Over the past 100 years, the women of the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV) have made it their priority to preserve Virginia’s natural landscapes and historic gardens, working to create a more beautiful Virginia for all to enjoy. While the projects and work of the Garden Club have grown and adapted, the mission remains just as important as ever: preserving the incredible natural beauty and environment of Virginia.
The Garden Club of Virginia is now a partnership of 3,400 community and civic leaders active in 48 garden clubs across the state and you can learn more at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture exhibit, “A Landscape Saved”. The exhibit celebrates 100 years of horticulture and preservation with stories, photographs and memorabilia and is open July 1-November 1, 2020.
One of the first projects the GCV took on in the 1920s was helping to establish the Virginia State Park System. By 1929, after completion of Shenandoah National Park, the women of the Garden Club of Virginia presented resolutions to the governor to allocate that more land should be preserved for state parks. This effort marked a huge milestone in conservation. To celebrate the 100th anniversary, the women of the GCV will continue their commitment to Virginia’s state parks by donating $500,000 in grants to support enrichment of the park’s projects and programs.
“In the early 19th century, there weren’t outlets for educated women to become politically active. They couldn’t vote yet,” says Garden Club of Virginia President Missy Buckingham. “Some worked for suffrage. For others, the formation of garden clubs was a way to be impactful in their own backyards and communities. These women changed the landscape of our country.” The impact of the Garden Club of Virginia on our landscape is certainly significant. From our state parks to the historic preservation work done on the grounds of Monticello, the women of the GCV have made a lasting impact on the state’s landscape.
Early Restorations of the Garden Club of Virginia
After helping establish our state parks, the GCV didn’t miss a beat. In 1929, the women restored Kenmore in Fredericksburg, the home of George Washington’s sister that has served as many things over the years. It has served as not only the final resting place for George Washington’s mother but also a plantation home and even a makeshift hospital for Union soldiers in the Civil War. Since this first restoration, the Garden Club has used proceeds from its annual Historic Garden Week event to fund restoration and preservation of over 50 completed projects. Some of these projects include the Mary Washington House, Poplar Forest, Washington & Lee University and even the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, to name a few.
If you’ve ever admired the flowers at Monticello, the terraced gardens of Montpelier, the shrubbery of Mount Vernon, or the gardens bordering UVA’s Lawn residences, you can thank the Garden Club of Virginia. Using historic sketches, plans, and letters written by the original owners, the women help to restore the gardens to their original intended vision. This allows us to enjoy each in its original beauty just as visitors would have in the 18th century. Each project is unique in size, scope and goal, showing the true adaptability and commitment to preservation of the GCV women.
2020 Tour Highlights
Each year, these restoration projects are made possible by funds raised during Historic Garden Week. The only statewide home and garden tour in the nation, Virginia Historic Garden Week allows garden enthusiasts to enjoy the natural beauty of some of the state’s oldest and most beautiful gardens. Although the 2020 schedule had to be cancelled, the 2021 line up will include 30 unique tours organized and hosted by 48 member clubs located from the foothills of the Shenandoah Valley all the way to the beaches of Tidewater. Throughout Central Virginia and almost to North Carolina, the full range of Virginia’s landscape is showcased through the tours hosted by member clubs.
Below, you’ll find highlights that you can enjoy comfortably from home. Some of these amazing properties may be on next year’s tour, but not all, so this may be your best chance to enjoy their beautiful grounds.
A special exhibit called “A Landscape Saved: The Garden Club of Virginia at 100” is currently running now through November 1 at The Museum of History & Culture in Richmond.
One of the more exciting additions to the 2020 schedule, that will unfortunately not return on the 2021 schedule, is Upper Bundoran. This home is just outside of Charlottesville, was built in 1951 and is surrounded by beautiful flowering gardens. Originally built by Elizabeth and Fred Scott, the home’s gardens and surrounding farmland are noticeably impacted by Elizabeth’s passion for plants, particularly trees and shrubbery. The gardens are surrounded by huge sugar maples, cork elms, chestnut oaks and American sycamores that the couple planted in the 50s.
In 2006, the Scotts sold the home. Since its original construction, gardens have been added to Upper Bundoran by subsequent owners. A new European-style courtyard, walled in on three sides and closed by a boxwood hedge, complete with a raised pond and fountain has been added where the garage used to reside. The current owner has planted a plethora of white flowering roses, heightening the already lovely gardens.
Middleburg’s 2020 Garden Tour Highlights
Among the exciting tours offered throughout the state is the lovely tour in Middleburg, which includes four unique historical homes with beautiful gardens. White Hall, a Greek-revival house built in 1903, is surrounded by trees, hydrangeas, boxwood, and crepe myrtles. Elysian Fields Farm offers a property featuring six separate structures connected through a series of gardens, paths and a reflecting pool. And, Ashleigh, a country home built in 1840, features wood panelling removed from the White House in the Hoover administration.
Oak Spring, the former home of noted art collector and philanthropist Bunny Mellon, was a new addition to this year’s Middleburg tour offerings, earning its own separate ticket due to the wide collection of art and the extensive gardens and allowing guests to see parts of the home usually closed to the public. Along with the home, this year’s tour was to include the gardens, formal greenhouse, Oak Spring Gallery and Broodmore Barn. The gardens, designed by Mellon herself, include both formal and informal spaces, interwoven with stone walls and brick paths, and features two reflecting pools along with a garden pavilion.
Along with Charlottesville and Middleburg, Lynchburg also stands out as a truly magnificent tour on the Historic Garden Week. Among the five homes on Lynchburg’s tour is Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, his retreat from the hustle and bustle of Monticello. Famous for its octagonal shape, the architecture of Poplar Forest is just as interesting as its gardens and landscape. Jefferson’s fascination with geometry is seen throughout the property and includes the massive carriage turnaround and double row of mulberry trees adjacent to the main building.
While Jefferson’s vacation home is certainly a notable stop on the Lynchburg tour, the tour is rife with beautiful homes and gardens.
209 Carters Grove Lane, also known as “Creekside,” is a two-acre property with gardens focusing on the natural plants and beauty of the Blue Ridge. The homes at 4941 Locksview Road and 4113 Peakland Place are both older with renovations completed in the last 10 years. Both homes also have extensive antique collections.
To round out the tour, guests visit can 3125 Rivermont Avenue, a home built in 1941 that centers around a three-foot by six-foot detailed replica of the U.S. Capitol Building. Along with the homes, the Lynchburg tour includes free admission to six gardens in the area, including the Sweet Briar Gardens and the Anne Spencer House and Garden.
Although the celebrations of the Garden Club of Virginia’s 100th year and the 2020 tours were cancelled, the beautiful homes, gardens and landscape of Virginia continue to speak to the past 100 years of work the women of the GCV have invested. Countless preservations and restorations have occurred thanks to the work of the Garden Club, not to mention the establishment of our incredible state park system. We look forward to the next century of incredible work the Garden Club of Virginia will most surely accomplish. Be sure to mark your calendar for the 2021 tours in April.
is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia and interns at Ivy Life & Style Media. In her free time, she enjoys reading, spending time with friends and exploring Charlottesville.
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