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Garden Views

Annual Historic Garden Week returns with over 100 private homes and gardens.

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If some of us weren’t voyeurs before, we may have crossed that line once the confinement of the pandemic became the new normal.

Starting this weekend, house and garden voyeurs can get an up close and personal fix during the Garden Club of Virginia’s Annual Historic Garden Week, which runs April 23 through 30. That means that over 100 private homes and gardens across the state will welcome visitors to wander the grounds and house interiors where over 2,000 floral arrangements created by Garden Club members will be on display.

The tours, which began in 1929, are a fundraiser for the Garden Club with the proceeds used for two good causes: the restoration and preservation of historic public gardens throughout the Commonwealth and a fellowship program in landscape architecture that documents significant Virginia gardens.

The only statewide house and garden tour in the entire country, Historic Garden Week offers tours sure to appeal to fans of history, art and architecture, water views, and walking tours, with different areas of the state featured on different days during the week. Those looking for a road trip can head off to Alexandria, Winchester, Lexington, Roanoke and Staunton, among others. Closer to RVA, homes and gardens will be open in Charlottesville, the Northern Neck, Petersburg, Williamsburg, and Norfolk.

But hands down, the most bang for your Garden Week buck is right here in Richmond. Locally, house and garden tours kick off with three James River spots: Berkeley, Shirley and Westover, all open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. For those looking for a change of scenery, Tuesday offers walking and driving tours of Petersburg’s historic Poplar Lawn District, historic Battersea villa and Centre Hill Museum, currently being restored by the Garden Club of Virginia. Here in Richmond, Tuesday launches three days of tours in the Rothesay Circle neighborhood of Windsor Farms. Considering that renowned landscape architect Charles F. Gillette once lived there, it’s practically a must-see for garden devotees.

When was the last time you got the chance to view a modernist International Style home designed by a world-renowned architect and situated on an island in the James River?

“The Cottrell House offers just such an opportunity,” says Garden Club of Virginia president Missy Buckingham. “Built by Ambassador and Mrs. Rice in 1963, the current owners’ renovations to this house have resulted in a totally modern home and landscape that successfully merge nature and man.” The Cottrell House is open April 26 and 28.

Come Wednesday, it’s the historic Carillon neighborhood near Byrd Park that gets its star turn, but only for a day, so don’t miss the opportunity to peek at five private properties that were built between 1889 and 2000. Guided bicycle tours with a box lunch from Sally Bell’s Kitchen are being offered, with a percentage of the profits benefiting Historic Garden Week. Another option on Wednesday is to make the hour and a half drive to the Northern Neck for shuttle bus tour of five properties in Northumberland County with expansive water views, natural woodlands, and formal gardens to die for.

From classic 18th century Georgian homes to Mediterranean-inspired villas, the neighborhood bordered by Olde Locke Lane and Westmoreland Place is where you’ll want to be on Thursday. This walking tour of three private residences combines grand scale landscapes with stately architecture for a visual treat that will satisfy garden and architecture fans.

Given that the Garden Club’s mission is restoring and preserving historic gardens, it’s probably worthwhile to check out some of their hard work. The Kent-Valentine House on Franklin Street has been the Garden Club’s headquarters since 1971, but it’s open to the public that Friday only. Anyone who’s ever walked by it has likely wondered what the 1845 antebellum house looks like on the inside, and this is a chance to find out. And if it’s been some time since you visited the Poe Museum – a restoration project of the Garden Club in 2013- make a point to visit the Enchanted Garden to see their handiwork.

Should five days of garden touring not satisfy your home and garden appetite, head to Ashland Saturday for a self-driving tour that features an 18th century church and its grounds, three 19th century homes and, for something completely different, a contemporary home with colonial flair.

Unsurprisingly, the past two years of pandemic life have left their mark on everything, including Historic Garden Week. This year’s tours emphasize outdoor spaces and physical distancing. Facemasks will be required for interior tours and visitors are asked not to wear shoes that might damage a homeowner’s floors. Given uneven garden surfaces and the nature of historic buildings, flat walking shoes are the best choice. Tours go on whether it’s raining or sunny, but tickets must be purchased online in advance because there will be no day of ticket sales. Each tour has a headquarters which is printed on your ticket.

“Many people are looking to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives, which includes the ability to participate in time-honored traditions like Historic Garden Week,” says Buckingham. “By opening the doors and gates to spectacular homes and gardens, visitors can gather horticulture, landscape and architectural inspiration while experiencing springtime in Virginia.”

Historic Garden Week runs April 23-30 at various locations. Vagardenweek.org