Colonial Garden Inspiration


I’m still recovering for my week as a chaperone for my daughter’s fifth grade class trip. It was a whirlwind colonial adventure —75 kids, 25 chaperones and 4 very dedicated teachers. We traveled through Philadelphia, DC, Williamsburg and then circled back to DC. After all our whining about the drought here, being in the middle of constant weather changes — from extreme heat to cool downpours —made us appreciate our temperate Santa Barbara a little more…along with my own bed!

I was constantly inspired by the gardens — treks to places like Mt. Vernon and Monticello expect inspiration, but I was thrilled with amazing sights in the Williamsburg area, too.


Among the chaperones we had a running Mary Ann vs. Ginger kind of discussion regarding what homes and gardens we like the best. Are you Mt. Vernon or Monticello? Read on to guess which camp I claimed as my own.

Our first stop was George Washington’s Mt. Vernon.


The lower garden at Mt. Vernon was devoted completely to veggies. Martha was diligent about keeping it producing at maximum levels, my kind of gal.


Two cisterns flagged the lower garden for easy watering.  I love how spaces are created using the fences planted with espalier apples. More fruit trees boarded the garden walls, which created a nice and warm growing environment in the cooler months.


Mt. Vernon lower garden with cistern

My mind went into overdrive with new/old ideas for my garden at home.


Back in the day, the tremendous volume of guests and visitors meant the need for more space to grow veggies and fruits.  The upper garden became a mixed use of pleasure and purpose — flowers boarded the pathways, while veggies filled in the middle, with absolutely beautiful results.

Upper garden at Mt. Vernon

Check out the greenhouse below. Can you imagine???


In front of the greenhouse, there is formal box-hedge design. The gardener told me it takes about 100 hours of pruning a year to keep it looking tip top.


Peonies, which aren’t successfully grown in Santa Barbara gardens, were especially adored by our group.


I swooned over this whimsical border mix of nasturtium and viola.


Then came the grandeur of Monticello.  Exploring the 1,000 ft. of garden was a spectacular journey.  I bought some seeds from the gift shop for my 20 ft. garden at home. What this photo doesn’t show is this is a terraced garden that looks over 8 acres of fruit trees and vineyard.



1,000 foot garden at monticello

I loved the garden markers — functional, flexible, fabulous.


The guided tour of the house was extraordinary, just the right amount of education and entertainment — but no photos, please.


Well, maybe I snuck one or two of the kitchen.



The Jamestown Settlement was obviously less refined but equally fascinating.  Hearing about how much trial and error went into learning to grow a successful garden in a new climate, a garden that was depended on for life or death food supply, gives you perspective pretty damn quick.



Moving along to Williamsburg, which was more picturesque and pristine than I ever imagined.


Home and garden in Williamsburg

This is the vegetable garden right in town.  I enjoyed seeing all of the various trellising methods and the use of cheesecloth  to discourage cabbage bugs.


I’m looking forward to taking some of this inspiration from both the grand and smaller gardens and incorporating them in my own backyard. First, I think I’ll take a little rest and recuperation time — thankful for the adventure, memories, education…and the fact that I have two years to gear up for doing it all again with my younger daughter.