In the early 1800s, George Carter designed a WALLED GARDEN. Enslaved people carved terraces out of the hillside and built masonry walls, some of which served as decoration and others as protection from harsh winds. Additionally, enslaved people constructed wooden and brick structures along these walls for housing and storage.
An 1819 newspaper article from the Journal of the Times described the garden as
“producing all kinds of vegetables, vines, fruits and flowers.” George’s wife, Elizabeth O. Carter, identified in her diary 21 specific fruits and vegetables, including asparagus, strawberries, potatoes, cauliflower, and radishes.
The Garden Plan of Oatlands, c. 1903
This plan, c.1903, reveals a rare combination of Carter and Eustis-era designs. The Garden House, now missing, appears on this plan, and the teahouse is not yet constructed. However, the smokehouse is already noted as a studio with a new chimney. Image courtesy of Architect’s Emergency Committee, Great Georgian Houses of America, Vol. 1, Dover Publications, 1970.
By the time Edith and William Corcoran Eustis purchased Oatlands in 1903, the garden and buildings had fallen into disrepair. Edith Eustis, an avid gardener, hired numerous local workers to restore 4 ½ acres of terraced space with colorful plantings, garden statuary, and an ornate balustrade fence. She reinvigorated the allee of boxwoods and built a charming teahouse. Today, the garden is primarily ornamental but honors its agricultural past with plantings of vegetables and herbs. The unique walled garden evolves with each changing season.
Of her garden, Edith Eustis once stated, “It was a thankful task to restore the old beauty, although the thoughts and conceptions were new, they fitted it. And every stone vase or bench, every box-hedge planted, seemed to fall into its rightful place and become a part of the whole.”Edith Eustis
Garden Steps, c. 1930s
It took many hardworking people, both enslaved and free, to make this garden a place of beauty and charm. A visitor to Oatlands in 1860, Amanda Edmonds, wrote, “It is a perfect Eden on earth…The gardens were laid off beautifully and studded with every variety of shrubbery and evergreen.” Lee Lawrence, Society of Rebels: The Diary of Amanda Edmonds, Northern Virginia 1857-1867, Piedmont Press, 2016. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Oatlands’ Garden, 1904
Taken about a year after the Eustis family purchased Oatlands, this wide shot of the garden shows significant progress in their restoration plans. The balustrade fence is installed, the dilapidated garden buildings are gone, and cold frames protect delicate plantings until they are ready to go into the ground.