18th-Century Fun at the Colonial Williamsburg Garden Symposium!

Three of us – Laura Aschenbeck, Shari Edelson, and Keelin Purcell – just returned from the Timeless Lessons from Historic Gardens conference, a two-day symposium presented by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in partnership with the American Horticultural Society. The conference was held in Colonial Williamsburg, VA, and included informative lectures, walking tours of Williamsburg’s beautiful 18th-Century gardens, and even a culinary demonstration! The weather was perfect, and the gardens were in peak spring bloom with colorful heirloom tulips, redbud trees, Carolina jessamine, and fragrant lilacs.

Our host for the weekend was Laura Viancour, Manager of Colonial Williamsburg’s garden programs. She oriented us to the gardens, introduced us to a number of conference speakers and attendees, and served as a great guide and source of information all around!

The three of us attended the conference as recipients of a generous student scholarship made possible by supporters of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, as well as by donations from other conference attendees. We thank all of these donors for making it possible for us to attend – the experience was fun and educational, and provided a great opportunity for us to learn about historic gardens in Williamsburg and around the country.

Since Shari and Keelin had never been to Colonial Williamsburg, and Laura hadn’t been since she was a kid, we were all excited to get a chance to look around the garden areas. On the first day, we all went on the Horticulture in the Historic Area tour, which was a self-guided opportunity to meet with different garden experts throughout the grounds. We spoke with arborists, gardeners, and landscapers about how they plan and maintain the historical plantings. The garden beds were bursting with spring tulips, narcissus, and other bulbs, and newborn lambs were grazing in pastures throughout the town.

Senior gardener Charles Spruell talks to Symposium attendees about the management of one of the gardens.

Later Sunday afternoon, Laura attended a session entitled, “From Field to Fork.” Executive Chef Rhys H. Lewis, of the Williamsburg Lodge, demonstrated the use of local, seasonal produce in recipes used at the Lodge. From a mixed greens salad with wild honey vinaigrette and poached pears to seared scallops with roasted corn relish, the audience gained a new appreciation for the use of ingredients from field to fork. Laura rounded out her delicious afternoon by exploring Colonial Williamsburg vegetable gardens and chatting with the interpreters about 18th century cultivation techniques.

These beautiful yet functional glass pieces were often used as season extenders for cool season vegetables.

On Monday, all three of us attended a great lecture by Scott Kunst, landscape historian and proprietor of Old House Gardens, the only mail-order company in the U.S. specializing in heirloom bulbs. Scott talked about the importance of preserving these historic plants, and introduced the audience to a few of his favorites, including the ruffly parrot tulips that became popular during the tulip craze of the 18th century. Scott works closely with Colonial Williamsburg’s horticultural staff to identify period-appropriate bulbs for the gardens. Landscape supervisor Susan Dieppre told us that when assembling her fall bulb order, she wouldn’t be without the Old House Gardens catalog!

Beautiful heirloom tulips bloom in one of Colonial Wiliamsburg's period gardens.

All in all, the three of us had a fantastic time in Colonial Williamsburg. We’d love to go back for another visit – perhaps next spring, when the Garden Symposium rolls around again!

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