||Number 9 January 2017
The busy months of preparing our gardens for a winter's rest are over, and we
wait with the anticipation of the first bud or bulb appearing in early spring. This issue of Restoration News is filled with topics we hope will inspire and inform you.
We invite you to attend the biennial Maintenance Workshop on February 22 at the Kent-Valentine House in Richmond. The focus will be a fresh perspective on restorations with emphasis on garden preparation and maintenance. You will be receiving details on our speakers in the weeks to come.
For the first time, the featured gardener is an archaeologist. Jack Gary, Director of Archaeology and Landscape at Poplar Forest, was interviewed to describe the meticulous steps that have been taken to authentically reproduce the original landscape as it was in Mr. Jefferson's time at his retreat around 1812.
I hope you enjoy this edition of Restoration News, and I look forward to meeting you and thanking you for your stewardship of Virginia's historic gardens on February 22.
Dianne Spence The Williamsburg Garden Club
Chairman, GCV Restoration Committee
The Garden Club of Gloucester
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017
9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
It is our pleasure to invite you to be our guests at Garden Club of Virginia's headquarters, Kent Valentine House in Richmond for a day of informative speakers, timely historic landscape topics, networking, and camaraderie. All gardeners, horticulturists, and maintenance staff from GCV's Historic Sites are welcome.
Our presentations this year will cover the topics of "Seed Saving," "Turfgrass Maintenance" and "Working with your GCV Liaison." GCV Landscape Architect Will Rieley and Dianne Spence, Chairman of the GCV Restoration Committee, will be speaking as well. A complimentary lunch will be included in the day's events and each attendee will receive a copy of the updated (and full color) Garden Maintenance Manual.
An email invitation with further details will be sent in early January.
We encourage early registration as space is limited to 80 participants.
We hope to see you there on February 22.
The Lynchburg Garden Club
Featured Historic Garden
St. John's Mews
In the shadow of historic St. John's Church, where Patrick Henry roused colonists with his "Give Me Liberty
or Give Me Death" speech, stands St. John's Mews. The Mews received its name from the cobbled alleyway, between 23rd and 24th streets, that once contained a row of stables with carriage houses below, living quarters above and with the narrow alley for access.
A major impetus for creating St. John's Mews was to preserve the outstanding cast iron architectural detail that was so prevalent on porches in the Church Hill neighborhood. Richmond and New Orleans contained
the finest examples of cast iron ornamentation in America during the Victorian period. Renowned foundries
in Richmond produced the elaborate and
unique cast iron seen throughout the city.
The Mews was originally designed by Ralph Griswold in 1964 as a Garden Club of Virginia restoration project. It was renovated in 2008 by GCV Landscape Architect, William D. Rieley and retains its original charm and grace. The Historic Richmond Foundation, created in 1956 to restore and preserve the historic area of Church Hill, oversees daily care and maintenance of the site today.
A lovely pierced brick wall forms the backdrop for a covered pavilion fronted with cast iron colonettes and elaborate iron benches. Additional cast iron benches and exquisite ornamental railings inserted into flanking brick walls add to the beauty and reflect Victorian traditions of Richmond's architecture. These cast iron elements were saved and incorporated by Mr. Griswold as architectural features at the Mews. The gravel paths, plantings and private niches on this site beckon visitors and neighbors alike to pause, sit and enjoy the quiet peace.
The Garden Club of Virginia's ongoing commitment to this property will include replacement of two trees to provide additional shade to the Mews. It is a wonderful example of a well-designed and oft-used community garden in the heart of a vibrant neighborhood.
The Tuckahoe Garden Club of Westhampton
Jack Gary, Director of Archaeology and Landscape at Poplar Forest
The Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar
Forest, a nonprofit organized in 1983, began the process of returning the landscape of Mr. Jefferson's retreat home, Poplar Forest, to his original plans. How does one know what the grounds looked like in 1812 when Mr. Jefferson was spending much of his time at this retreat?
Jack Gary, Director of Archaeology and Landscape at Poplar Forest, has spearheaded the efforts to uncover that original landscape.
Born and raised in nearby Roanoke, Mr. Gary actually did an internship at Poplar Forest as a teenager. A graduate of William and Mary with post degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Mr. Gary was lured back to Jefferson's retreat in 2006. Since then he has led the team of archaeologists to discover, among many other findings, the exact position and species of many of the important plantings that constituted the 1812 landscape.
Two sources guide the excavations. One is Mr. Jefferson's wonderful habit of copying every letter he wrote using his polygraph machine and writing down his thoughts on plants and their appropriate uses in landscape design. Mr. Gary's knowledge of Mr. Jefferson and his methods led him to believe that Mr. Jefferson would have planned some way to balance the East Wing with the blank space on the west side of the house. Mr. Gary searched the letters to find mention of Mr. Jefferson's love of paper mulberry (
) trees, which he stated were "charming near a porch for densely shading it." This led to the archaeological work itself, the second source. After patiently sifting through layer after layer of soil in the area flanking the west side, plant stains were discovered. (Plant stains are discolored or stained earth trailings in the soil that only a trained eye can distinguish.) These stains contain pollen grains that were sent off for analysis where
were identified. Thanks to the GCV, this mulberry allee has been replanted just as Mr. Jefferson imagined.
Further information from Mr. Jefferson's documents, research by GCV landscape architect Mr. William Rieley and archaeological findings, revealed plantings of formal "clumps" on either side of the entrance to the house. Unusual as they seem, Mr. Rieley's careful research tells us that they are indeed what Mr. Jefferson envisioned. The archaeology team, led by Mr. Gary, went to work to find exactly what plant was planted where. Again the GCV took on the responsibility of replacing these plantings. It will be interesting to watch the maturing process of these closely planted shrubs and trees.
The next phase of the landscape restoration involves the carriage turnaround at the front of the house. Archaeological work done by Mr. Gary and his team determined that the original roadway was composed of local stones randomly laid by enslaved laborers. Now the problem is to re-create something that looks like the original and yet will hold up to the standards and codes of spaces open to the public. The surface has to accommodate strollers, wheelchairs and persons with mobility issues and still look appropriate for the site.
More phases of restoration landscaping remain to be done at Poplar Forest such as the plantings along the sunken area in the rear of the house and the mounds. When these are completed, care of the resulting landscape will certainly require a head gardener, but, for now, Mr. Gary is the head gardener. His knowledge and excellent work give us the faith to know that the landscape restoration will be exactly what Mr. Jefferson would have viewed during his time at this beloved retreat.
Kay Van Allen
The Lynchburg Garden Club
Design Notes by William D. Rieley
||Mount Vernon's Upper Garden features herbs,vegetables and ornamentals.
Want to "re-create" a colonial Virginia herb garden?
One of the most common requests we get for designing landscape settings for colonial and federal period houses is for an "herb garden." There is a major problem with the desire for this particular landscape feature. There is no evidence that herbs were grown in separate gardens in Virginia during the 18th and early 19th centuries -- and certainly not in the intricate geometric patterns that are ubiquitous today at historic houses in our region.
Surely, herbs were grown in Virginia during this era. They were an important part of most vegetable gardens; but they were not segregated into separate gardens. As our friend Wesley Greene, recently retired gardener and garden historian at Colonial Williamsburg wrote:
"Herbs were also included in 18th-century kitchen gardens. There is no evidence, however, for anything resembling a 'colonial herb garden' like those that have been 're-created' at historic sites throughout the United States!"
The closest thing I know to a garden dedicated in this a way are two small subdivisions of Jean Skipwith's garden at Prestwould, near Clarksville, Virginia, where she designated planting of "Flowers and Simples" in the early 19th century. "Simples" refers to medicinal plants, and these would fall into the category of plants we might call herbs today; but it is important to remember that these two areas were within the larger garden proper -- not a separate stand-alone garden. It is also important to remember that home gardens --even for basic comestible vegetables -- were not as common as we might think during this era. This was a time when most American diets were dominated by meat and grains.
So, the creation of a "colonial or federal-period herb garden" at a historic site in Virginia is less likely to add to our understanding of historic garden patterns, and more likely to add an element that is, at its best, misleading. Unless this type of garden can be specifically verified by documentary and physical evidence for the site in question, it would be best to resist the impulse.
This is not to deny the presence of medieval (often monastic) herb gardens in Europe; but there is no evidence that this garden motif survived or was replicated in colonial- or federal-period American landscapes.
||Virginia Bluebell by Marsha Long
The Williamsburg Garden Club
A Plant Worth Knowing
One of the prettiest flowers to emerge in the early spring garden is the ephemeral beauty, Mertensia virginica, commonly known as the Virginia bluebell. A member of the Borage Family (Borinaceae), the flower is also known by the names Virginia cowslip, lungwort oysterleaf and Roanoke bells. This perennial is native to North America, and can be found mostly in the eastern half of North America. Linnaeus named the genus Mertensia for German botanist Franz Karl Mertens and its specific name virginica refers to the colony of Virginia where it was discovered. Virginian John Custis in his writing called the wildflower the "Mountain blew cowslip" and Thomas Jefferson is said to have grown them at Monticello. With all its storied connections to Virginia it seems the perfect plant to add to our historic landscapes.
Virginia bluebells grow in zones 3 to 9, and their bloom time in our area is usually March and April. They prefer a part-shade to shade location and thrive in moist, acidic, and humus-rich soil. A moist woodland setting in spring is ideal. Their leaves first appear as purple with the flower buds deep inside the leaves. As their buds emerge from the leaves, the cluster of nodding flowers grow and change magically from pink to a beautiful clear blue color. The leaves quickly turn gray-green as the plant matures and the flowers open more. The plant reaches a height of 18 to 24 inches and can naturalize in the garden given the right growing conditions. By early summer the plant will go dormant and will stay that way until the following spring. Seeds can be collected 3 to 4 weeks after blooming and should be sown right after collecting, or since Virginia bluebells reseed very well, just dig up the volunteer seedlings to transplant elsewhere in your garden.
The Lynchburg Garden Club
Did You Know?
"Natural" Applications for the Garden
- Distilled white vinegar can be used to kill weeds that grow in brick walks or terraces. Mix 1.5 (5 liters) gallon jug of vinegar and 1.5 teaspoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid in watering can or sprayer and apply to surface. Best done on a sunny, warm day. Weeds will dry brown in a day or so and can be raked up. Two applications throughout the growing season will keep the weeds at bay.
- Beer traps for slugs really do work. Research shows light beers work best. Refill the traps with fresh, undiluted beer after rain or watering the plants.
- "Falling gold"- don't throw away the leaves in the fall cleanup of the garden. Chop them up by running the mower repeatedly over them or run through a chopper/spreader. After the first frost, spread 2" over flower beds to protect them from harsh winter conditions and freezing and heaving. The mix will feed the soil, improve soil texture and keep the earth worms and microbes busy.
- To prevent powdery mildew on peonies and phlox- Mix 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 1 tablespoon of horticultural oil (or vegetable oil) in a gallon of water. Spray weekly throughout the spring, using a new mix every time, and avoid overuse to prevent a buildup of salts in the soil.
Albemarle Garden Club
Before and After:
St. John's Mews
|Events of Interest at Historic Properties
Jan. 14 & 19, 2017, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Celebrating Robert E. Lee's Birthday. Visit the Great House, refreshments in the Visitor Center, and scavenger hunts for kids.
A Walk Through Maymont's Winter Wonderland
Feb. 28, 2017, 5-6:30 p.m.
Join Peggy Singlemann on a
wonder-filled winter walk through the Maymont gardens.
Celebrating 90 Years as a Museum
April 8-Sept. 5, 2017, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.
Before and after photographs bring the 1920s era to life.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
A Million Blooms
April 1-June 1, 2017
The Garden's Celebration of Spring. Events throughout the season.
Revolutionary War Weekend
May 6 & 7, 2017, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Re-enactment with 700 Continentals, Redcoats and Hessions.
21st Annual Historic Landscape Institute
Preserving Jefferson's Gardens and Landscapes
June 18-23, 2017
This one-week course uses Monticello and the University of Virginia as outdoor classrooms to study historic landscape preservation. Lectures, workshops, field trips and practical working experiences introduce students to the fields of landscape history, garden restoration and historical horticulture.
In recognition of generous support from the Harrison Foundation, graduates will be named Harrison Fellows of the Historic Landscape Institute. A fee is charged; application is required. Call (434) 984-9816 or visit monticello.org/hli
Thank you to Roxanne Brouse of Rieley and Associates for providing images.
Newsletter Editor: Judy Perry, The Elizabeth River Garden Club
Copy Editors: Candy Crosby, Albemarle Garden Club; Mary Ann Johnson, Roanoke Valley Garden Club
Technical Support: Ann Heller, Garden Club of Virginia
President of the Garden Club of Virginia: Nina Mustard, The Williamsburg Garden Club