Last year, the Garden Club of Virginia cancelled its annual Historic Garden Week for the second time since 1929; the first cancellation was during World War II. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many of us into master gardeners of change, patience, and innovation.
The members of 48 garden clubs that comprise the Garden Club of Virginia didn’t miss a beat. Last summer they began the planning to offer safe and enjoyable tours while complying with current health mandates. Beginning April 17, they will open 102 private gardens and dozens of historic properties in Virginia as part of “America’s Largest Open House.” Historic Garden Week includes eight days of tours in 25 different communities across Virginia.
At a time when gardens have become important spaces for relaxing and entertaining, the tours this year will showcase environments that make social distancing easy and enjoyable. From tiny patios to huge porches and sprawling gardens, we hope these outdoor havens will inspire those seeking to maximize the enjoyment of their own outdoor spaces.
Wistful Chairs & Contemplative Benches
Everyone loves a cozy nook or a hidden space to curl up with a good book or enjoy a glass of wine, especially when surrounded by lush plantings and favorite flowers. A conversation area also feels more intimate when there’s a sense of being enclosed within a garden.
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Planting for pollinators is getting all the buzz in garden circles. Well-placed seating on Historic Garden Week's Williamsburg tour allows nature lovers to observe the action. Left: Spires of foxglove surround a quiet spot in a garden. These easy-to-grow biennials do best in full sun and are covered in tiny, glove-like bells in a range of colors, from purple to creamy yellow. Right: A combination of plants blooming from spring through the fall, like these black-eyed Susans and coneflowers, provides a consistent food source for bees, butterflies, and birds. What else to expect on the Williamsburg tour: Geometric gardens, trimmed topiaries, pristine flower beds, and mature shade trees. Visitors will learn how to incorporate 18th-century landscape details and heirloom plants during a walking tour that features six Colonial Williamsburg gardens rarely open to the public, as well as two historic properties with pleasure gardens. (Photos by Laura Viancour)
A painted English garden bench can be easily moved throughout the gardens to enjoy whatever is blooming, such as the lilies and alliums pictured above, at Clay Hill, home of world-famous jewelry designer Elizabeth Locke, on the Clarke County tour this April. The Clarke County tour boasts another famous name: Hailed as “the First Lady of flower arranging,” the late Sheila MacQueen designed the original gardens at Claytonville in Millwood, including numerous trees, shrubs, and plants used in flower arranging. (Photo by Edie Hessberg)
A charming verdigris chair inside the formal greenhouse at Oak Spring is a treat for aficionados of history and garden design. Oak Hill Garden Foundation is the estate of the late Bunny Mellon and her husband Paul, two of the greatest American art collectors and philanthropists of the 20th century. Bunny's famous gardens also include the Kennedy-era White House Rose Garden. (Photo by Missy Janes)
A row of six wooden folding chairs is easily moved to accommodate socially distant seating on a terrace bordered by a low stone wall at a 1921 Dutch Colonial-style home on the Hampton Gardens tour in Richmond. Enormous potted ferns provide low-maintenance pops of green. (Photo by Jane and Don Cowles)
In Charlottesville, a trio of chairs nestle into a corner of the landscape, perfect for admiring a large collection of Japanese maples of various forms, textures, and colors. Along the curved beds, shade-loving begonias, ferns, hostas, toad lilies, and periwinkles thrive. (Photo by Meredith Mercer)
A hydrangea hugs a bench with bountiful pink blooms at Ballantrae Farm. What else to explore at Ballantrae Farm: Part of Historic Garden Week’s McLean tour, the farm’s extensive grounds feature many outdoor living amenities including a charming pavilion, pool, and copper hot tub with gas lanterns; a terrace with an outdoor kitchen, dining, and sitting areas; a woodland walk leading to a koi pond; a gazebo; and a sunken kitchen garden replete with a fairytale-like potting shed. (Photo by Donna Moulton)
Bright yellow Adirondack chairs beckon us to relish Staunton’s mountainous views while staying cozy by a fire pit. What else to expect on the Staunton tour: Scenic parks, historic buildings, galleries, gardens designed by Charles Gillette, and a charming downtown. (Photo courtesy of the Augusta Garden Club)
Water Features That Soothe the Soul
A calm, placid pool is peaceful, but the sound of running water is also relaxing. If you have a small garden, terrace, or patio, strategically adding a water feature will attract birds and other wildlife.
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A heated reflecting pool surrounded by lush greenery and purple irises looks upon a garden sculpture and Ashleigh’s sweeping countryside—land that was originally part of the Oak Hill estate belonging to John Marshall, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court 1801-1835. The pool, designed by noted landscape architect Barry Starke, is new to the garden, along with a fountain built into the stone patio steps; see next photo. (Photo by Missy Janes)
The fountain, pool, and stone patio adjoining the pool house at Ashleigh are framed by a redbud arch in the distance. What else to explore at this home: A gem on The Garden Club of Virginia's Historic Garden Week Middleburg tour, Ashleigh offers formal gardens filled with English and American boxwood, towering holly trees, sculpture, and perennial gardens, including the spectacular center allée of peonies pictured at the top of this story. The home itself is a Greek Revival country house built in 1840. (Photo by Missy Janes)
An enclosed courtyard with a fountain at its center serves as a living laboratory and four-season garden for Richmond landscape designer Meg Turner. This relaxing oasis also boasts an arbor and tuteur to support climbing plants. (Photo by Jane and Don Cowles)
With views of the North River—the ultimate soul-soothing water feature—this idyllic pool scene at Cherokee, a property named after the roses that once grew there, is Pinterest-worthy. What else to explore at this home: This unusual dwelling on Historic Garden Week’s Gloucester tour began life as a typical 18th-century icehouse: a circular brick two-story tower with dirt piled around it to insulate the ice kept inside it. In 1922, the owners downsized from their home by converting the icehouse into their new living space with windows, a riverside front door, and a back addition. Today, the adjoining covered patio and pool, shown above, further adapt this unique historic abode to the lifestyle of its 21st-century owners. (Photo by Sandy Geiger)
Porches & Verandas
From quaint to grand, outdoor extensions of interior living spaces blend design elements to be compatible with a home’s architectural materials and style. These porches and verandas are ideal destinations for socially distanced entertaining at home.
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This study in blue and white at landscape designer Leslie Harris’ home in Charlottesville features timeless Southern accents like Chippendale railings and a background of verdant green magnolia. (Photo by Claire Mellinger)
A grand veranda with views of a classical garden is the perfect setting for elegant dinner parties at this English-style country estate in Lynchburg. The property balances stately architecture, refined design, and the function of a working farm. (Photo by Amanda Smithson)
A quintessential Southern front porch, complete with a swing at one end, is one of five private outdoor living spaces—and three Garden Club of Virginia garden restoration sites—all within a 12-block radius in historic downtown Fredericksburg. (Photo courtesy of the Rappahannock Valley Garden Club)
A Splendid Table
An outdoor table embellished with accoutrements such as linen napkins and candles absolutely requires a seasonal centerpiece. During Historic Garden Week this April, the Garden Club of Virginia estimates that more than 1,000 original, blue-ribbon worthy arrangements will be created by an army of volunteers to decorate the featured homes and exterior spaces.
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A striking blue atlas cedar tabletop, made of wood from Montpelier, was designed by the homeowner and custom-made for this covered outdoor dining space in Richmond. An oversize light fixture, simple but elegant dining chairs, and neatly trimmed hedges in the garden beyond all echo the table's clean lines. (Photo by Jane and Don Cowles)
As the Garden Club of Virginia’s largest fundraiser, Historic Garden Week proceeds underwrite the ongoing restoration and preservation of Virginia’s historic public gardens and landscapes, as well as a research fellowship program for students in landscape architecture. To comply with COVID-19 mandates, the Garden Club of Virginia reduced the number of tour tickets available for sale, decreased ticket prices and implemented a timed-entry format. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit vagardenweek.org. As of press time, several tours have already sold out. Tours take place April 17-24, 2021.
By Karen Cauthen Ellsworth, Director of Historic Garden Week | Edited by Terri Robertson
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