Williamsburg gardens get financial tending

March 26, 2006|By KATHY VAN MULLEKOM | KATHY VAN MULLEKOM,DAILY PRESS

COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- There are 100 gardens covering 301 acres in Colonial Williamsburg: everything from the kitchen garden at the James Geddy House to the sheared hollies and hedges at the Governor's Palace.

Maintaining those gardens keeps 50 volunteers and 50 full-time gardeners clipping, digging and raking. That labor force needs bushels of money for plants, tools and payroll.

Donors recently gave gifts of $200,000 to $2 million to ensure five gardens get what they need to thrive. A small sign in each garden recognizes the contribution.

"These gifts are definitely important to the longevity of gardens at Colonial Williamsburg," says Laura Viancour, coordinator of garden programs. "The gardens take a lot of work."

She's right on the money when she talks about the high-maintenance needs of 18th-century gardens. Frequent shearing keeps topiaries tidy, pruning trains fruit trees to espalier or grow flat on a trellis or wall, and the branches of plants are woven, or pleached, to form living arbors. Plus, there are always thousands of bulbs to plant.

But it's that kind of attention to detail and authenticity that prompts people such as Sylvia Boecker and Michael Jackson of Williamsburg to give money toward the upkeep of the Alexander Craig House Garden. The couple frequently visited Williamsburg before moving there from Virginia Beach and Chicago, and made a habit of buying cookies at the Raleigh Tavern Bakery, which overlooks the garden.

Visitors can easily spot the Alexander Craig House Garden when strolling down Duke of Gloucester Street. It and the other endowed gardens are historically known as "gentry pleasure gardens" with colorful plantings of fall- and spring-flowering bulbs and 18th-century-type annuals and perennials such as johnny-jump-ups, columbine, strawflowers, English daisies and wallflowers. Many of these Colonial-era flowers are not readily available through commercial growers, so staff and volunteer gardeners grow them in eight production greenhouses, Viancour says.

Colonial Williamsburg is also known for utilitarian plantings such as the kitchen garden, a concept that is growing in popularity and use again in today's homes. Usually near the back door, just steps away from the stove, the kitchen garden keeps a cook supplied with fresh vegetables and herbs. These 12 gardens and the Colonial Nursery demonstration site are labor intensive during spring and summer to enable visitors to see how lettuce, beans and carrots are cultivated.

"And there are always the weeds to contend with," Viancour says.

Other gardens getting monetary gifts include:

Custis Tenement Garden on Duke of Gloucester Street. The garden, endowed by Joanne and Ron Luich of East Lyme, Conn., is known as the "flag garden" because of its 16 triangular-shaped beds that form four crosses within the rectangular bed. The couple first visited Williamsburg in 1987.

David Morton Garden at Waller and York streets. The symmetrical formal garden, endowed by Carolyn and Jack Asher of Ambler, Pa., is shaded by American hornbeam trees. The Ashers came to Williamsburg on their honeymoon.

Orlando Jones Garden behind the Orlando Jones House on Duke of Gloucester Street. Endowed by John Cazier of Corona del Mar, Calif., the Dutch-English garden with flowers and topiaries, honors his wife, Carol Jones Cazier, who died in June 2004. "Carol loved the flowers and beauty of Colonial Williamsburg," he says. "The Orlando Jones seems a good fit as a most meaningful memorial for Carol."

Palmer House garden behind the Palmer House near the Capitol. The garden, endowed by the Bernard G. Rethore family from Paradise Valley, Ariz., is a tranquil corner where guests can relax and take in what's around them.

Kathy Van Mullekom writes for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va.

If You Go

The gardens

There are 100 gardens in Colonial Williamsburg, employing 50 full-time gardeners and 50 volunteers who give garden tours, help at the nursery and work in the gardens.

What to do

60th Williamsburg Garden Symposium -- April 30-May 3. Theme: "Celebrate the American Garden: Spaces for Relaxing and Entertaining." Speakers include Julie Moir Messervy, a landscape designer who writes for Fine Gardening magazine; Laura Riley, floricultural manager for the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va.; Pamela Harper, gardening author, photographer and resident of Yorktown, Va.; and Brent Heath, bulb expert and co-owner of Brent and Becky's Bulbs in Gloucester, Va. $300-$325. Optional workshops include container gardening, spring centerpiece and spring arrangement, for additional cost. Call 757-220-7255 or e-mail dchapman@cwf.org.

Garden tours -- Free garden tours are given from April to September with ticketed admission to the historic area. Specific tour times and other weekly events can be found at colonialwilliamsburg.org.

Colonial Nursery -- Garden historians Wesley Greene and Don McKelvey answer questions about and demonstrate 18th-century gardening practices; plants and gardening tools are also sold. Open from March to December; located along Duke of Gloucester Street. Free admission.

More information

The gardens and their plants are also featured online at colonialwilliamsburg.org.

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