Historic Garden Week in Virginia: Newport News
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Newport News houses and gardens were open for touring on May Day—Wednesday, May 1. And we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day!! It was such fun to see the Mariners’ Museum again, and it was also great fun to see so many old friends. That was actually the best part of the day—seeing so many women I’ve known my entire life…whether friends of mine or friends of my mother’s. Being with my mother and seeing “everyone” truly made my day! And the flowers were also beautiful. I won’t forget the flowers!!
But first, a little bit of history about The Mariners’ Museum, which served as Garden Tour Headquarters this year. After all, I am trying to focus on “Bonus Sites” to see on this year’s tours!
The Mariners’ Museum
Founded in 1930 by Archer M. Huntington and his amazingly talented wife, sculptor Anna P. Huntington (whom my grandmother knew as far back as 1932 when she was working at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in NYC and Anna was elected into the organization), the Mariners’ Museum is one of the preeminent maritime museums in the world, if not the preeminent maritime museum in the world.
The Mariners’ Museum’s co-founder and first president was Homer L. Ferguson, who was leading Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company (“NNS”) at the time of the museum’s founding. Collis Huntington, Archer Huntington’s father, had founded NNS as an offshoot of his C & O railway back in 1886. The history of NNS is a long and storied one, and I’ve grown up knowing about all of the military initiatives that NNS has been involved with through the years. (And yes, several field trips there, too, including one that allowed us to tour a nuclear submarine in 7th or 8th grade…) If you’re not aware of NNS’s role in our history or want to learn more about the specifics of everything that’s been built at the largest military shipyard in the United States, I would definitely suggest reading up on what we all call simply “the Shipyard “. After learning about the Mariners’ Museum and the Shipyard (now owned by Huntington Ingalls Industries ), you’ll come away with an appreciation for Newport News as a city that has long been vital to our country’s position as a Superpower.
(Oh! And how could I forget?!? The USS Monitor is at the Mariners’ Museum…I remember the first time I saw it, just after it opened for public viewing. It was incredible. Time flies, though, and there is now an entire educational and exhibition center at the Museum called, aptly enough, The USS Monitor Center). A website also well worth checking out.
Houses and Gardens
There were 4 houses and gardens on tour in Newport News, and their proximity to the James River made this self driving tour extremely easy. My mother and I had a lovely, relaxing time seeing old friends and enjoying the river breezes. Especially after such a nonstop, rollicking good time the day before with friends old and new, interspersed with all sorts of people who traveled to Williamsburg for the sole purpose (and a good one!) of experiencing a Garden Tour in such a historic spot. Two great days—and just 20 miles apart! I am particularly happy that I was able to see my friend Nancy on the Newport News tour. A sweeter person you will never meet. And though she was “technically” my sister’s friend, we all adored her growing up, and we all adore her now.
The Mariners’ Museum House (where the President and CEO of the Mariners’ Museum resides) was the first house that my mother and I visited. Originally built from a department store-purchased plan back in the 1940s (which I think is incredibly cool), this house flows into an expansive back yard with a gently sloping hill down to the James. Inside, the floral arrangements were gorgeous, with my favorite being a lovely pair of topiaries created from curly willow (if I remember correctly—no photos!) and garden roses with ivy at the base of each. They welcomed visitors into the house on either side of the front door. The other arrangement that truly stood out to us in this house was found in the family room—it was a spectacular display of pink peonies, hyacinth and greens. Just lovely.
After the Museum President’s house, Mom and I made our way to our next house. While not directly “on” the River, it was close enough, and it looked spectacular! In addition to its being a gorgeous house generally, the arrangements that had been created for this particular house were out of this world. The design in the master bedroom, of which the focal point was a grouping of pink Hawaiian coral Peonies, was my absolute favorite of the entire day. It was stunning, and the flower material could not have been more perfect. There was also a beautiful living room arrangement that was done all in green by a friend of my mother’s whom I’ve known my entire life. It was meant to highlight a painting that hung above it, and it did so perfectly. It was absolutely beautiful. And on top of all of the pretty floral arrangements in the house, my mother and I continued to see so many old friends—and, as was the case at the first house, I hadn’t seen any of these ladies since I was a teenager—or maybe since I was in college. So it was really wonderful to catch up with everyone. We are fortunate to have had such good friends during our time living in Newport News. I have always said that it was a nice place to grow up, have I not?
After a quick Diet Coke stop (Mom and I love our Diet Coke!), we were off to what would be our last house of the day. Located on River Road amidst several of the houses that had once been inhabited by my oldest friends (literally—my friends since birth), it was a nice spot for ending our tour. And, of course, we were also on my old school bus route by this point, so I knew the street like the back of my hand. Talk about a walk (or drive) down memory lane. We had the most wonderful time!! As with the other houses on the tour, the flowers in this house were also beautiful. I’d have to say that my favorite arrangement was actually the smallest of the lot. It was a white peony set atop a bed of moss with what looked like it might have been a bit of freesia for height (but I didn’t have my reading glasses!), all under a glass cloche. It was simple, fresh and pretty.
And so we ended our day with the Peony under the cloche. Another beautiful, fun filled day touring the houses and gardens of our gorgeous state!