Category Archives: Garden Travels

The Gardens of Onancock

Onancock1Virginia Historic Garden Week began in 1927 when the Garden Club of Virginia organized a flower show to save the trees Thomas Jefferson had planted on his Monticello lawn. This year, continuing the tradition of fundraising for restoration and preservation of Virginia’s historic public gardens, the Virginia Garden Tour Week ran from April 27 to May 4.

The Garden Week Guidebook is available online.  This year there were 31 tours hosted by 47 Garden Club of Virginia member clubs. The guidebook describes with pictures each of the 156 properties on tour this year. Over 3,000 volunteers work to make this oldest of garden tours a success.

For one blogger’s take on the Virginia garden tours read Kristin’s post on the topic in her her Countdown to Friday blog. She took the Richmond tour in 2018.

The garden club women of Virginia sure know how to arrange flowers. We were not allowed to photograph their arrangements but here is a peek at some posted on their site.

So three of us got in the car and journeyed down to the Virginia tip of the Eastern Shore on the last day of garden week. Our rewards were glorious spring sunshine, spectacular views of fields and bay, delightful creeks, historic houses and beautiful flowers. The docents, with their soft Virginia accents, were gracious and informative at every site.

 

Our first stop was 30 miles south of Onancock:  Eyre Hall plantation in Cheriton. It’s a National Historic Landmark that has been lovingly maintained by 8 generations of descendants of Littleton Eyre who inherited the King’s land grant and built the manor in 1758. Tall, ancient boxwoods  surround flower bed parterres. A peony garden overlooking fields and Cherrystone Creek was in full bloom. Crepe myrtles tower over mixed borders. The family graciously keeps the garden open to the public yearlong for free and without reservations.

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Ker Place

We motored back to Onancock where the rest of the Eastern Shore gardens were on view. Ker Place on Market Street served as the tour headquarters. It’s an elegant Federal style mansion that is now the home of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society. We enjoyed the pleasant grounds while we ate our bag lunches.

Then it was on to other houses, all walking distance in Onancock.

Scott Hall is the oldest house in town, built in 1769. In the back yard

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Scott Hall Cemetery

 

a gated iron fence encloses the family burial plot where the headstone of Commodore Zedechiah Whaley rests. Whaley died in the last naval battle of the Revolutionary War while chasing the British Royal Navy down the bay to Onancock. The British had been continuously harassing the farmers on the Maryland and Virginia creeks. That was the Battle of the Barges and took place on the day Great Britain and the United States signed a Treaty of Peace.

The Benjamin Fosque House was next. It’s a Victorian built in 1883 and has a serene garden of white-only flowers surrounding a swimming pool.

Onancock22The Grace Ames House is a relatively new vintage craftsman home. It’s a Montgomery Ward kit house built in 1927. All three homes have restful views of Onancock Creek.

Onancock4In Virginia we learned from the best. They know how to present a garden tour worth traveling to.

 

We Went Far Afield

The desert of Palm Springs, California is about as far as you can get geographically and ecologically on this continent from the watery world of the Eastern Shore. It is pure desert and dryness. Still, it’s part of our country and the versa to our vice.

We visited two gardens there, one a stylized, man-made, plant-sculpture garden and one created by the breathtaking long ago forces of nature. Both were impressive in desert beauty.

PS2Sunnylands Center and Gardens was the estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg, now a retreat center for the study of media, politics and society.  It’s called an “art garden.”  The video explaining the thought behind its creation is worth looking at. It shows a peaceful, lush desert garden with plants carefully selected for color and structure. There are 10 acres of native, drought-tolerant plantings arranged in single- species gardens to compliment the Annenberg collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. Art reproductions are seen throughout the house, as the original works now reside at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

PS6The Coachella Valley Preserve was our other garden visit. This 20,000 acre oasis sits smack on top of the San Andreas Fault.  Sulphur-laced water bubbles up through the fault line and fills the pools with milky water. California Fan Palms grow around that water and create the quiet magic of the preserve. Fan Palms are the only palms native to the south-western United States. They never lose their dried palm fronds, giving them another name – petticoat palms. Their long grass skirts form a complete ecological system, housing snakes and rodents downstairs, insects, birds and bats on the upper levels. Coachella docents refer to these palms as “critter condos.”

PS9The fringe-toed lizard lives in the preserve and nowhere else. We never got a look at him, but we did meet other creatures on the trails. On one sun bleached path we met up with an insect about one inch long. For his size he had very long legs. So long that he could toil across our path with a small stick efficiently tucked under his legs. When he dropped it, he carefully circled around , scooped it up and marched on his way. We were on holiday, he was at work.

Coachella must have been a sacred spot for the native people of the desert. The palms bring shade to an otherwise parched landscape. Walking among them, even with other hikers nearby, felt like we’d stumbled into a place of worship.

Coachella and Sunnylands bear the imprint of man and nature. Coachella evolved over centuries, remaining in existence because people saw the value in preserving it. Someday the fault may remake it in one cataclysmic moment. Sunnylands evolved in one couple’s lifetime into a 10 acre painting of plants. Both give one pause as to the myriad ways to approach nature and gardening. Both could be created on our side of the continent with an appreciation of what nature has given us.

A Botanical Garden in the City of Mermaids

 

Crossing the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula through the engineering marvel of the Bay-Bridge Tunnel is one good reason to head to Norfolk from the Eastern Shore. Driving both under and over the confluence of the great Chesapeake Bay watershed and the Atlantic Ocean is exhilarating.  The other equally inspiring very good reason is to take a look at the Norfolk Botanical Garden  –  all 175 acres of it.

It started out as a plan to create an azalea garden to rival the one in a city to its south, Charleston, South Carolina. That was in 1939, the waning days of the Depression. 200 African-American women and 20 men were hired with a WPA grant to begin clearing the site’s 150 acres of undergrowth by hand. It was back-breaking work for twenty-five cents an hour. Now a statue stands in the WPA Memorial Garden to commemorate those who turned the first shovelfuls of dirt to create it but who were not allowed to visit as guests until 1965.

The azalea garden still explodes with color every spring. But now those beauties are joined by over fifty other gardens including a healing garden, fern glade, wildflower meadow, Japanese garden, renaissance garden, sensory garden, rose garden, colonial herb garden and a garden of Virginia natives.

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Add in an arboretum for warming up among flowering orchids and other tropicals.

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A walk through the Moses Ezekiel garden of seven foot painter and sculptor statues is just as inspiring on a winter day and probably a lot quieter.

Thinking ahead of a planned trip, one of the many classes taught at the garden might conveniently work out. Courses cover everything from winter pruning, moss gardening, gardening for songbirds, making kombucha or spritzes and sprays and garden yoga or T’ai Chi. A lot is happening in the Norfolk Botanical Garden.

 

What we did see which surprised me were Camellia shrubs bursting with fat buds. Being from the north, I’m unfamiliar with camellias. Flower buds in December? That did not happen where I came from. The flowers captivated me so much that I went right home and ordered “Pink Perfection” for my garden. We just made it within the hardiness zone, so we’ll see what happens come spring.

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The city of Norfolk joined Helsinki, Copenhagen and Warsaw in adopting mermaids as its symbol. Mermaid statues float all through the city in front of the schools, libraries and of course the Botanical Garden.

Why visit a botanical garden in winter? You won’t see much in flower. But you will get to walk in a lovely setting, with a clear view of the garden’s bones. It’s my humble opinion that no matter what time of the year you happen to visit a city, a trip to its garden is worthwhile. And this one is spectacular. At the very least you will make note of what you would like to return to in the spring or summer or autumn.