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Williamsburg Garden Tour Highlights

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A spectacular moment for the Wisteria

During my recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, I was part of group taken through the gardens by Laura Viancour, Director of Garden Programs.  Laura's focus was on gleaning design ideas and lessons from the historic sites to use in contemporary design.  She also pointed out that flower gardens were limited in the colonial period  in favor of food production since there was no Fresh Direct to call for a delivery.  Unless of course, you were the royally appointed governor, in which case, you had plenty of money, space, hands and influence to have food grown for you and maintain extensive ornamental garden spaces.

Needless to say, there was and is plenty to see and learn from a visit.  And if you'd like more information on some of the historic plants that are in the gardens of Colonial Williamsburg, you have to get your hands on Flowers and Herbs of Early America, the beautifully shot and informative book from Yale University Press by Larry Griffith, Curator of Plants for Colonial Williamsburg.  In the meantime, have a look at some of the things we saw this past week in bloom and leaf (or not!) in the gardens.

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Laura Viancour, our guide and walking encyclopedia for all things historic and horticultural at Colonial Williamsburg, standing under one of the many magnificent trees on the grounds, this being a live oak

1 Laura Viancour, our guide and walking encyclopedia for all things historic and horticultural at Colonial Williamsburg, standing under one of the many magnificent trees on the grounds, this being a live oak

The Orlando Jones oval garden rung in white tulips and boxwood framing a paper mulberry, one of my favorite gardens for the layout and utility buildings.

2 The Orlando Jones oval garden rung in white tulips and boxwood framing a paper mulberry, one of my favorite gardens for the layout and utility buildings.

Laura was telling us how the Harry Potter-esque mulberry had been blown apart and over, yet would not give and flourished again after major storm damage.

3 Laura was telling us how the Harry Potter-esque mulberry had been blown apart and over, yet would not give and flourished again after major storm damage.

A lovely row of multi-trunk crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica. With multi trunk growth, you get a broader shade canopy and stronger graphic outline.

4 A lovely row of multi-trunk crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica. With multi trunk growth, you get a broader shade canopy and stronger graphic outline.

The streaked, exfoliating, or peeling bark is as big an allure as the flowers.

5 The streaked, exfoliating, or peeling bark is as big an allure as the flowers.

Gelsemium sempervirens, or yellow jessamine, winding around and over the top of a picket fence.

6 Gelsemium sempervirens, or yellow jessamine, winding around and over the top of a picket fence.

Gelsemium is a native to the South Eastern U.S., hardy to Z7, is evergreen and beautifully fragrant as you can see garden designer Mary Hayward's nose knows.

7 Gelsemium is a native to the South Eastern U.S., hardy to Z7, is evergreen and beautifully fragrant as you can see garden designer Mary Hayward's nose knows.

One of several vegetable gardens on the grounds. The IMP staff used chicken wire to keep rabbits out and shrouded the wire in burlap, which is a clever and very attractive solution.

8 One of several vegetable gardens on the grounds. The IMP staff used chicken wire to keep rabbits out and shrouded the wire in burlap, which is a clever and very attractive solution.

Cheese cloth is used as a barrier to keep out cabbage loopers, another easy-to-look-at pest solution.

9 Cheese cloth is used as a barrier to keep out cabbage loopers, another easy-to-look-at pest solution.

Scores of enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers help to make Williamsburg the special place it is and here is a crew of gardeners out early on a Saturday morning planting veg.

10 Scores of enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers help to make Williamsburg the special place it is and here is a crew of gardeners out early on a Saturday morning planting veg.

Sigh! A ravishing Camellia in peak bloom...

11 Sigh! A ravishing Camellia in peak bloom...

Waiting it's turn to leaf out, a pollarded Sycamore, looking for all the world like a folk art creation from the nearby Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

12 Waiting it's turn to leaf out, a pollarded Sycamore, looking for all the world like a folk art creation from the nearby Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

Colonial Nursery manager Don McElvey with a beautiful, period copper water can. Don works the grounds of the nursery tending the displays and know his stuff.

13 Colonial Nursery manager Don McElvey with a beautiful, period copper water can. Don works the grounds of the nursery tending the displays and know his stuff.

A hot box at the nursery which is basically a cold frame filled with fresh manure as a heat source and topped with soil to plant in, a 'heated greenhouse', of sorts. A great 'green' idea that still works.

14 A hot box at the nursery which is basically a cold frame filled with fresh manure as a heat source and topped with soil to plant in, a 'heated greenhouse', of sorts. A great 'green' idea that still works.

Arbors, trellises, wattle fencing and growing frames all fabricated from Vitex branches lashed together with leather. Jute is a contemporary tying substitute for these easy, appealing and practical structures.

15 Arbors, trellises, wattle fencing and growing frames all fabricated from Vitex branches lashed together with leather. Jute is a contemporary tying substitute for these easy, appealing and practical structures.

Geometric beds with scarlet red Parrot tulips, and sky blue Ipheion uniflorum or Spring Starflower, once called Brodia, then Tritelia, and now Tristagma uniflorum. This is the modern world!

16 Geometric beds with scarlet red Parrot tulips, and sky blue Ipheion uniflorum or Spring Starflower, once called Brodia, then Tritelia, and now Tristagma uniflorum. This is the modern world!

You can start to see the hot magenta Dianthus coming into bloom along with the copper red Cotinus leaving out. A bracing color combo whose time, I think, has come again.

17 You can start to see the hot magenta Dianthus coming into bloom along with the copper red Cotinus leaving out. A bracing color combo whose time, I think, has come again.

A parterre at the Governor's Palace, still a captivating design from the 18th century.

18 A parterre at the Governor's Palace, still a captivating design from the 18th century.

The classic allee, one of two that flank the promenade area, using beech trees for the structure.

19 The classic allee, one of two that flank the promenade area, using beech trees for the structure.

More parterres, edged in box and filled with tulips, give a very European sensibility. It is the nicest place for an afternoon stroll out of the sun.

20 More parterres, edged in box and filled with tulips, give a very European sensibility. It is the nicest place for an afternoon stroll out of the sun.

One of several gorgeous, floral inspired garden ornaments.

21 One of several gorgeous, floral inspired garden ornaments.

A native azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum, or flame azalea, one of several that lined a wall in the Palace garden.

22 A native azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum, or flame azalea, one of several that lined a wall in the Palace garden.

A life size maze clipped from Ilex vomitoria, or yapon holly. Laura loves it's durability, resilience, and the way it takes to being clipped, much more so than boxwood.

23 A life size maze clipped from Ilex vomitoria, or yapon holly. Laura loves it's durability, resilience, and the way it takes to being clipped, much more so than boxwood.

A perfect circle void in the garden wall offset by the geometry of the bench. This is classic, timeless garden design.

24 A perfect circle void in the garden wall offset by the geometry of the bench. This is classic, timeless garden design.

A view from the canal, originally a water source for all the plant material grown on the Palace grounds, and now quiet retreat from the heat and bustle of the historic areas. Perfect, right?

25 A view from the canal, originally a water source for all the plant material grown on the Palace grounds, and now quiet retreat from the heat and bustle of the historic areas. Perfect, right?

Comments (3)

  • Colonial Williamsburg has so many beautiful gardens.

  • They really do and some truly great trees that are sooo nice to look at and see full grown. It's a great way to see how they can work in your garden design.

  • By my own series of fortunate events, the township of Williamsburg, there was and is plenty to see and learn. What have you visited soonce you last came? Room of improvement

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