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.
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.
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