Being new to Virginia, this year is the first I’ve heard of Historic Garden Week. I love beautiful gardens, as well as lovely and historic homes. Plus I thought I could learn a thing or two about the Commonwealth, history and gardening by checking out a few tours. I hope you’ll join me in the adventure.
Did you know that this year marks the 83rd Annual Virginia Historic Garden Week! Wow! How many fund-raisers do you know of that have been around over three quarters of a century. I’d say that’s quite a legacy. Add to that the fact that all tour proceeds fund the restoration and preservation of many of Virginia’s historic public gardens and landscapes, a research fellowship program and a new partnership with Virginia State Parks.
I wanted to see one of the first tours of the week to get a taste of what could be ahead so I’d know how to plan. I live in Hampton Roads, so I chose the Isle of Wight Tour on Saturday. It’s an area that I hadn’t visited yet, which was an added bonus. Rain was threatening, but I decided to take a chance anyway since I knew that at least some of the tour would be inside.
I neglected to buy my ticket in advance online, so I stopped at Tour Headquarters located in front of Boykin’s Tavern. Note: If you wait until the day of the tour you’ll pay a higher ticket price. Usually $5 more than the online price. Not a huge deal, but just wanted you to be aware.
Now remember, I’m an “historic garden tour” virgin, so I was expecting tours of historic gardens. Silly me. The Isle of Wight tour didn’t include any garden tours per se. Mainly historical home tours with lovely floral arrangements sprinkled both inside and out. All were donated by creative and talented gardeners from the sponsoring garden clubs nearby. Each location was hosted by several members of the garden clubs as well. In most cases there was a host(ess ) in each room of the house and outside to answer questions or share about items of interest.
Don’t get me wrong, I was a little puzzled by this, but not really too disappointed since I was able to see 7 unique properties, dozens of gorgeous arrangements and even learn a few things that I wasn’t expecting. Also, in reading about some of the tours in other areas, there ARE garden tours in some regions. I’m hoping to catch one or two of those this week as well.
One understandable, but disappointing rule is that there is no photography permitted inside the homes. Of course, this makes perfect sense since this is someone’s private space and there could be valuable items that they don’t want published for the whole world to see. It does, however make it a little more difficult for a post like this one.
I had so much fun that I could go on and on about each site, but to keep things simple, here are the locations in the order that I visited, with a tidbit about each one. When you’re finished with the list, click on the last photo to get to the photo album and more details.
- Boykins Tavern in Isle of Wight – (circa 1790) – Local historian Albert P. Burckard portrayed Major Francis Boykin and greeted guests, answered questions and shared historical insights about the tavern.
- Davis Day House in Smithfield (c. 1850) – The original home was built in 1809. Two additional wings were recently added that are a gorgeous complement to the original structure. In addition to a gorgeous home and expansive grounds, the owners of this property raise prize-winning Gypsy Vanner horses. Guests were given the chance to see these magnificent steeds courtesy of Mokete’s Village, their family business.
- Six Oaks – also in Smithfield (c. 1750) – this quaint Tidewater cottage included a staircase painted to look like book spines. There was also a small flower garden onsite with a helpful volunteer to answer questions.
- Saint Luke’s Church in Smithfield (c. 1632) – Gorgeous stained glass and a knowledgable tour guide, Collin made this stop so memorable. They also have a variety of opportunities for volunteering if you’re so inclined.
- Oak Level/Young House in Smithfield – (building began in 1768) – The Young family, who lived here for generations, is credited with hiding all the county records for safe-keeping during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Because of this, Isle of Wight records are some of the oldest in the nation, dating back to the 1600’s. These documents provide valuable information to historians, geneologists and more.
- Darden Homestead in Windsor – (1850) – Homeowner William (Billy) Bell was kind enough to share his process for smoking ham and allowed guests to take in the wonderful sights and scents of his smokehouse. (photo at right)
- Colonel Thomas Darden Home, also in Windsor (built in 1834) – What a treat to have one of the family members onsite to answer questions. Hannah Wise not only shared personal stories from her experiences at the house as a child, she also confirmed that she painted lovely expansive murals on the walls of the entry hall. She even made an exception and allowed me to take a photo of her next to one of her paintings. (see photo in link below)
Thanks for joining me for a lovely day. By the way, the rain only fell when I was inside a restaurant taking a lunch break, so that worked out well.
Check back next week or sign up to receive future posts because I’ll be visiting more of the Historic Garden Tours and I can’t wait to share them with you!
Have you ever done an Historic Garden Tour? If so, I’d love to hear about your favorites so I can try to catch them next year.