Riverside Garden Restoration

After decades of researching and planning, we’re taking the first steps towards making Gunston Hall’s landscape even more authentic. The one-acre site overlooking the Potomac River will be will be restored to its 18th-century appearance. When finished, its layout and plantings will be a must-see destination for all.  

Features of the garden will include:

  • A window revealing part of the original 18th-century pathway in the center of the garden
  • New pathways throughout that follow the original layout of the garden
  • Heirloom decorative and vegetable plants that were familiar to George Mason
  • A large, 18th-century-style fence that links the mansion to the garden – just as it did during Mason’s life

Phase 1: Research and Planning (Complete)

Staff, volunteers and contractors at Gunston Hall have been doing research on the Riverside Garden for nearly 50 years.  Under the leadership of architecture firm Glave and Holmes and landscape architect Robert McGinnis, Gunston Hall conducted additional, targeted research and developed a restoration plan.

Phase 2: Site Work (Summer 2019)

Site work has begun on the historic restoration of George Mason’s riverside garden. The first phase of work to be completed includes removing the current plantings and leveling the site through the addition of topsoil.

Horticulture, landscape, and boxwood experts determined that the deteriorating English Boxwood would not survive transplantation.  Leaders in the field expect an approximately 90% mortality rate for any boxwood moved. Furthermore, the boxwood likely shelters some of the most archaeologically rich material in the garden area. Transplanting the boxwood would irreparably damage that invaluable record. 

You can help support the changes that make Gunston Hall amazing with a donation today.

Boxwood Preservation

We are preserving the boxwood by: 

  • propagating new boxwood from the original rootstock
  • preserving the wood itself
  • honoring their beauty by working with artisans to turn these trunks s into artwork, as well as tools for the new garden 

We are offering an historic opportunity to bring some of the current boxwood into your garden! The public may reserve clippings from Gunston Hall’s boxwood to cultivate and plant in their garden through 9 a.m. on Saturday, August 10, 2019.

Riverside Garden FAQs

Gunston Hall’s expert staff, consultants, and volunteers have answered some of the frequently asked questions about the Riverside Garden Project. (Don’t see your answer here? Ask us via email.)

Q: How will the garden construction affect our visit?

A: Throughout the project, our walking trails will remain open and house tours will continue.  Don’t miss our new exhibition: “Revolutionary Rights,” located inside the visitor center.

For the safety of our guests, the garden area itself will be off limits during construction.  A safety fence prevents access. There may occasions guests may be unable to enter some of the kitchen yard.  We’ll advertise the brief closures on our website and social media. Don’t hesitate to ask staff at our admissions desk for any restrictions on a particular day. 

After the construction phase, you can access the site to see the garden come to life.  Enjoy witnessing the planting beds take shape and new shrubs, trees, flowers, and vegetables grow.

 

Q: How long has the project taken? When will it be finished?

A: The project builds upon nearly 50 years of archaeological investigations of the garden site and surrounding landscape.  Construction will continue until the end of 2019. It will include:

  • adding topsoil to level the site
  • removing the existing plant material
  • recreating the historic pathways
  • reconstructing the fence that surrounded the garden
  • restoring the terraces to their 18th century appearance

In the spring of 2020, the first new plants will be introduced to the garden. From there on, we will be planting and maintaining this space for many years to come while our plants and trees come to maturity! 

 

Q: What will be grown in the garden? Will it include the same plants George Mason grew?

A: We have developed a long list of plants that will be going into the garden, including

  • annual and perennial flowers
  • fruits
  • vegetables 
  • herbs
  • shrubs 
  • trees

The Masons left only a few records about the garden.  We have supplemented that knowledge with evidence from our archaeological investigations, plant lists from other 18th-century gardens, and period garden manuals in our rare book collection.

 

Q: What will you do with what is grown in the garden? 

A: We will use some of the produce in our historic foodways programs.  Some of the garden products will also go to local food pantries. 

 

Q: Are the 18th century boxwood original? Why are they being replaced, and what will become of them?

A: Gunston Hall has long cared for a significant number of 18th-century English boxwood.  Over the last 25 years, the health of these plants has declined.  Most of the plants in the Riverside Garden have grown very weak. Gunston Hall has commissioned three separate boxwood studies during the last 20 years.  Each of these experts determined that the boxwood were in poor health and nearing the end of their lifespan. Furthermore, they likely would not survive being transplanted to another location.

As our climate has evolved, much of the English boxwood in this region has encountered difficulties.  We will replant with a variety of American boxwood.

We have taken hundreds of cuttings from the 18th-century boxwood, so the genetic stock has been well preserved.  Visitors on Saturday, August 3, will be able to purchase cuttings from the historic boxwood to add to their own gardens.

 

Q: Who is in charge of restoring the garden?

A: Gunston Hall is excited to work with a number of partners.

  • Project coordinators: Glavé & Holmes Architecture, Richmond, Virginia
  • Landscape architect: Robert McGinnis, Charlottesville, Virginia
  • General Contractor: Athena Construction Group, Triangle, Virginia

 

Q: What kind of process/phases does the restoration plan have?

A: The garden restoration plan has taken a lot of archaeological investigations, documentary research, planning and fundraising. The plan itself is divided into four phases:

Phase 1: Research and planning 

Phase 2: Site work, including major construction projects like felling trees, providing electrical and water connections, and building the garden fence.

Phase 3: Restoring the terracing, at the end of the garden.

Phase 4: Planting, from planting the edging boxwood to establishing the plant beds to planting dozens of fruit trees.