The Library of Virginia
 

 

 

December 6, 2000-May 12, 2001

Exhibit open Monday-Saturday, 
9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

800 East Broad Street  
Richmond, VA 23219-8000

804/692-3500  

Pleasure in the Garden

A Landscape Exhibit
at the Library of Virginia  

Pleasure in the Garden - A Landscape Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

 

 

Pleasure in the Garden - A Landscape Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

In his 1705 History and Present State of Virginia, Robert Beverley asked of his readers, "Have you pleasure in a Garden?" He continued, "all things thrive in it, most  surpriseingly; you can't walk by a Bed of Flowers, but besides the entertainment of their Beauty, your Eyes will be saluted." Vegetable garden, flower garden, orchard, kitchen garden, pleasure garden-Virginians tilled and planted a variety of gardens from the beginning of settlement. Gardens not only provided food but also offered pleasing and colorful vistas as well as places for leisure. Wealthy planters oversaw creation of formal gardens with geometric shapes and graveled walks. As cities and towns grew, Virginians turned away from large gardens to backyard plots that provided vegetables, herbs, and fruits as well as flowers. At the heart of gardening and landscape design was a desire to impose order on the landscape.
Colonial Virginians did not lack for hints on how to lay out gardens, what to grow, or how to harvest. Between 1730 and 1750, English publishers issued twenty-four garden books; between 1765 and 1785 sixty-six books on gardening appeared in print. Works on gardening and husbandry provided detailed instructions on what elements made up a "compleat garden." The ideal garden consisted of six parts: a pleasure garden, a kitchen garden, an orchard, a park, an orangery or greenhouse, and a menagerie. The pleasure garden was the most elaborate, with geometric plantings, terraces, fountains and pools, alleÚs, and arbors. But, as gardeners-turned-writers noted, orchards and kitchen gardens also afforded pleasure in attractive and diverse varieties of plantings. Although flowers mingled with herbs and vegetables in early Virginia gardens, gradually landscape gardeners advocated plantings of shade trees, shrubbery, and ornamental trees to achieve a naturalistic design that reflected yet minimized human intervention.

Pleasure in the Garden - A Landscape Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

Pleasure in the Garden - A Landscape Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

Virginia's early gardeners participated in a lively trade of seeds and plants. During the 18th century John Custis, of Williamsburg, maintained an extensive correspondence with Peter Collinson, of London, and sent cuttings and seeds from his Williamsburg gardens. By the end of the Revolution, seedsmen and nurserymen were advertising an amazing array of fruit trees, shrubs, and seeds to Virginia gardeners. Calendars, gardening books that detailed monthly activities, often included listings of plants with both common and scientific names, according to the Linnean classification. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both experimented with plant production and carefully supervised their gardens, adapting European gardening styles to their Virginia lands.
Early gardening books suggested that gardens and orchards be sited south of the dwelling, which would provide protection from north winds. Large landowners in colonial Virginia created formal gardens as displays of wealth and education. Laying out a successful formal garden required familiarity not only with the classics and aesthetics, but also, and more important, geometry, botany, husbandry, surveying, and architecture. By the nineteenth century, American horticulturists were writing how-to books filled with hints on gardening and landscaping.  The Horticulturist and other monthly magazines offered advice on garden design, soil conditioning, and appropriate plants. Suburban houses replicated the traditional farm with a detached house surrounded by the front lawn (the meadow) and the backyard (the garden). Gardeners experimented with exotic plants or unusual combinations to achieve painterly compositions.

Pleasure in the Garden - A Landscape Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

Pleasure in the Garden - A Landscape Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

Public parks and pleasure gardens offered respite and entertainment for city dwellers. Pleasure gardens incorporated ornamental plantings with small buildings for concessions and entertainments. Public cemeteries, such as Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, through its curving roads and plantings of native trees, doubled as attractive parks where city dwellers could picnic, learn something about contemporary sculpture, or contemplate their mortality.
Women had long been responsible for kitchen gardens to provide both vegetables for the table and medicines to treat sickness. Housekeeping manuals and gardening books recommended that children garden to learn responsibility. Girls and women kept gardens for healthful exercise and to provide flowers for their houses. Women also organized garden clubs to encourage gardening. In 1913 the Warrenton Garden Club, established in 1911, became one of twelve founding clubs of the Garden Club of America. The Virginia clubs joined together in 1920 to form the Garden Club of Virginia, which, in 1922, established a conservation committee to promote roadside beauty and protection of native flora. Beginning in 1929 the Garden Club of Virginia sponsored the Historic Garden Week to raise funds for education and garden research and restoration. Kenmore, the home of Colonel Fielding Lewis and his wife Betty Washington Lewis, was the first site to receive the largesse of the Garden Club of   Virginia. Landscape architects Charles Gillette and Arthur Shurcliff created heritage gardens that made use of archaeological and document research but that evoked, rather than re-created, the colonial world.

Pleasure in the Garden - A Landscape Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

 

Pleasure in the Garden - A Landscape Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

Pleasure in the Garden - A Landscape Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

Magazines dedicated to interior design and home improvement included photographs and articles on historic gardens. Marketed to amateur gardeners living in suburbs, these publications spurred an intense interest in heirloom plants to recapture the flowers and plants available to Virginians of earlier times. More important, magazines such as House and Garden, Ladies' Home Journal, House Beautiful, Country Life in America, and many others disseminated styles of gardening for different climatic zones and, through illustrated articles, offered proof that gardening was a democratic hobby that repaid practitioners with satisfaction and pleasure.
   

Related Resources

Charles F. Gillette Photograph Collection
Genius in the Garden: Charles F. Gillette and Landscape Architecture in Virginia