Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuckahoe Plantation

In honor of this year's garden week, I made a visit to the west side of Richmond to visit Tuckahoe Plantation, boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson. Even though I've lived in the area for almost 20 years, I somehow hadn't heard of this property. Tuckahoe is privately owned but the beautiful grounds are open year round and the house is open by appointment. The house is surrounded by an extensive garden that has changed quite a bit over the years. The current garden is not a period reconstruction, but a combination of elements both old and new.
One of the great things about the property is the impressive entrance. Two wooden pillars and a historical marker are the only things that indicate that something intersting lies in the woods beyond. The nearly mile long drive is lined with rugged red cedars and open pastures. If you didn't know better, you would think you were at one of the old plantations out in the middle of Charles City County.

Admission to the grounds was $5, which you drop in a box near the front of the property. After driving over an hour to get there, I discovered I had a $20 and $1. So I left the $1, and made a mental note to send the rest of the money when I got back home.
The north part of the house dates from 1733, and the south end was built in 1740. Jefferson's family moved there in 1754. The house has a lovely view out towards the James River, though you can't really see it once the trees have leafed out.
But that's not a bad thing. In a spot like this you can see how landscape can be an important part of a view, not something that gets in the way. Nowadays, if this property were developed, the owner would probably cut down all the trees so they could get a better view of the river in the distance.

The ghost walk below, marks a prominent axis in the garden. To the south there used to be an elaborate boxwood maze until it was destroyed by boxwood decline in the late 1970's.
The maze is the dark patch to the left of the main house in the picture below. Years ago, the maze was anchored by the still-standing one room building that was supposedly Jefferson's boyhood schoolhouse. It now backs onto an empty field.from National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Tuckahoe Plantation

On the other side of the ghost walk is a large ornamental garden with long rectangular flower beds and dotted with large flowering shrubs. In mid-April, the garden was filled with assortment of pastel colored tulips and the scent of blooming lilac.
The garden was also accented by an assortment of hand made trellis and vine structures, giving it a very homey feel.
On the eastern edge of the grounds is memorial garden designed by Charles Gillette in 1949 (below). Its formal structure struck me as a little out of place and disconnected from the more rural feel of the rest of the garden. Also in this area of the property is a small enclosed cemetery and several scattered graves. I always enjoy seeing old family graves in a garden—it adds a certain gravitas. I think we should bring this tradition back.
On the west side of the property is the Plantation Street, a collection of original buildings including slave quarters, a dairy and kitchen. These buildings make the property one the best preserved plantation layouts in the country.
The Plantation Street is accented with several small flowering trees like the large, beautiful fringetree below.
And tucked away behind another building was a small herb/knot garden containing a loose mix of perennials including these frilly pink peonies.
Tuckahoe Plantations still functions as a working farm by raising chickens, grass-fed beef and cut flowers. You can also board your horses in their stables if there's room available.

I hope you all don't overlook Tuckahoe Plantation as long as I did—be sure to visit soon!


Les said...

Thanks for the tour. I grew up within a few miles of Tuckahoe and went to Tuckahoe Middle School (a little corner of Hell), but never got to go down that long lane. You would think that being Jefferson's boyhood home, it would be better known. However I am sure it is eclipsed by his more famous house. It is hard to imagine that this place was once the edge of the frontier.

James Golden said...

I'll put it on my list for that future visit to Virginia.

Janet said...

So do you want to be planted in your garden upon your demise?

What a great tour, I had not heard of it either. I am very impressed with that This time of year I am very fond of peonies...each and every one of them.

How It Grows said...

Thanks for the comments guys...Janet, I'm already designing my gravestone. Nothing fancy, just a 12' marble likeness of myself.

Janet said...

Sounds very tasteful.

Hartwood Roses said...

Sounds like this must go on my list of places to visit. Garden Week is a national holiday in our household ... I look forward to it all year. It's nice to know that I don't have to wait till next April to visit Tuckahoe.

Janet said...

Tukahoe is one of Virginia's best-kept secrets. I have yet to make it there myself, so am grateful for your post. Just beautiful.