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Montpelier Garden Tour

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Montpelier began as a plantation…

Montpelier was the plantation home of President James Madison and the first First Lady, Dolly Madison. Even then, their large property boasted many horticultural features including a house garden filled with both ornamental and edible plants.

Front View of Montpelier plantation house

Front entry of James & Dolly Madison’s Montpelier plantation house in Orange, VA

The plantation became a chemical family’s estate…

Later, it was acquired by the DuPont family. And when that happened,  Annie DuPont transformed Madison’s now out-of-fashion mixed food and ornamental garden into a walled formal garden. That’s because this was more in keeping with the style of her time.

Scene’s from Annie DuPont’s Montpelier walled garden…

Antique urns & vessels of unknown provenance add focal interest throughout Annie DuPont’s formal garden. As well, this bricked corner of the garden features plantings of edible herbs lavender, sage and rosemary. And these are reminders of James & Dolly Madison’s mixed ornamental and edible garden of the past.
Herb garden at Montpelier
But really DuPont leaned toward more purely ornamental garden preferences. As the herringbone brick, lawn, clipped hedges & artwork illustrate.

Later, in the mid-1980s the National Trust for Historic Preservation  acquired the Montpelier estate. And this trust continues to renovate and restore the Montpelier mansion, gardens and grounds, and maintain the hundreds of acres of undisturbed native, old growth forest on these lands.

During my teen years, I lived not far from Montpelier.

But, at that time, the DuPonts still resided in the mansion. And they’d turned into a hideous pink stucco house. At that time, touring this historic, yet then-private, residence wasn’t an option.

Rear view of Montpelier mansion from garden

Looking from the formal garden, through mature trees including native Liriodendrons, at the back of the Montpelier mansion & under-construction replica slave quarters.

It wasn’t until the spring of 2015  – on a very bright, hot afternoon – that I had an opportunity to tour the mansion and stroll through the DuPont formal gardens.

Unfortunately, the light was harsh. And we had timed our visit just before the garden really came into bloom for mid-spring. Yet most early spring flowers were finished. But a few iris added color to the greenery. However, peony and rhododendron had yet to burst forth. Still, the gardens were lovely to explore!

DuPont brick wall and metal gate at Montpelier

Annie Dupont’s garden designers added a brick wall to enclose her formal garden.

Their intricate metal gate choices add to the overall formality. Yet they also provide views into and (as seen here) out of the walled garden. So they connect the tamed inner spaces with the more wild areas beyond. (And as the sign outside this gate reminds visitors: closing the gate helps keep out the deer too.)

Lots of clipped symmetry at Montpelier…

As you view the central path through Annie DuPont’s formal garden at Montpelier, symmetrical clipped hedges & pair of lion statuary create formality. Yet the entire walled garden is framed by wild, native (and imported) forest surroundings.

Main path through Annie Dupont Montpelier garden

Enormous Cedrus lebani aren’t native to Virginia. However, at least two enormous specimens flank the gates to the entrance to the Annie DuPont formal garden. And this provides borrow “wild” interest to the more tamed inner spaces of the walled, formal garden.

Cedrus lebani at Montpelier

These huge trees were likely planted during James and Dolly’s tenure at Montpelier.

Look for the little touches when you visit this garden…

One of my favorite elements in the DuPont Montpelier formal garden was this unusual cast charcoal-black path edging. That’s because it adds definition to the white gravel main pathway. And it repeats the use of a clay material elsewhere. But unlike the red brick of the walls and nearby paths, these are cast from a more leaden-colored material. Plus if you look carefully, you’ll see this tic-tac-toe pattern repeats the raised pattern work that appears on many of the antique vessels and columns throughout the garden.

path edging in Montpelier DuPont garden

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