October 5, 2022

For the first time since its centennial garden tour in 2019, the Dolley Madison Garden Club will host its Historic Garden Week in Virginia tour Saturday, April 23, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The popular springtime ritual returns in “A Grand Tour Close to Home,” featuring garden designs from Europe, Asia and America all in a small pocket of Central Virginia.

Like the “Grand Tour” travelers of past centuries who embarked on journeys to broaden their knowledge of other cultures, garden club organizers suggest this tour will both inspire and educate. Gardens that follow the principles of design in the Italian Renaissance, French and English 18th and 19th century designs, as well as Chinese and Japanese aesthetics are featured on this day-long adventure, according to the tour brochure.

The tour returns travelers to American shores with gardens that represent colonial pragmatism and American contemporary expression. Through the lens of garden design, visitors will travel the world and see how beautiful gardens are created with an eye to history, and the use of plantings that bring the world home, the brochure continued.

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“We decided to make it especially interesting and informative this year with a focus on garden design, different styles and features, so that tour participants could come away feeling like they’ve done a little armchair travelling to see the gardens of the world,” tour co-chair Carla Passarello explained. “I think most visitors will be amazed to find that we have great examples of Italian, French, and Asian gardens right here in Orange County. Who knew?”

This year’s event will feature gardens only—not the traditional house tours of previous iterations—with outdoor stops at Tre Sorelle in Locust Dale, Greenway in Madison Mills, the Annie DuPont Garden and the Garden at Bassett House at James Madison’s Montpelier, and Windrock in Somerset.

“The Asian Garden at Bassett House on the grounds of Montpelier is this little jewel box of a garden, with mostly Japanese design influence,” Passarello noted. “It is really the president’s private garden, rarely opened to the public, so very few people have ever seen it.”

She said Montpelier President Roy Young was gracious to allow the club to open the garden to visitors, where it can be toured in the afternoon only.

“In the 1940’s Marion duPont Scott’s trainer Carroll Bassett worked with celebrated Virginia landscape architect Charles Gillette to design the garden,” Passarello explained. “It is a very peaceful, contemplative, Zen experience, filled with water features and footbridges, Japanese gates and garden ornaments. It is just the tonic to help ease back into normal life after a couple of challenging years.”

That’s why the Dolley Madison Garden Club is excited to host this year’s event—particularly after having to cancel the 2020 tour, “Gordonsville: Lovers Lane to Main Street” because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s been fun to get back to doing what we love–gardening and talking about and visiting gardens,” Passarello noted. “I think everyone is really happy to get back to post-Covid ‘normalcy.’

“I think during the pandemic, people developed a renewed relationship with the outdoors, and it cultivated a real interest in gardening and in learning how to design our personal outdoor spaces for our own maximum enjoyment,” she continued. “We were all kind of ‘stuck’ at home, and really thought about how to make staying home really gratifying. We are excited that this tour will provide visitors with the tools to design their own backyards in a way that will give them a beautiful place to rest, play and enjoy without having to leave home.”

When the club began planning for this year’s event last winner, it was still unclear how the pandemic might affect this year’s tour.

“We were not sure if people would feel comfortable in a crowded interior space, so we opted to do an expanded outdoor tour that focused on the gardens themselves rather than the usual house tour,” Passarello said.

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“There has been a lot of enthusiasm about our focus on garden design, and a lot of buzz about the very Italian ‘villa’ garden at Tre Sorelle in Locust Dale which is like a heavenly slice of the Tuscan countryside,” she said. “Traditionally, Historic Garden Week was a tour of gardens and the house tour element was added more recently. I have heard many people say they are glad for the re-focusing.”

That refocusing also includes a practical element as visitors wander through the garden spaces, tour guides will point out the elements of garden design, and how to apply these ideas in their own gardens. The club even has included copies of the design drawings and planting lists for visitors to look at for inspiration.

“One garden, Windrock, was created by an extremely talented floral designer and she uses her garden as a resource to supply her with material for flower arranging. Visitors can see examples of her work and even a list of what to plant to make their own arrangements. The color and texture combinations of plants in her garden are magical!” Passarello said.

Advance tickets to the tour are available for $30 per person at www.vagardenweek.org until 10 a.m. on the day of the tour. Tickets for children, ages 6 to 12, are $15. Advance tickets also will be available at local outlets—The Arts Center in Orange, The Market at Grelen in Somerset, and the Laurie Holladay Shop in Gordonsville, until noon, April 22. Tickets will be available for day-of purchase at each location for $40. There is no single-site admission. Children, ages 6 to 12, are admitted for $20 the day of the tour. Children 5 and under are admitted for free.

Garden club members note that the tour is not handicap-accessible and encourages participants to wear comfortable walking shoes. Properties may be visited in any order. And parking is available at each location—though a short shuttle ride is required at Tre Sorelle (masks required on the shuttle).

Proceeds from the tour fund the restoration of Virginia’s historic public gardens. For more information about the April 23 tour, visit https://www.dmgcvirginia.org/historic-garden-week.