It’s easy for Georgetowners to get rather smug about our gardens. They are, after all, pretty fabulous.
But every April, the Charlottesville, Albemarle and Rivanna Garden Clubs see to it that the flora in and around Charlottesville, Virginia, give us a run for our gardening tools during the state’s Historic Garden Week.
Stops on the Albemarle County – Charlottesville tour, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, take you through Keswick Hunt country and include sweeping vistas, genteel plantations and quaint churches and farmhouses.
If the walls of these homes do the talking, the gardens do the singing, humming the tunes of their pasts with every petal and luscious bloom.
I hear the “tree walks” at Castle Hill, a 1764 Georgian clapboard, have lots of stories to share of the 1,600-acre expanse. Be sure to ask about the property’s interesting previous owners. They are as colorful as the tulips.
Then there’s the chestnut corn crib from 1850, the largest in the country, at Ben Coolyn, another stop. Say “hi” to Bud the Clydesdale while you’re there.
Animals are just as beloved as gardens in Charlottesville. At Grace Episcopal Church, as you’ll learn on the tour, parishioners are still blessing the hounds at the start of every hunt season, a beloved tradition dating to 1929. The Keswick Garden Club tends to the congregation’s appreciation of beauty by providing the sanctuary and parish hall arrangements, always inspired by their stained-glass windows.
The Garden Club of Virginia funded and restored the University of Virginia’s Pavilion Gardens and their signature serpentine walls, an act that must make Thomas Jefferson, a renowned nature guy, very pleased.
You can check out the rest of the campus’s Colonial Revival landscaping from the Rotunda looking out on the lawn, and also learn about the role of African Americans in the school’s gardens.
On your road trip, there are a couple of ideas you should bear in mind to round out your dive into Virginia’s natural beauty. The Birdwood Golf Course at Boar’s Head Resort is more than just a catchy name. It’s an 18-hole, par-72, Audubon-certified course, which will give you majestic views of the mountains and an earful of birdsong. Pack your binoculars.
I’d also suggest the Inn at Willow Grove, where not only will you get a personal butler and warm beignets every morning (reason enough), you’ll also be given tickets to Montpelier, the plantation of President James Madison. Sit on Jim and Dolley’s lawn with a blanket and the picnic lunch that the inn will prepare for you.
Six hundred acres right outside Keswick make up Castle Hill Cidery, built in 1764, whose owner, Thomas Walker, was a friend and mentor to Jefferson. The cidery’s barn will serve as tour headquarters. Its orchard ciders — perfect to pack for that picnic — will be available for sipping in the garden tour tasting room, with a food truck parked nearby.