• George Washington’s Mount Vernon Garden

Keeping Up Appearances: What’s Looking Good in the Museum’s Gardens and Grounds

May 10, 2013 - Bridget Woollen

The American Museum in Britain, Bath, is celebrated for its magnificent decorative arts collection comprising over 200 historic American quilts, exceptional pieces of Shaker furniture, exuberant folk art paintings and sculptures, Native American objects, and Renaissance maps of the New World.  The Museum also has the most significant collection of American folk art in Europe.  Perhaps less well-known are its unusual gardens and grounds which are accessible to visitors, whether they choose to visit the Museum or not, until 3 November 2013.

Located in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Claverton Manor, the home of the Museum, affords spectacular views over Limpley Stoke Valley and the River Avon.  The grounds total some 125 acres, of which 35 are open to the public. The parkland, with its majestic old cedars, has a circular walk through ancient meadows while, above the Manor, a path has been created through woodland.  Remnants of the old Italianate-style manorial pleasure gardens and parkland, dating from the 1820s, are still visible, including period features such as the grotto, the balustrade and curtain walling, as well as ornamental stone work.  This design is attributed to George Vivian, son of John Vivian (1756-1828), who acquired Claverton Manor in 1816.

A highlight is the Mount Vernon Garden.  In 1785, when George Washington was enlarging the garden of Mount Vernon (his home on the Potomac River, Virginia), the Fairfaxes of Writhlington, near Bath, sent him a farmer with plants and seeds.  The flower garden at the American Museum is similar in size to its American counterpart, and has such comparable details as the white picket fence, box hedges, rose bushes, and seed house where George Washington taught his stepchildren.

The season starts with the mass display of daffodils on the bank opposite the entrance to the Museum and their ‘wow’ factor lifts the spirits after winter.  This is followed by the cherry blossom on the lower part of the main lawn, firstly the Great White Prunus ‘Taihaku’ and then the avenue of pink cherries Prunus ‘Kanzan’.  Two spectacular evergreen magnolias, Magnolia grandiflora ‘Exmouth’, flower continuously throughout the growing season, one in Mount Vernon and the other on the main terrace.  The deciduous magnolias, Magnolia x soulangeana, with their delightful flowers on bare stems, are growing in Mount Vernon, while M. ‘Elizabeth’, M. x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’, M. stellata can be found in the arboretum.  The handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata, with its large white bracts of flowers by the Coach House comes into its own in late spring and visitors passing through the gate into the pebble garden will find the scented azalea Rhododendron luteum under the elegant summer flowering Indian bean tree Catalpa bignonioides.  The foxglove tree, Paulownia tomentosa, by the grotto shows off its mauve blossoms and the apple blossom along the vine walk boasts many unusual American varieties.

In midsummer the roses on the walls of the Manor are at their peak: Rosa chinensis ‘Cecile Brunner’, R. ‘Alister Stella Gray’, R. ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ and R. ‘Lady Hillingdon’ on the main entrance side, and on the main terrace R. ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, R. ‘Felicite Perpetue’.  Enjoy their perfume and the stunning views from the terrace at the same time!  This is also the time to enjoy the scent of the evergreen jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides, also called the star jasmine or confederate jasmine due to its association with the civil war, which adorns the wall of the stables.  The Coach House bed opposite has more roses and a colourful display of annuals and dahlias.

More colour from extensive displays of annuals can be found the other side of the pebble garden in Mount Vernon, also at its best in midsummer.  The strong structural elements of the box hedges and the cherry plums Prunus glandulosa set the framework for the display.  Several unusual American plants are found in this area, notably poke root Phytolacca americana, and prairie ironweed Vernonia fasciculata.

Visitors might also like to take the Lewis and Clark trail, which takes its name from the 1803 expedition commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson.  It consisted of a select group of US Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark.  The primary objective of their perilous journey, from May 1804 to September 1806, was to explore and map the newly acquired territory following the Louisiana Purchase which encompassed all or part of 15 present US states and two Canadian provinces – some 828,000 square miles.  During this exploration, Lewis and Clark aimed to find a practical route across the Western half of the continent and, in so doing, to establish an American presence in this territory thus securing it before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.  The campaign’s secondary objective was scientific: to study the area’s plants, animal life, geography, and other natural resources.   The American Museum’s trail includes specimens of plants and trees recorded on that expedition such as Black Cottonwood Populus balsamifera, Madrone Arbutus menziesii and Lewis Mock Orange Philadelphus lewisii.

Autumn brings fabulous colour from the Persian ironwood tree Parrotia persica at the top of the arboretum and the acers along the rosewalk.  The Virginia creeper Parthenocissus virginiana and the winged spindle Euonymous alatus next to the statue of George Washington light the rear of the stables with a fiery glow.

In the winter more statuesque trees come into focus such as the cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani which can be seen in the parkland and the giant redwoods, Sequoiadendron giganteum, one of which was a gift from the H. M. The Queen Mother, at the bottom on the arboretum.


Location:                    The American Museum in Britain, Claverton Manor, Bath, BA2 7BD

Tel. +44 (0)1225 460503, fax. +44 (0)1225 469160, www.americanmuseum.org

Opening hours:         Main season:  23 March to 3 November 2013

                                    Tuesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 5 pm

Closed Mondays except during August and Bank Holidays

Admission:        Museum, Exhibition and Gardens:  Adult £9; over 60s and students £8; child (5-16 years) £5;  family ticket £25

Gardens:  Adult £5.50; over 60s and students £4.50; child (5-16) £3.50

Shops: The American Museum has three shops, all open during Museum hours.

The Country Store holds Americana gifts and souvenirs; The Gallery Shop offers merchandise inspired by the temporary exhibition and a variety of Museum publications alongside a range of topical books and The Herb Shop introduces visitors to the aromatic Tussie Mussie (a posy popular in the 18th century).  Tel. +44 (0)1225 460503, retail@americanmuseum.org

Café:  The Orangery café is open during Museum hours, serving light lunches from 12 noon to 2 pm, and drinks, homemade American cookies and cakes throughout the afternoon.

How to get there:     Close to the University of Bath, it is signposted from Bath City Centre and from the A36 Warminster Road.  Car parking is free.  Bus no.18 runs from the City Centre to the University; alight at The Avenue just inside the University entrance (15-minute downhill walk to Museum).

Shuttle Bus:               The Museum’s FREE shuttle bus ferries visitors to and from the city centre:

From Terrace Walk (Bog Island), Bath:

12.15 pm         – arriving at Museum 12.30 pm

1.15 pm           – arriving at Museum 1.30 pm

2.15 pm           – arriving at Museum 2.30 pm

3.15 pm           – arriving at Museum 3.30 pm


Leaves Museum to return to Bath:

12.45 pm         – arriving at Terrace Walk 1.00 pm

1.45 pm           – arriving at Terrace Walk 2.00 pm

2.45 pm           – arriving at Terrace Walk 3.00 pm

3.45 pm           – arriving at Terrace Walk 4.00 pm

4.30 pm           – arriving at Terrace Walk 4.45 pm

 Access:  All Museum buildings are wheelchair accessible, with ramped access and a lift to all floors in the main building.  Blue Badge parking is close to the main Museum.  Garden access is restricted.

For further information and images, please contact:

Sue Bond Public Relations

Tel. +44 (0)1359 271085

E-mail info@suebond.co.uk, Website www.suebond.co.uk