Oatlands is well-known for its beautiful historic garden. Originally a food garden for the Carter families (1798-1897), it became an ornamental garden during the Eustis family’s ownership (1903-1964). Today the garden is primarily ornamental but gives a nod to its agricultural past with several sections devoted to vegetables and herbs. The mansion and other brick buildings on the property were constructed in the early 1800s as George Carter established the plantation he called Oatlands. The buildings and thriving agricultural and commercial enterprises were made possible by an enslaved labor force.
This row of brick rooms is known as the Garden Dependency. Based on its location, its function was related to the garden and possibly the mansion. The original use of each room is not known. The small room at the end with the open door (right side) is used to store garden tools and is known today as the Garden Shed.
During the first generation of Carter family ownership, slaves carved the garden’s terraces out of the hillside. They planted crops such as asparagus, strawberries, potatoes, and cabbage. They watered, weeded, and harvested. After the Civil War, the property was maintained by a paid labor force. Some of the people had been formerly enslaved at Oatlands.
When Edith and William Corcoran Eustis purchased Oatlands in 1903, the gardens were in disrepair. Edith was an avid gardener and, with the help of numerous workers over the years, brought the 4 1/2 acres of terraced space back to life with colorful plantings and garden statuary. She created the corridor of boxwoods leading up to the Tea House, a beautiful addition to the garden in the early 1900s.
The gardens at Oatlands have been lovingly maintained by many people over the years. Dedicated, hard-working employees and volunteers have spent countless hours pruning, planting, re-planting, and mulching. At some point, one of the gardeners decided to sign his name to the interior of the Garden Shed — as if to say, “I was here!” The practice continues to this day. A few drew pictures on the wall. Some of the signatures have faded over time and some handwriting is simply not decipherable.
In late 2013 with funding from a National Trust for Historic Preservation Innovation Lab Grant, a project was undertaken to photograph, research and interpret the names on the Garden Shed wall. The photography was done by Rick Foster of Winchester, Virginia. Like the garden, this project will continue to grow. Our interpretive signs and web site will be updated as new information is learned about the gardeners. We welcome your input. Questions and comments should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.