The Gardens at Stratford Hall


This summer will mark the 80th anniversary of the partnership formed in 1929 between the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association and The Garden Club of Virginia to restore the gardens at Stratford Hall. The Education Department is celebrating that continuing association with various activities, including a retreat set for July 26-29, 2009 called “Arranging from the Garden.”

Another way of highlighting the fine tapestry of Stratford Hall’s landscape history will be a periodic look at what’s happening in the gardens. In particular, there will be some discussion of the historical significance of various plants and trees to be found there. A personal favorite is the Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina or H. tetraptera), which is just finishing its bloom here. Native to several southeastern and southern states, the Silverbells in our East Garden stand 10’ to 15’ high. Unfortunately, garden references by the Stratford Lees are very limited and do not include Halesia. However, the Carolina Silverbell was available from Bernard McMahon in Philadelphia in 1802 and Thomas Jefferson lists it among his “ornamental trees” in 1817. Thus, it was certainly available while the Lees still lived at Stratford.

While we know the Lees grew roses, once again details are few. One that became increasingly popular in America toward the close of the 18th century was Old Blush (Rosa Chinensis), also known as the “Chinese Monthly Rose” and “Old Pink Daily” (to cite several names commonly used). Old Blush became a particular favorite because of its repeat blooming qualities, this rose providing color in the garden spanning much of spring, summer, and fall. Old Blush could have grown here in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Certainly, one example that is thriving at Stratford Hall in the 21st century is seen in this May 4 photograph. Sadly, our tulips are at the end of their blooming period. Several diehards stood until recently, however, including this one which offers a nod to the magnificent “broken” multicolored tulips so popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Such tulips in fact were at the center of “tulipomania,” a period during the 17th century when the value of single specimens rose briefly to astronomical levels. As with subsequent “bubbles,” giddy investors were soon financially ruined when prices quickly tumbled.