Nestled amid the homes, shops and public buildings of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area
are the 18th-century-style gardens of the restored city. A quick detour down any garden path
leads even the most observant guest into a labyrinth of garden spaces, each geometrically
Colonial Williamsburg boasts more than 65 gardens in the Historic Area and other historic properties nearby. Beginning in the 1920s, Colonial Williamsburg landscape architects sought inspiration from English-Anglo-Dutch gardens, American colonial sites and surviving colonial gardens of the American South. Archeological excavations conducted on sites within Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area confirmed the rough layout of the lots that made up the colonial city by exposing what had been the original placement of walks, fence lines and outbuildings that together revealed the organization of each property.
The complex of gardens at Colonial Williamsburg's Governor's Palace, spread over 10 acres, resembles English country estates during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II. Three original features from the 18th century remain: the ice mount, the falling gardens (terraces) and canal. [Photo credit: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.]
The majority of Colonial Williamsburg’s gardens were planted between the 1930s and the 1960s in the Colonial Revival style. This design style reflected early 20th-century tastes and the desire on the part of the public to relish a nostalgic—yet not necessarily authentic vision of our colonial past.
This beautiful Colonial Revival garden next to Christiana Campbell's Tavern features a geometric pattern with nine planting beds and a tiered topiary yaupon holly in the central circle. Flowering dogwoods, oak leaf hydrangeas and red cedars create seasonal interest. [Photo credit: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.]
John Blair Sr., an 18th-century Burgess and auditor general of the colony from 1738-71, had a love of gardening. The historic home that bears his name features a small herb garden, reminiscent of the "physick" gardens popular in the 17th century. The parterres are filled with fragrant herbs.[Photo credit: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.]
Ongoing research continues to provide more information and a better understanding of 18th century Williamsburg gardens. Additional research undertaken by the Colonial Williamsburg landscape staff is aimed at finding additional period plants, particularly vegetables and flowers, and placing them in the appropriate gardens. The past 15 years have seen the emergence of “landscape archeology,” an increasingly refined subspecialty that may determine garden features and plants grown in or near excavated areas.
At the Colonial Garden and Nursery, costumed gardening staff go about their day-to-day chores while educating guests on 18th-century Virginia gardening, tools and techniques. In addition, guided garden tours offer guests an opportunity to learn about colonial gardens and the evolution of the garden design and interpretation in Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area.[Photo credit: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.]
As in the past, research centers on old insurance records, deeds, letters, maps and other documentation. Descriptions of garden sizes and layouts, building and plant materials, and architectural features often surface in simple correspondence passed down through family archives.
The pleasure garden at the Wythe House is lined with tree boxwood topiary. The orchard and kitchen garden are nearby. [Photo credit: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.]
A large amount of Colonial Williamsburg’s garden information is related to affluent Virginians. For example, at the Governor’s Palace, in addition to the abundance of information uncovered by archeological excavations conducted there in the 1930s, an 18th-century copper plate engraving, known as the Bodleian Plate, revealed some detailed design features both in the forecourt of the Palace and at the rear where diamond shaped beds and symmetrical privies could be discerned. The Bodleian Plate proved invaluable in helping to accurately restore the Anglo-Dutch Palladian gardens of the once grand Governor’s Palace.
The utilitarian gardens reveal the more immediate needs of the majority of 18th-century Williamsburg’s citizens. Although the larger field crops such as corn, tobacco and grains were grown outside the city limits, many fruits, vegetables and herbs grown in kitchen gardens in town provided a plethora of edible items for the stew pot or table. Original species, or “heirloom varieties,” grown by the colonists are continually identified and collected so that they can be grown in Williamsburg’s gardens.
Above Photo: This pleasure garden is partially enclosed by English boxwood and features formal paths made of crushed shell and brick. [Photo credit: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.]
Guests can take home a bit of greenery with plants from the Colonial Garden and Nursery. Heirloom seeds and garden implements also are on sale. [Photo credit: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.]
Young guests visiting Colonial Williamsburg's Benjamin Powell House can get their hands dirty while working in the garden. Children can hoe weeds and pick vegetables. [Photo credit: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.]
The untold story of Williamsburg’s professional gardeners is the focus of the Colonial Garden and Nursery on Duke of Gloucester Street, across from Bruton Parish Church. Here costumed gardening staff go about their day-to-day chores while educating guests on 18th-century Virginia gardening, tools and techniques. In addition, guided garden tours offer guests an opportunity to learn about colonial gardens and the evolution of the garden design and interpretation in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. For more information visit www.history.org
Explore a famous historic garden that blooms year after year. Choose from the many in Europe and America - Biltmore House, Williamsburg, and Chatsworth home. Find garden pictures for inspiration for your own garden design or landscape design. A historic garden represents the true art of gardening. Historic Garden Pictures >>