use of high quality local materials including Rockingham slate roofs and reclaimed “beehive” brick. Wartime rationing forced him to rely on wood more than was usual at the time. In fact, the construction of Verulam required an Act of Congress. Visitors to Verulam will note the decorative black garden iron gate that Wells acquired from the White House when the Secret Service replaced it with a taller one during World War II.
To design the gardens, Wells worked with prominent landscape architect Charles Gillette, known for his “Virginia Garden” style, characterized by understated classicism and attention to detail. The home’s sunken garden, to the west of the croquette court off Verulam’s southern exposure, exemplifies Wells and Gillette’s shared conviction that a landscape should compliment a home’s most distinctive architectural elements. The current owner has spent more than a decade restoring the home and gardens to their original splendor, establishing a two-tiered vegetable garden, a small heritage orchard, and a nut walk leading out to the woods.
In the house, Macilwaine says, visitors will see “a large hallway arrangement to pick up the colors in the wonderful hand painted mural. In another room we will create a mantle arrangement mixed with antlers.”Tour goers will find a host of plant societies and vendors on hand, and can enjoy demonstrations by floral arrangers and a watercolor artist.
This year, for the first time, the 200-acre Foxhaven farm just west of Charlottesville will be open for Historic Garden Week. Beginning in 1949, Albemarle Garden Club member Jane Heyward established gardens and paths, and collected specimens of trees, shrubs, and plants to create woodland gardens, perennial beds, a cottage garden, and shaded paths bordered with seasonal bulbs and flowers. Hoping that Foxhaven would become part of an arboretum or botanical garden, Heyward established a trust for the renovation of the garden.
Tour goers can see a beekeeping exhibition with live bees and honey tastings, plus an exhibit of rescued animals and a Hotpots demonstration. A master gardener will be on hand to answer questions. Volunteer tree stewards will offer tours on Sunday at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. and Monday at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Along with historic estates, this year’s tour includes the gardens of one modern local property. Harris Home sits on a 35-acre lot with views of the gardens, open fields, and mountains beyond. A foundation bed to the right of the entrance to the home features ‘Limelight’ hydrangea standards surrounding a large, carved birdfeeder. Elsewhere the Harris family has planted daffodils, species hybrid tulips, and Fritillaria imperialis “Lutea maxima.” A stone-edged terrace, with an open, double-sided fireplace and wisteria-covered pergola affords views of the Blue Ridge. A mowed nature walk path passes by a children’s tree house.
Other Properties of Historic Interest
The three-story brick manor house at Morven Estate House and Gardens was built circa 1820 in the late Georgian-Federal style on land known to Thomas Jefferson as “Indian Camp.” The grounds include formal and cutting gardens planted with tulips, phlox, lilacs, vibernum, and deutzia and other shrubs and perennials, plus a pair of Osage orange trees, the state champion Chinese chestnut, and a dove tree. Weather permitting, Morven’s gardens and the first floor of the home will be open on April 18 from 10:00 to 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children 6-12.
UVa will host Historic Garden Week events on April 21. Guided tours of UVa’s Pavilion Gardens will start at the steps of the Rotunda facing the Lawn at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. UVa’s Carr’s Hill, which has been home to eight University presidents and their families, will be open from noon to 4:00 p.m. The house was designed by the NY architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White as part of a late 1890-1900s building campaign.
At 2:00 p.m., UVa’s Albert And Shirley Small Special Collections Library will host a special presentation entitled “Rural, Historic, and Scenic: Enduring Qualities of the Piedmont’s Cultural Landscape” by Timothy and Genevieve Keller, pioneers in cultural landscape preservation.
Morea Garden and Arboretum
Morea Garden and Arboretum in Charlottesville, an historic Federal period home, will also be open will be open April 21 from noon to 4:00 p.m. Morea was built by John Patten Emmet, one of the first professors chosen by Thomas Jefferson, and named for the mulberries cultivated for experiments with silkworms. The spacious brick house was given to the University as a residence for distinguished visitors. The garden contains large old trees and a landscaped botanical collection begun by the Albemarle Garden Club in 1964.
Monticello and Ash Lawn-Highland
Monticello will host several speakers and tours for Historic Garden Week. Architectural historian Gardiner Hallock will speak on “Restoring Monticello’s Kitchen Road,” at 2:00 p.m. on April 20, followed by a 3:15 tour of the Mountaintop Kitchen Road. Free advance registration is required.
On April 21, Monticello Director of Gardens and Grounds, Gabriele Rausse will speak on Thomas Jefferson’s Fruit and Vegetable Gardens, followed by a walking tour of the Monticello gardens at 10:00 a.m. followed by an 11:15 a.m. walking tour of the gardens. Free advance registration is required.
Historic Garden Week ticketholders will be admitted to Ash Lawn-Highland at the local resident rate of $8. The estate’s flower gardener will be on site to answer questions.
Gardens Large and Small
REALTOR® Byrd Abbott will help welcome visitors to Foxhaven this year. “I went on Garden Week tours growing up because I was born and raised here,” Abbott remembers. A self-described “corporate vagabond” later in life, she joined the Charlottesville Garden Club upon returning in 1999. Nowadays, she enjoys tending her own garden when she has the time, and Garden Week is an inspiration. “You see things displayed together that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of,” she says, “and you think ‘that’s really a great way of doing it and I can pass that on to a client who might have a similar issue in their yard.”
“I would encourage people to come out and go view the gardens because we are so fortunate with our growing season here. We just naturally have beautiful topography, I think even if you don’t garden that much, you can appreciate what people do that’s positive and it’s such a positive thing for Central Virginia. We have literally busloads of people that come from Texas, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Florida. That’s how well known and appreciated in gardening circles our area is for the effort that goes into it. Its really is a tribute to the gardening clubs.”
Historic Garden Week proceeds fund The Garden Club of Virginia’s continuing restoration and conservation efforts. Projects are currently underway at the historic Henry County Courthouse in Martinsville, Monticello (the Kitchen Road project), Poplar Forest in Lynchburg, and the Poe Museum in Richmond. “The mission,” says Restoration Committee member Candace Crosby, “is to preserve the beautiful state of Virginia.”
By Ken Wilson