Spring Has Sprung--It's Garden Tour Season!! Let's Start with Virginia...


Affiliate Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning that I receive commissions for purchases made through those links, at no cost to you.

Our Dogwood.

Our Dogwood.

Let’s Start with Virginia…

Historic Garden Week in Virginia is my favorite week of the year.

It takes me out of the damp, dreary and miserably raw Boston weather and gives me a glimpse of the things I love so much. Flowers, gardens and historic houses. Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to be asked to help with the festivities. Last year, I created an Art in Bloom arrangement for the Williamsburg Garden Club, and the year before that, I found myself as a tour guide at The College of William and Mary’s President’s House. I never know exactly what awaits me, but it’s always fabulous, and it’s always fun.

This year’s Garden Week is certain to be as spectacular as ever.  

From April 22-April 29, ticket holders will have the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful houses and gardens in the state. And best of all, according to the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week website, proceeds from ticket sales will “fund the restoration and preservation of more than 40 of Virginia’s historic public gardens and landscapes, a research fellowship, and a Garden Club of Virginia Centennial project with Virginia State Parks.” So….get your tickets now! Purchase them online using the link above until 48 hours prior to the start of the Tour. So...What makes Virginia’s Historic Garden Week so special? In my mind, and as a Virginian, there is no place in this country with more history or more beauty than Virginia. So the Garden Club of Virginia has a head start with such beautiful land to work with.

In addition, Virginia’s Historic Garden Week is the oldest (and only) statewide tour of gardens and homes (both historic public, historic private and "not historic but still awfully pretty" private properties) in the country. This year marks the 84th straight year that the Garden Club of Virginia has organized its dedicated volunteers to pull off this wonderful event for the nearly 30,000 annual visitors. And the fact that the proceeds from the tour are put right back into preservation and conservation is also something that, I think, differentiates the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week in Virginia from other, more limited, garden tours around the country. This year, as in years past, the Tour will showcase a mixture of historic and more modern houses and gardens.

Because I am a graduate of the University of Virginia, and because Charlottesville is one of my favorite places on earth, I will focus on what’s going on in Albemarle/Charlottesville for the week. But be sure to get your Guidebook for a full Tour map for each of the Garden Club of Virginia’s six regions and for other helpful information that will help you plan and navigate your week. Because I can’t possibly do the Albemarle-Charlottesville Tour justice, please click here (the Albemarle-Charlottesville portion of the Guidebook).From personal experience, however, I can make some recommendations.

And the following would be my absolute “top stops” and "must sees":

Morven Estate and Gardens

Spectacular! A short drive from Monticello (which you must see if you have not yet done so--give yourself 3-4 hours at the very least for that), Morven was most recently owned by John Kluge, who donated it to the University of Virginia Foundation before his death. The gardens are beyond beautiful and include formal and cutting gardens designed by the female landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as well as a Japanese Garden designed and installed by Mr. Kluge in the 1990s. See https://www.uvafoundation.com/morven/history-gardens/ for more about Morven. Photos below.

Photo from  UVA Foundation .

Photo from UVA Foundation.

Photo from  UVA Foundation .

Photo from UVA Foundation.


University of Virginia


The University is a MUST SEE. Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village is celebrated daily by architects, history buffs, students, alums and those who simply love its beauty. Though there are countless architectural wonders and gorgeous gardens on Grounds that you can check out on your own, I’ll focus here on the houses and gardens that are open during Garden Week. The Pavilion Gardens, the Pavilion Homes on the East Lawn and Edgar Allan Poe’s room on the West Range are historic, beautiful and (especially in EA Poe’s case) fascinating. You’ll also see the world-famous Lawn, the newly restored Rotunda and (very likely!) some students beginning Reading Period with some time spent hanging out on the Lawn. The Pavilion Gardens are special places for quiet contemplation or study. Each Pavilion Garden is different, from layout to plant and floral species. They are all bounded by Jefferson’s amazing serpentine walls and accessible through white chippendale gates (at least that’s what I remember!). There are benches in most of the Pavilion Gardens, and every single Garden is special in its own way. I happen to have visited all of the Gardens during my 4 years at Virginia, and if I had my way, I’d have one of those Gardens right out behind my own 200 year old house today. The Pavilions were constructed as an integral part of Jefferson’s Academical Village. A number of Deans and Distinguished Professors live in designated Pavilions on the Lawn. Mr. Jefferson wanted students and their professors to live and spend time together so that they would not be restrained by “classrooms”. Living and working in the same space would ensure genial discussion and the sharing of ideas. Professor Larry Sabato’s Pavilion IV will be open for this year’s Garden Week, as will Dean Baucom’s Pavilion X. Pavilion IV: See the following VA Historical Society link for photos of the Pavilion Gardens: http://www.vahistorical.org/collections-and-resources/garden-club-virginia/colleges-and-universities/university-virginia


Carr’s Hill

Located prominently on a beautiful hill with views of the Rotunda from the front of the house and Rugby Road, Mad Bowl and Mad Lane from the side, Carr’s Hill, the President’s House, has a long and storied history. It is a wonderful place to attend an event, and it is definitely, as the article in the following link will explain in further detail, “a working house”. Because it is so rarely open to the public, I would put this house at the top of your list for UVA. The herb gardens, kousa dogwood, annuals and boxwood, among other plantings I remember, are stunning. And different from the Pavilion Gardens. Maybe because things are more compact and more formally arranged up on Carr’s Hill.


To prepare you for your visit to Carr’s Hill, please see the following link. It will give you a great little history of the house and its inhabitants, as well as an additional look at the internationally renowned architects, McKim, Mead & White, who were eventually brought in for several projects, beginning with the restoration of the Rotunda after the fire of 1895. The creation of the house on Carr’s Hill was their very last project on Grounds. And just to learn a few things (things that I never knew as a student but have since found very interesting), have a look at the fascinating scholarly article by George H. Yetter, cited below. It delves into just how much back and forth went into the choosing of McKim, Mead & White as the firm to restore and rebuild the Rotunda and surrounding buildings and how “difficult” the working relationship may have been between and among various University leaders and the famous Mr. White. Citation: Yetter, George Humphrey. “Stanford White at the University of Virginia: Some New Light on an Old Question.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 40, no. 4, 1981, pp. 320–325., www.jstor.org/stable/989649.

Regardless of the difficulty of having to “tone down” his designs somewhat, I happen to think that Stanford White did a tremendous job with the University, and The Lawn has been used for inspiration several times by several schools, including the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University. To me, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I applaud Mr. Jefferson and Mr. White for their combined inspiration, realized decades apart, and for their unique visions for the Academical Village that we all know and love today.

I hope you enjoy your day(s) at the University. If you get hungry, check out the Virginian on the Corner. It’s an institution, and I promise that you’ll love it.