A leisurely stroll through the Historic Area takes visitors through many diverse gardens—utilitarian spaces to grow food and opulent pleasure gardens such as the grounds of the Governor’s Palace. Colonial Williamsburg’s re-created gardens span more than 300 acres of land and now are historic landmarks in their own right, which guests from all over the world visit to admire the flora and exquisite craftsmanship.
Williamsburg’s colonial residents collected native and “exotic” plants, from fruits and flowers to trees and shrubs—creating beautiful and creative respites in the busy colonial capital and fueling an Enlightenment-era interest in botany. The careful reconstruction of such 18th-century gardens dates to the earliest days of Colonial Williamsburg’s restoration. In the 1920s, the Colonial Revival movement popularized highly ornamental gardens like those at the Governor’s Palace. While living at Bassett Hall, the Rockefellers’ Williamsburg residence, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller herself constructed a formal garden echoing the town’s past splendor.
Today, Colonial Williamsburg’s gardens are designed and maintained meticulously to showcase the variety of plants that our forebears grew more than 250 years ago. With each changing season, a great deal of thought goes into the planting of our cultivated areas. Ongoing research and physical maintenance ensure historical accuracy and plant health.
In addition to our flower and food gardens, Colonial Williamsburg maintains a historic arboretum. The arboretum is made up of 18th-century trees and woody shrub varieties. Our landscape department and volunteers steward 25 period species of oak trees and more than 60 iconic gardens, including 14 Virginia state champion trees and one national champion tree.
In 2018 we completed restoration work on the maze at the Governor’s Palace.A maze in the 18th century would have been visited by fewer than 100 people during any given year, but theGovernor’s Palace maze endures the foot traffic of hundreds of thousands of people annually. Soil compaction and plant damage had been exacerbated in the past by guests taking shortcuts through the hedges. New shrubs have been planted, hedges have been pruned and a discreet fence has been installed at the site to discourage people walking through the hedges.The maze reopened in early summer for guests to enjoy.
Our garden preservation efforts are not only aesthetic. A well-maintained landscape is critical for guest safety and even the preservation of the Williamsburg’s architectural resources. The Foundation has been working hard to install curbing, repair walkways, improve drainage and plant new grass all along Duke of Gloucester Street. As a result, the main thoroughfare of the Historic Area is beautiful and green again, and less dirt and grit is tracked into the buildings—much to the relief of our architectural preservation specialists.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area was recently named a Level I accredited arboretum by ArbNet’s global Arboretum Accreditation Program for meeting professional standards, practices and criteria of arboreta and botanic gardens dedicated to woody plants. As we preserve and plant historic tree species to enhance both our educational programming and the ambiance of the Historic Area, we look forward to achieving an even higher status in the coming years.