Historic Garden Week in Virginia began last week. Known as “America’s largest open house,” proceeds from the house and garden tours go to the restoration and preservation of historic gardens throughout the Commonwealth. For the voyeur it’s an opportunity to see the interior of some of the most interesting and historic houses in the United States.
We first encountered Garden Week in our pre-winery days, when we had such a thing as free time. Back in those carefree days we had a house on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and with friends went on a tour of the places open in on Virginia’s side. The most notable being Eyre Hall, which has been on the tour every year for many, many years. The owner has such a tradition of hospitality that anyone who wants to may come visit and stroll through the gardens, which are essentially unchanged since the 18th century. The property has been in the same family for some 12 generations. The house itself is open only during Garden Week, and is not to be missed. Other houses on the tours we made were equally striking. We are still haunted by the dining room at one house that bathed the visitor in the most amazing shade of coral, and another house had the misfortune of displaying antique China on virtually every surface — and sadly, one piece met its maker during our tour, to the horror of the multitude crowding the room.
There are three tours close to Annefield in Chatham (Sunday, April 21), Martinsville (Wednesday, April 24), and Danville (Thursday, April 25). By the time this post appears two of the three dates will have passed, but make a note to attend next year. Since these locations are open during the week, it would be impossible to combine the garden visits with a trip to see us — but then, these are all-day affairs and one would likely not have the time.
So — let’s plan our own house and garden tour! Only this one can be made throughout the season.
Begin with a visit to Prestwould, the magnificent circa 1797 Georgian mansion of Sir Peyton Skipwith and Jean, Lady Skipwith. Located just outside of the town of Clarksville, Prestwould is open to the public and is a landmark in garden history, being the creation of Jean, Lady Skipwith, the second wife of Sir Peyton Skipwith, seventh baronet. Her papers wound up in Williamsburg and provide great insight into 18th century garden history. Indeed, Prestwould is one of the best documented Antebellum plantations in Virginia, and it has one of the largest collections of slave writings in the nation. We first wrote about the family in another post a couple of years ago; see that post for background on the Skipwith family (“The Clarksville Lake Country Wine Festival (and an Unrelated Ghostly Tale”).
The house and garden are fascinating, with the house being especially well preserved, though the foundation that has owned the house since 1963 lacks the resources to maintain the garden to the standards of the Virginia Garden Club. In 1980 the gardens were restored with garden club resources and because of their inability to keep to the garden club’s standards, that organization released them from their obligation some years ago. Nevertheless, the gardens are definitely worth seeing, as is the house with its amazing collection of early American furniture and decorative arts.
There are several noteworthy examples of French scenic wallpaper at Prestwould. Pictured here is the Saloon, in which Humbert Skipwith installed a paper called Le Parc Français by the firm Jacquemart et Bérnard in 1831 and 1832 (the invoices survive among the Skipwith papers). The dining room features another Jacquemart paper, La Chasse de Compégne, a hunting scene first printed in 1814, and the drawing room behind the Saloon (through the door on the left pictured above) is Jean Zuber’s Jardins Français of 1822. Jacquemart is no longer in business, but the Zuber Company survives, and it possesses the original wood block prints of several of its 19th century scenic wallpapers and can print a set to order.
Some of the simpler wallpapers at Prestwould have have reproduced by Scalamandre and is still available (do a search for “Prestwould” on the site to find them). Exploring the house, gardens and grounds with its extensive outbuildings can occupy a good two hours, so plan to arrive early.
Follow your visit to Prestwould with lunch in Clarksville. There are a number of places to choose from, but a favorite for its commodious shaded terrace is Cooper’s Landing Inn & Traveler’s Tavern in Clarksville’s Historic District. Cooper’s doesn’t serve lunch on Saturdays, but they do serve brunch on Sundays, from 10 am to 3 pm. There are a number of other places, but a reliable choice for a casual lunch on Saturdays and Sundays is The Lake House a few blocks east of Cooper’s on Virginia Avenue.
From there, make your way to Chase City to see the MacCallum More Museum and Gardens, which has evolved into a cultural center featuring a permanent display of Indian artifacts and other items of local interest, and eclectic forma gardens featuring architectural elements from all over the world that were collected by Lucy Morton Hudgins, the wife of Edward Wren Hudgins, a former Chief Justice of The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and expanded by her son, Commander William Henry Hudgins, in the 1940s, 1960s, and 1970s. The house and grounds were recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Conclude your visit with a stop at Annefield and share a bottle of wine with a friend on the terrace overlooking the garden in the back of the house. Our own garden is coming along — the parterre is filling in nicely, though something happened to the yellow tulips we planted in 2011 (Tulip Monsella) — the squirrels must have consumed them. We do love the red tulips (Sky High Scarlet) dramatically bobbing above the grey-green foliage of the lavender. We’ll have to plant more this fall.
We’ve been waiting for the boxwood to gain a bit of mass before bringing some shape to it, and this year the plants are finally touching, so we will prune the boxwood this year. Traditionally the summer hedging takes place in England on Derby Day at Epsom, which is always the first Saturday in June. The gardeners picked that day because the Master of the House would otherwise be occupied with the races and not interfere, which makes perfect sense.
Prestwould Plantation, 429 Prestwould Drive, Clarksville, Virginia 23927 (434) 374.8672 (open May through October)
Coopers Landing Inn & Traveler’s Tavern, 801 Virginia Avenue, Clarksville, Virginia 23927 (434) 274.2866 (Sunday Brunch only)
The Lake House, 335 Virginia Avenue, Clarksville, Virginia 23927 (434) 374.4646 (lunch on Saturdays and Sundays)
MacCallum More Museum & Gardens, 603 Hudgins Street, Chase City, Virginia (434) 372.0502 (Gardens open daily 10 am to 5 pm; Museum open Monday through Friday 10 am to 5 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 1 pm.)
Annefield Vineyards, 3200 Sunny Side Road, Saxe, Virginia 23967 (434) 454.6017 (Annefield is open to the public on Saturdays, 11 am to 5 pm, and on Sundays by appointment.)