The Gardens of Historic Kenmore

Historic Kenmore is known for many things; for being the home of Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis, for its Georgian-style brick architecture, its famous ornate decorative plaster ceilings, and, last but not least, for its beautiful gardens. Unfortunately, today only three out of Kenmore’s nearly 1300 original acres remain but with the help of The Garden Club of Virginia, dedicated volunteers, and generous donors, the remaining landscape surrounding the house was cared for over the last century.

There is a very exciting centennial celebration coming up for Kenmore. The Kenmore Association (presently known as The George Washington Foundation) was established in 1922 to save the historic home from destruction. Kenmore will celebrate its 100th anniversary as a historic house museum next year in 2022.

Similarly, The Garden Club of Virginia was established when eight garden clubs across the Commonwealth of Virginia were invited to attend a conference in Richmond on May 13, 1920. Last year was the club’s 100th anniversary.

Fielding and Betty Lewis, for whom Kenmore was built in the mid-1770s, left no historical records of what gardens they had or where they were located. Even though there is little archival or archaeological evidence of original garden plans or planting, we do know that tobacco, wheat, and corn were grown in Kenmore’s surrounding fields. Furthermore, the terraces on the river side of the house, which are still there today, were hand-built by enslaved laborers. Without precise archival and archaeological data, however, Kenmore’s gardens over the years were based on a general understanding of 18th century gardening styles.

Terrace built by enslaved laborers in the 18th century visible in Kenmore’s gardens.

The creation of the present-day gardens began in 1929 when The Garden Club of Virginia raised funds for their organization’s first project, Kenmore’s gardens. Indeed, as written about previously, Kenmore inspired Historic Garden Week in Virginia, which was held for the first time that same year.

This initial establishment of Kenmore’s gardens was led by landscape architect Charles F. Gillette with contributions by James Greenleaf and Alden Hopkins. Colonial Revival-style gardens were planted with boxwoods around the foundation of the house, along paths, and on the terrace. The west lawn, which faces present-day Washington Avenue, was treated as the “front of house” since carriages entered from that side in the 19th century. This lawn was planted with stately trees. On the east lawn, at the rear of the property facing the Rappahannock River, a four-square garden edged in boxwoods was added.

In 1941, The Garden Club of Virginia brought back Gillette to create what was called Betty Washington’s Flower Garden and to add an enclosing brick wall around the property.

Kenmore’s gardens saw further changes throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, when a decision was made by the Kenmore Association to more accurately demonstrate general 18th century garden styles and ideas as well as to introduce more native plants. The boxwoods were removed from around the house’s foundation and from most paths.

On its 70th anniversary in 1992, The Garden Club of Virginia undertook another extensive redesign of Kenmore’s gardens with landscape architect Rudy Favretti. Included in this replanting was another revamping of what was called Betty Washington’s Garden, the creation of an Herb Demonstration Garden, the addition of the Wilderness Walk, and a refurbishment of the east terrace. A kitchen garden was added in 1993 and a redesign of the parterre was completed in 1994. A parterre, or four-square garden, means “on the ground” and indicates the geometrical arrangement of garden beds. The four-square arrangement is a reflection of the late 18th century move toward simplicity of design.

Come visit the gardens of Historic Kenmore today, Tuesday, April 20 for Garden Day in Fredericksburg, part of Historic Garden Week in Virginia hosted by The Garden Club of Virginia.


Jessica Burger
Manager of Marketing, Communications, and Technology

Restoring Kenmore’s Gardens

Kenmore's Gardens 1

While the various restorations of Kenmore itself over the years are usually the star attraction for visitors to the site, there was another restoration, equally as important, that occurred on the property in its early years as a museum.  Kenmore’s gardens are well-known for their beauty now, but when the Kenmore Association acquired the property in the 1920s, the grounds were in a sad state.  It would take generations of work and ingenuity from a variety of people and groups to return the gardens to their former glory.

Perhaps the most important moment in the history of Kenmore’s gardens was when the Garden Club of Virginia decided to tackle them as their first-ever restoration project in 1929.  The Garden Club established Virginia Garden Week specifically to raise funds for the project.  Their success in both completing the first restoration of Kenmore’s gardens, and in creating a significant annual event across the Commonwealth of Virginia lead to more than 50 historic garden restorations since, and the celebration of its 83rd Historic Garden Week next week.

In 1940, the next phase of Kenmore’s garden restoration began when the Garden Club agreed to fund the implementation of designs by the renowned Southern landscape architect Charles Gillette.  His plans included the “secret garden” area in the northeast corner of the grounds, the brick wall that currently surrounds the property, and Kenmore’s iconic brick gate on Winchester Street. Gillette would continue his work at Kenmore into the 1950s.

Garden Letter 1

Page 1 of a letter from Hetty Harrison to Annie Fleming Smith dated June 26, 1940 informing the Kenmore Association that the Garden Club of Virginia had selected Kenmore as its restoration project and that renowned Southern landscape architect Charles Gillette would provide the design.

Garden Letter 2

Page 2 of the Harrison-Smith letter

Tree Planting

Ceremonial tree-planting on the Kenmore grounds, 1938.

Most recently, the Garden Club of Virginia undertook another restoration of the gardens in 1992.  The Club remains a vital supporter of Kenmore’s landscape efforts to this day.

During Historic Garden Week, enjoy Kenmore’s gardens and experience the house in a new way! On Tuesday, April 26, try a specialty tour highlighting one of three topics—the restoration of Kenmore at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., American Revolution at Noon and 3:00 p.m., and ceramics at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.  For more information and to view the specialty tours monthly schedule, click here.

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations