Spring is the season for house and garden tours. One of the first finds tour-goers heading south for Historic Garden Week in Virginia from Saturday through April 25. Billed as "America's Largest Open House," Garden Week celebrates its 60th anniversary this year with 35 tours scheduled over the nine-day period. Over the years, more than $5 million has been raised by the Garden Club of Virginia to restore historic gardens and grounds in Virginia.
Two hundred eight of the state's private homes will be open for tour along with 50 historic landmarks, some of which are still maintained by descendants of their original Colonial builders. Visitors can view some of the country's loveliest private gardens, stately river plantations, homes with interesting histories, and just about every architectural style, ranging from pre-Revolutionary War log homes to modern free-form structures. Most of the homes will be open to the public for the first time. One garden in Staunton has over 2,000 roses, and on the Eastern Shore of Virginia you can see one of the finest boxwood gardens in the country. In Charlottesville, the beautiful gardens of multibillionaire John Kluge should not be missed.
The Charlottesville-Albemarle County tour (April 18-22) pays /^ tribute to the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson with guided walks in the gardens at his home, Monticello; lectures on 18th-century horticulture; a champagne and candlelight tour at Ash Lawn-Highland and visits to numerous buildings designed by Jefferson. The Alexandria tour (Saturday) and Fredericksburg tour (April 20) feature a number of homes associated with George Washington; Mount Vernon is included on the Alexandria tour. In Orange and Madison counties, the President Madison Family Tour (Saturday) features five homes owned at one time by the president's family.
You can see the oldest documented brick house in English North American, Bacon's Castle, which also boasts the best-preserved century garden in the country. Another James River plantation open for tour is Belle Air, one of the country's oldest frame homes.
Other attractions include 18th-and 19th-century antiques, fully decorated miniature mansions, collections of trains and military figures, and Robert E. Lee and Andrew Jackson memorabilia.
For a 200-page guidebook, send $2 to Historic Garden Week in Virginia, 12 East Franklin St., Richmond, Va. 23219, or call (804) 644-7776.
Gunston Hall activities
In conjunction with Historic Garden Week, Gunston Hall Plantation in Lorton, Va., plans a number of activities Saturday and next Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The mansion was built in 1755 by statesman George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and framer of the Constitution.
Next weekend, living-history interpreters will play the roles of members of the Mason family and their servants. They will show spring cleaning activities: how winter soot was cleaned from housewares, herb bags were used to sweeten stored linens, and bed bugs and other pests were exterminated. Housekeeping skills will be taught along with demonstrations of open-hearth cooking.
An elaborate three-course tea will be served from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The $13 fee includes the tea, tour of the house and grounds and living history activities. Reservations are recommended. Admission (without the tea) is $5. Call (703) 550-9220.
Thomas Jefferson was born 250 years ago on Tuesday, an occasion that sets off a year-long celebration throughout Virginia and in the city of Philadelphia. Jefferson lived there from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia was the nation's capital and he was serving as our first secretary of state and later as the second vice president.
Jefferson's home, Monticello, will be the site for a large number of celebrations. An exhibition, "The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello,"opens there on Tuesday and runs through December. The exhibition features more than 150 rare objects once owned by Jefferson that have not been at Monticello since his death in 1826. The University of Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg, Ash Lawn-Highland, Tuckahoe Plantation and other sites connected to Jefferson will hold lectures, exhibits, re-enactments and commemorative ceremonies during 1993.
In Charlottesville, Va., on Tuesday, a commemorative ceremony will be held at Shadwell, Jefferson's birthplace, at 7:30 a.m.; another one is scheduled at Monticello at 2:30 p.m. A Founder's Day celebration at the University of Virginia lists several events throughout the day, including a tree-planting ceremony, a children's party on the lawn, a concert by the Monticello Trio and fireworks. Admission is free. Call (804) 982-1900.
Furnace Town, on the site of the old Nassawango Iron Furnace in Snow Hill, will sponsor its annual Revolutionary War Encampment Saturday and next Sunday.