On the search to find historic house gardens that aren’t “too far away to visit”, we look today in Virginia at Gunston Hall in Mason Neck in Fairfax County, This is the home of George Mason (1795-1792), the Virginia planter-politican considered to be the father of the U.S. Bill of Rights. The house and grounds are open to the public as befits a National Historic Landmark.
The Georgian style house built in the 1750’s, was designed by William Buckland and is noted for eschewing the new American mantra of simplicity; rather it utilized the decorative French rococco and chinoiserie style with an admixture of gothic. The front porch, which is architecturally famous, is said to resemble a temple copied from a Roman coin.
A south facing gothic portico overlooks the main garden, set on one acre with a boxwood lined gravel path that extends to a Potomac overlook. The view of the river was no doubt more magnificent when the trees were kept cleared–the open vista was a popular landscape element. In keeping with the 18th century period, the garden landscape was designed in geometrical divisions made accessible by pathways. This main boxwood bordered garden area would have been devoted to vegetable gardening to feed the household. The plan kept a linear focus from the entry allee toward the house as you can see in the photos. Originally, these were black-heart cherry trees which stopped at a distance, allowing the mansion to dominate the viewscape.
As is the case with many historic properties, there is often a period of either change of ownership or new ideas of architecture and design, and Gunston Hall was no exception to this. The original plan was both altered and obliterated in part during the 19th and 20th centuries, so reconstruction of the landmark property has been required. Archaeologists and historian-researchers have been at work looking for original elements. One has been the writings of George Mason V, known as Recollections, his memories of the look and feel of Gunston Hall, which have been an aid to replication.
10709 Gunston Rd, Lorton, VA
Open daily except major holidays
Adult admission: $8-10