Two defining features of the Oatlands Plantation Gardens are the terraces installed in the early 1800’s by the plantation builder, George C. Carter, and the English boxwood parterres added in the early 1900’s by Mrs. Edith Corcoran Eustis, wife of the second owner. In the Spring of 1994, the lovely green geometric patterns so familiar to Oatlands visitors had turned brown and ugly, the victims of an extremely cold and harsh Winter. This past Spring, a major portion of the restoration to the boxwood parterres has been completed, and the garden is returning to the scale and proportion of an earlier time.
Although Mrs. Eustis created much of the garden as it is seen today, no journals or records of her work have been found, leaving little more than family photographs to document the progress of her garden. The best indication of the scale and design of the boxwood parterres was found in an aerial view photographed in 1930. It clearly shows clean, geometric shapes of low boxwood hedges filled with shrubs, trees, and an abundance of flowering plants. To restore the parterres to the scale and “feel” of the 1930’s is the goal of the restoration rather than trying to recreate the actual designs of each parterre. Many practical changes were made as the garden transitioned from a private to public one, such as better circulation routes, and these improvements will be maintained.
Nearly 1500 new plants will be required to fully restore the parterres. A grant from The Garden Club of Virginia paid for the first 900 boxwood which were planted this Spring. The parterres on three of the upper level terraces have been restored, and others are scheduled to be replanted this Fall when another 400 plants will be available from English Boxwoods of Virginia in Lynchburg. Funds for additional plants have been supported by gifts, fund-raisers, and operating funds. The garden staff were responsible for all of the removal and planting of boxwoods.
Although it seemed obvious that a combination of factors (age, extensive pruning, etc.) and the severe Winter were responsible for the death of the boxwood, it was important to discover if there were other contributing factors. Soil test results indicated a low concentration of nematodes in one parterre, but in no other. The dead plants and soil from that parterre were removed and destroyed last Fall. New soil, specially mixed to achieve a neutral pH (7.0), was used to fill in the empty trenches and allowed to settle through the Winter before the parterre was restored.
Restoring the parterres provided the opportunity to refurbish the interior plantings as well. Shrubs and perennials were moved away from the new planting lines. Crowded perennials were transplanted to other areas of the garden, and new shrubs were installed in several parterres. Color schemes were re-established and clutter was eliminated.
At the direction of the landscape architect for The Garden Club of Virginia, 12” boxwood were planted one foot apart to give a somewhat mature appearance to the parterres. The plants will be allowed to grow together to form a low hedge. Leaky hoses were installed around all of the new parterres to ensure adequate moisture until the new plants become established. Only one application of a slow release fertilizer (after planting) will be needed this year. A thin mulch of leaf mold will keep weeds to a minimum, retain moisture, and maintain even soil temperatures. Regular plucking, a boxwood pruning technique which removes evenly spaced twigs from all over the shrub to allow sun and air into the interior of the plant, will maintain the plants’ health.
Come, visit this historic site, and experience the beauty of the gardens as visitors surely did at the beginning of this century.
Oatlands is a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation located six miles south of Leesburg, Virginia, on U.S. Route 15. The mansion and gardens are opened every day from April through December, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except Sundays, when the hours are 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. An admission fee is charged. Special group tours of the gardens may also be scheduled by calling (703) 777-3174.
As a co-stewardship museum property, Oatlands is responsible for its own operational funding. Special restoration projects such as restoring the English boxwood parterres, are made possible by grants and personal donations. Funding is still needed to complete this restoration. If you would like to participate, each $10.00 contribution will purchase one boxwood. Checks payable to Oatlands may to be sent to Oatlands, Garden Staff, Route 2, Box 352, Leesburg, Virginia 22075.
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