The General’s garden; magnificent Mount Vernon’s make over

Our replica of George Washington’s Upper Garden, which was built here in 1962, is no longer true to the original.

Extensive archaeological research was carried out between 2005 and 2010 at Mount Vernon in Virginia, and in 2012 a complete restoration project was carried out to change the layout so that it represents the Upper Garden as it would have appeared in 1799, the year Washington died.

The most significant discovery of the archaeological work at Mount Vernon was that the layout was much different: much larger shield-shaped and square beds existed with no internal pathways. They realised this by tracing evidence of ‘double digging’ where the soil is cultivated to a depth of two spits (about 60cm).

So we have decided it is time to renovate and breathe new life into our garden.

What we are going to do

With the help of Parsons Landscapes, we will be demolishing and rebuilding the ‘hard’ features, such as the boundary wall and picket fence, and fix drainage and irrigation problems. We will import over 200 tonnes of topsoil to make the garden more level and improve growing conditions.

When the works are complete, the garden will have a different layout with new planting beds and new pathways.

As shown in the drawing, the five crescent beds will be replaced by a large single bed.  The new garden will feature a wide ornamental border around the outside with rows of vegetables on the inside. The plants chosen would’ve been available to Washington at the end of the 18th century.

Washington was a ‘gentleman farmer’ and the Upper Garden was therefore designed as a functional space with rows of vegetables and fruit surrounded by a border of shrubs and perennials to provide visual delight for his visitors. Indeed, the Upper Garden was the horticultural highlight of Mount Vernon’s grounds.

Our parterre will be replaced by four equally sized beds featuring a boxwood fleur-de-lys motif.  They are a tribute to the Marquis de Lafayette, the Frenchman who helped Washington fight the British during the War of Independence, and who became a lifelong friend of the general.

Timeline

The ground works are scheduled to take 6 weeks, beginning in mid-August. During this time Mount Vernon will be closed – and while we apologise for any disruption to your visit, we also hope that you will understand why this work is so important.

This autumn the Garden Team will begin replanting the parterre with around 2,000 box plants and begin the planting on the ornamental border around the shield bed.  Next spring, the first vegetables and colourful annuals will appear.

We are grateful for generous support from the Frances K. and Charles D. Field Foundation in California, which has helped to fund this work.