Garden Tour: Governor's Palace Pleasure Gardens

I have a feeling most visitors to Colonial Williamsburg do their ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the pleasure gardens at the Governor's Palace, not the vegetable garden. They are lovely, although definitely less lush in November than they must be in the height of the summer. Still, the "bones" of a Colonial garden, especially in the South, consists of its boxwood hedging and edges, and that part is every bit as green and beautiful at this time of year — perhaps more so, since without all the flowers, the architecture of the boxwood gets top billing. First stop? The maze:


This photo gives a good idea of the scale of the privet maze. The kids really enjoyed it, although I don't think it was as challenging as I remember it being. As you can see in the photo just to the left of the children, not all of the hedges are fully filled in. I'm not sure if this was due to the time of year or a recent pruning, or if the bushes are just in a phase of being thinner than in years past, but there were definitely some gaps in the hedge throughout the maze. The kids often treated the gaps as small doorways, so they were easily able to find the center using their child-sized shortcuts. Still, it's a magical place, and I'm in awe of the planning and upkeep behind it — especially for something that doesn't feed anyone! It definitely does its part to project the power of the English government, as all of the Palace was built to do for the citizens of Williamsburg.

Also on the grounds of the Governor's Palace is a lovely knot garden. It is edged in low boxwood hedges, and inside are planted flowers in patterned beds:


This photo gives an idea of the strict symmetry of the design. As you can see, there's not much going on in that flower bed in November, even in coastal Virginia. Some beds still had pansies to fill in the gaps, but any perennials have since died back, it would seem.


This photo gives a broader view of the garden, although it wasn't possible to stand back far enough to get all of it in one picture. Indeed, my back was against a tall brick wall while I took this picture. The people in the distance give a sense of scale, and I think this photo shows pretty clearly that the knot garden is divided into four squares. Each square has a different geometric pattern in it, and even though most areas are empty, I still find the structure of the boxwood completely satisfying to look at.

Jonas (my seven year old) stood at this vantage point and looked out for a bit, then declared that it looked like our back yard. Good eye! That's what we were going for, although we had no patience to grow in a hedge as a border. We definitely did want something that would be beautiful in all seasons, even with just bare dirt, and all the geometry inspired by this type of garden makes that happen in our yard just as well as it does here.

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