Send me a FREE trial issue Plus a FREE gift
Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » Gardens & Exteriors » Gardens of Colonial Virginia

Gardens of Colonial Virginia

The many gardens at Williamsburg are a primary source for colonial and revival designs. By Patricia Poore

    In the Taliaferro-Cole garden, straight brick paths link buildings. (All photos: Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

    Trim and tidy, the gardens at Colonial Williamsburg are not dutiful re-creations of the earliest homestead yards, which were necessarily functional and spare. But they are beautiful and well-considered models for Colonial Revival gardens based on archaeological and historical research. As study gardens, they provide a superb start for those planning an English-derived formal garden.

    At the center of the Colonial Revival Greenhow-Repiton garden, a spiral topiary centers a circle around which lawns and beds radiate.

    Underlying the designs is knowledge of the town’s history; excavation has determined where outbuildings, wells, walkways, and property walls once were located. Some maps of the 1700s survive, as do letters and inventories. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s first landscape architect, the Olmsted-trained Arthur A. Shurcliff, studied many surviving sites to document plant use in the South.

    “It is a credit to the conservative English taste of Williamsburg’s gardeners that this small Virginia town had some of the best examples of Anglo–Dutch gardens in the colonies,” write Brinkley and Chappell in their classic book, The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg.

    “The colonists tended to create the gardens they remembered, or their parents remembered, in the England of William and Mary. Consequently, these styles persisted longer in America . . . than in England.”

    Crushed oyster shells cover paths between boxwood-bordered parterres in the Benjamin Waller garden.

    Still, most Williamsburg gardens probably included vegetable gardens and scattered flowering plants, with a small orchard of fruit trees if space allowed. Walkways were generally laid out in direct lines between house, outbuildings, and work areas. Decoration (such as vases and garden seats) and water fountains were rare. Fences, however, were required after 1705, to protect gardens from livestock. Garden walks might be surfaced with brick, gravel, or crushed shells.

    As the Foundation’s web site puts it, “Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area is a compromise between historical authenticity and common sense, between brutal realism and gentle ambience.” Just like the restorations private homeowners undertake.

    Learn about how to create your own cutting garden.

    Published in: Early Homes Spring/Summer 2010

    Get your FREE Trial Issue of Old House Journal and 2 FREE gifts.
    Yes! Please send me a FREE trial issue of Old House Journal and 2 FREE gifts.
    If I like it and decide to continue, I'll get 7 more issues (8 in all) for just $24.95, a savings of 48%. If for any reason I decide not to continue,
    I'll write cancel on the invoice and owe nothing. The Free Trial Issue is mine to keep, no matter what.
     Full Name:
     Address 1:
     Address 2:
     Zip Code:
     Email (req):
    Offer valid in US only.
    Click here for Canada or here for international subscriptions

    Products & ServicesHouse ToursHistoric PlacesHouse StylesOldHouseOnline.comMagazine
    Architectual ElementsKitchen & BathsHistoric HotelsArchitectural TermsRepairs & How ToSubscribe to Old-House Journal
    BathsInterior & DécorHistoric NeighborhoodsAmerican FoursquareFree NewslettersBack Issues
    Ceilings & WallsGardens & ExteriorsHouse MuseumsBungalowSubscribe to Arts & Crafts HomesDigital Editions
    Doors & WindowsColonial RevivalOld House CommunityAdvertise
    Exterior Products & LandscapeGothicAbout Us 
    FlooringQueen AnneContact Us 
    FurnitureVictorianPrivacy Policy
    HardwareLand for Sale
    Heating & CoolingSite Map
    Home Décor
    Period Lighting
    Real Estate
    Repair & Restoration
    Roofing & Siding
    Tools & Equipment

    Designer Sourcw e bookHistoric Home Show Logo

    Copyright © 2011-2017 Old House Online