The extensive, heavily wooded estate given by George Washington to his nephew Lawrence Lewis and step-granddaughter Eleanor Parke Custis upon their marriage in 1799 became the site of a handsome late Georgian mansion, surrounded by equally impressive grounds. While evidence of the actual layout and look of the gardens and surrounding landscape at Woodlawn is scanty, that evidence does reveal that the Lewises all their lives were devoted to enhancing the grounds around their stately home.
The property passed out of the hands of the Lewis family in the 1840s, and through a succession of owners, some of whom never even occupied the place, much of what was originally envisioned became obscured. In 1951 the National Trust for Historic Preservation assumed responsibility for the restoration of the mansion, and the committee created to oversee the property approached The Garden Club of Virginia to undertake a parallel garden restoration. Thus began an unusual, and at times challenging, partnership that ultimately produced a remarkable example of joint house and garden refurbishment.
With so little documentary evidence to guide him, The Garden Club's landscape architect, Alden Hopkins, relied on archaeological survey work to recreate some of what had characterized the property in the Lewis's day. A line of cedar trees, a broad entrance drive and serpentine paths, and an impressive expanse of lawn were meant to blend elegantly with the surrounding forest. Two parterres planted with roses, summer annuals, and flowering shrubs were envisioned by Hopkins as a gateway to an elaborate kitchen garden, based on contemporary gardening manuals. A parking area, necessary to accommodate expected visitors, he obscured from the house by a series of diverse plantings of trees and shrubs common in the Lewis's time.
Hopkins's plan was modified over the years, as circumstances and additional research suggested various alterations, but the design itself, and its execution, has served as a model for other projects focused on the restoration of gardens from the early national period of our country's history.
Note: The images presented here record various stages of the property's landscape restoration. Since additional work has been supported by The Garden Club of Virginia at many properties, these images do not necessarily represent the current-day experience. Also, accession numbers reflect the year in which an image was received by the Virginia Historical Society, not the year in which it was taken.
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The wide drive, expansive lawn, and boxwood circle provide an inviting entrance to Woodlawn.
Slide, Woodlawn Museum Collection Accession number: 1997.31.14.C
Along with a wide range of other plantings, the Woodlawn parterres feature an extraordinary variety of roses, particular favorites of the Lewis family.
Slide, Woodlawn Museum Collection Accession number: 1997.31.14.B
The entranceway to the garden offers a pleasing vista.
Slide, Woodlawn Museum Collection Accession number: 1997.31.14.D
Another view of one of the parterres, which includes spring bulbs, summer annuals, and flowering shrubs.
Slide, Woodlawn Museum Collection Accession number: 1997.31.14.H
A plaque commemorates the completion of construction of Woodlawn in 1805 and The Garden Clubs initial restoration efforts in 1960.
Photographic print, Woodlawn Museum Collection Accession number: 1997.31.14.K
A pavilion is situated at the end of a long walkway, extending the length of the garden.
Photographic print, Woodlawn Museum Collection Accession number: 1997.31.14.M
Fencing separates the gardens from the surrounding woods.
Photographic print, Woodlawn Museum Collection Accession number: 1997.31.14.P