Virginia’s Historic Garden Week

Virginia’s Historic Garden Week
By Debbie Selinsky

Some of us love history and that seems a natural part of our travel adventures. Many of us love gardening but may not find it easy to formulate our travel plans around a locale’s most famous homes and gardens, until now.

Historic Garden Week in Virginia, from April 23-30, offers gardeners who love history – and history buffs who love gardening – a unique opportunity to experience it all.

In Williamsburg, learn about the methods used during Colonial times and explore the azalea and magnolia bedecked national monument that is Fort Monroe. Or, peek inside the privately-owned and restored Falls Church Victorian home.

Organizers describe Historic Garden Week as “America’s largest open house.” State director Karen Miller said the event is the country’s oldest statewide house and garden tour as well as the commonwealth’s largest and oldest ongoing volunteer effort. “It takes 3,300 women to run the event and includes 30 tours organized and hosted by 47 member clubs.”

For the 83rd year, volunteers will come together to highlight 250 of the state’s most stunning gardens, private homes and historic landmarks. Visitors will experience nature and visit historic homes decorated with more than 2,000 flower arrangements by Garden Club of Virginia members. Though it’s not logistically possible to take all 30 tours, neighboring garden clubs make it feasible to catch several during the week. Tour proceeds fund Virginia’s historic gardens, landscapes and state parks.

Falls Church/Arlington
Tuesday, April 26, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

In Falls Church, the Garden Club of Fairfax conducts tours in tiny Falls Church and nearby Arlington County.

For example, the Birch House is a Greek Revival structure built in the 1830’s and has been added to over the past 150 years, said tour chairman Tricia Goins. “This house is a Virginia Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. It has beautiful gardens. The trees are old and very tall, so underneath is a shade garden with boxwoods, crepe myrtle and a magnolia tree that is 90 years old,” she said.

Nearby, a renovated 1906 Victorian has been made shipshape – inside and out – by the current owners, a landscape architect and a contractor. “He took care of renovating the house and she designed the gardens and the yard,” Goins said.

The house features four very different gardens: a rose garden with an evergreen pathway leading to a colorful and fragrant children’s garden, a sunken lawn with floral and herbal berms designed for birds, and a “garden work-and-rest patio.” “The perimeter of each garden is lined with trees and shrubs, so each flows from one to the other., and providing a screen so you can’t see the stunning gardens from the street,” Goins said, adding that the owners (the Crams) do a great deal to promote Falls Church.

Tour-goers also get to visit an unusual property – a 2014 house with an arts-and-crafts style exterior and an art nouveau interior. “The owner travels extensively in Europe and brings back authentic pieces. The property has a gorgeous pool and yard with hydrangeas, peonies, roses and a butterfly garden for the owner’s grandchildren. Barbara Cram (owner of the aforementioned Victorian) designed the yard and gardens and planted about a thousand tulips in the front yard.”

Visitors should prepare for jaw-dropping amenities inside the house, Goins grinned. They’ll be greeted at the door with a life-sized carved giraffe. “When they built the house, they allowed for the size of the giraffe but not for his ears, so they had to poke out a part of the ceiling to accommodate them.”

Although chairing the garden week tour is a big job, Goins said the people involved make it worthwhile. “One of the things that struck me is that these people see themselves as stewards of the property, maintaining them to hand on to the next generation. They’re very passionate about that role.”

Hampton/Newport News
Wednesday, April 27, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Military-history buffs will find the tour offered by The Huntington and Hampton Roads garden clubs especially interesting, said tour chair Sidney Jordan. With eight miles of spectacular waterfront and buildings whose rooms have entertained many U.S. presidents, Fort Monroe was named a national monument in 2011 and is NewportNews_HuntingtonParkRoseGarden_500x300.jpgthe largest stone fort ever constructed in the United States. The grounds, gardens and homes tell the story of the former U.S. Army post. Built around 1834, the fort also became a symbol of freedom for slaves during the Civil War.

The state still owns the houses, but the residents take “beautiful care” of the homes and gardens, Jordan said. They can’t make changes to the houses, and “can’t dig deep because there could be obstructions and munitions underground,” she added. “So they manicure existing gardens carefully. It’s a challenge but they do a lovely job.”

Five of the homes, including the general’s house with its beautiful old gazebo and rose garden, will be on the tour as well as the home of the lighthouse keeper for the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse.

Participants will be able to share their tour experiences afterwards at Flowers After Hours in the general’s house, which will be decorated with art by the Charles Taylor Art Center and flower arrangements.

Tuesday, April 26, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

History, gardening and art go hand in hand in Williamsburg, which boasts 90 gardens spread over 100 acres in the 18th-century village of Colonial Williamsburg as well as many private gardens. That’s why the theme of Williamsburg’s Historic Garden Week tour is “Art and the Garden.”

“Landscaping and gardens are part of natural beauty and culinary arts, as well as design arts,” said tour chairman Terry Buntrock of the Williamsburg Garden Club.

“The Lindsey House has a woodland garden built into the side of the hill that goes down to the creek and ravine behind the house,” Buntrock said. “When you drive through Williamsburg the terrain appears very flat because it’s all built on ridges, but you soon realize there are a lot of steep ravines since a few million years ago, this place was under water. When you’re walking in the woods, you’ll still kick up seashells and sand.”

The other tour home, Bel-Mede, has a formal Colonial-style garden in front of the house. “This house was built in 1770 near Wakefield and moved to Williamsburg in the 1940s,” Buntrock said. Because of the tour theme, she added, “we’re trying in as many places as possible to push art forward. The owners of Bel-Mede lovingly restored the home and are serious collectors of Colonial pottery and we’ll see some of that.”

The all-day tour will also feature “Art in Bloom” in the nearby College of William & Mary Muscarelle Museum of Art. “We’re taking 25 of their paintings and having some of the area’s top floral designers create floral interpretations for display,” Buntrock said. The theme continues with lectures in the college library and a benefit show and sale by the Virginia Glass Guild.

This year, Colonial Williamsburg has moved the date of its annual three-day garden symposium to coincide with the tour. “We couldn’t be happier because their symposium includes a ticket to our tour. The symposium programs are on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning (April 24-26) so you can take the tour Tuesday afternoon,” Buntrock said.

Colonial Williamsburg gardener Wesley Greene, who will show how his family-friendly Colonial Garden utilizes 18th century tools and techniques, said the 70th annual Colonial Williamsburg Garden Symposium will focus on “Gardens We Call Home: Insights from Trailblazers and Trendsetters.”

Greene, who reminds that gardening and landscape architecture were important parts of “a gentleman’s education” in Colonial times – think George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – urges visitors to extend their stay in Williamsburg in order to take in the many tulips, larkspurs, forget-me-nots, daffodils and spring annuals that will be in full bloom in mid to late April.

Visit your local AAA Travel office for hotel reservations and more information about Virginia.