By 1607 the James river area was being settled. Many who landed on Virginia's shores came from England, where no home, great or small was complete without a garden. The first objective of these early settlers was to build a home, with a garden, and to fashion a living from the new land.
They started immediately to make their gardens display the best that was available to them at the time. Plants, cuttings, and seeds were brought along with them from England, often kept alive with great difficulty. Fruits and vegetables of an economic nature were highly important.
In 1699, the capitol was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg. This was the center of social and political life in those times. The great plantations of the tidewater continued to develope.
Along the lower James, Rappahannock, and the Potomac rivers were built many great homes and gardens, which are fine examples to this day of landscape architecture. Native plants were sought and cultivated.
The correspondence of that day bears testimony to the generous and neighborly exchanges of cuttings and plants among the great landowners. To this unselfish custom we are indebted for many of the plants we have today.
Many of the spring bulbs which we now cherish, were very common in the early gardens of Williamsburg, as were many herbs. There were at least thirty three (number on record) different kinds of exotic trees planted in the gardens of early Virginia settlers prior to 1750, and probably many more.
Built in 1730 by Colonel Landon Carter, Sabine Hall was one of these fine mansion homes. Colonel Carter and George Washington were great friends, and it is said that here the two men walked and planned some of the strategy for important battles of the Revolution.
On the banks of the Potomac stands Mt Vernon. George Washington planned, and with true engineering skills, laid out the grounds he loved. The records of his time are filled with outlines of his plans. Now more than two and a half centuries later, people come from all over the world, to see this beloved spot.
When George Mason built his home Gunston Hall, he planted his great box allee, which is said to be the oldest one in Virginia. Mason is the author of the Bill of Rights. Boxwood was used as the outstanding feature of almost all early colonial gardens.
Through the first century the great mansions and gardens of Virginia were almost exclusively along the large waterways, since that was the means of their transportation. As the settlements pushed westward, so too did the fine homes and gardens.
Thomas Jefferson built his dream home Monticello, where he had hoped his days would end. He was in constant communications with people abroad for inspiration and assistance with his garden plans. His extensive travels brought him in touch with many different landscape practices and methods, of France and other countries.
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