The gardens of Colonial Williamsburg are an impressive and expansive example of 18th-century landscape architecture. They often are noted for their array of colors and symmetry that so beautifully complement the picturesque houses and outbuildings they surround. The Foundation’s gardens provide a magnificent backdrop for historic interpretation and immersion in America’s past. A leisurely stroll through the Historic Area takes visitors through many diverse gardens— from utilitarian spaces to grow food to opulent pleasure gardens such as the grounds of the Governor’s Palace. Colonial Williamsburg’s re-created gardens span more than 300 acres of land and now are historic landmarks in their own right, which guests from all over the world visit to admire the flora and exquisite craftsmanship
Williamsburg’s colonial residents collected native and “exotic” plants, from fruits and flowers to trees and shrubs—creating beautiful respites in the busy colonial capital and fueling an Enlightenment-era interest in botany. The careful reconstruction of such 18th-century gardens dates to the earliest days of Colonial Williamsburg’s restoration. In the 1920s, the Colonial Revival movement popularized highly ornamental gardens in the style of the 18th century. While living in Williamsburg, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller herself constructed a formal garden echoing the town’s past splendor.
Today, Colonial Williamsburg’s gardens are designed and maintained meticulously to showcase the variety of plants that our forebears grew more than 200 years ago. With each changing season, a great deal of thought goes into the planting of cultivated areas. Ongoing research and physical maintenance ensure historical accuracy and plant health.
In addition to our flower and food gardens, Colonial Williamsburg maintains an accredited arboretum. Our landscape staff and volunteers steward 25 period species of oak trees and more than 60 iconic gardens, including more than 20 Virginia state champion trees and one national champion tree.
Our garden preservation efforts are not only aesthetic. A well-maintained landscape is critical for guest safety and even the preservation of Colonial Williamsburg’s architectural resources. The Foundation has been working to reinstall curbing, repair walkways, improve drainage and put in sod and automatic irrigation all along Duke of Gloucester Street. As a result, the main thoroughfare of the Historic Area is safer and more sustainable with much less dirt and grit tracked into the buildings—much to the relief of our architectural preservation specialists.
Arborist apprentice Matt Childs and arborist Charles Gardener recently attended a workshop that focused on the Single Rope Technique (SRT), a new and innovative way of climbing trees and traversing their canopies. Both men learned the technique, which will allow them to perform a wide range of arboricultural tasks safely and more efficiently.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area was recently named a Level II accredited arboretum by ArbNet’s global Arboretum Accreditation Program for meeting professional standards, practices and criteria of arboreta and botanic gardens dedicated to woody plants. We also have developed and implemented a 100% organic fruit tree care program. After completing garden inventories for woody shrubs and trees throughout the Historic Area, we planted 15 more shade trees and more than 25 fruit trees. Equally important, we acquired training and equipment to inject pesticides safely and directly into trees for protection against pests so that guests may continue to enjoy their beauty. As we preserve and plant historic tree species to enhance both our educational programming and the ambiance of the Historic Area, we look forward to achieving an even higher status arboretum accreditation in the coming years.
Our landscaping team worked diligently to decorate the Historic Area over the holidays last year, and the results were as spectacular as ever. Additionally, the staff provided décor for the ice skating pavilion and brought back the popular holiday decorating workshops.