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.
The works in Mount Vernon are now mostly complete. We are currently restoring our eighteenth-century octagonal seed house situated at the far end of the garden and hope to have this finished in early summer. The ornamental border surrounding the shield bed will be planted up soon and in the centre of this bed we hope to grow some pumpkins during this summer. In 2019 we aim to develop the vegetable bed further with a wider range of crops.