Gunston Hall previews Riverside Gardens, future projects


View toward the mansion from the far end of the Riverside Garden

Gunston Hall’s fully restored, 18th century Riverside Garden — scheduled to open to the public Sept. 29 — may have taken just four years to construct and grow, but it took four decades to fully realize, when you factor in the years of archaeological and documentary research, and restoration planning.

The space behind George Mason’s mansion where the approximately one-acre garden is located has served many purposes over the past 200 years, including as an orchard and cropland, according to Gunston Hall education manager Lacey Villiva. When construction began on the garden in 2019, remnants of three different fountains and irrigation systems underpinned the soil, and 200-year-old boxwoods suffering from hot, wet weather covered its surface.

Now, the estate’s original boxwoods have been replaced with a hybrid variety that’s more weather and disease-tolerant, and the new shrubs surround four massive beds containing medicinal plants, perennial flowers and vegetables. The Riverside Garden, which has been certified as a butterfly garden, also features two bowling greens, paved walkways and fruit trees in espalier.

Rendering of the Riverside Garden

“It was rewarding to have seen the original boxwoods,” said Villiva, “and now also the new ones, which are part of the borders, small and used as intended for that period. Maybe they will last another 200 years.”

Much of the bounty from the gardens will be donated to the Lorton Community Action Center, though some will be used for Gunston Hall’s public programs, like the popular Cocktails by Candlelight, or given to staff and volunteers, said Villiva.

Just beyond the Riverside Garden, which is surrounded by a tall 18th century-style fence, contractors are finishing up leveling the step-like terraces and installing railings. Archaeologists believe the terraces may once have been used as a viewing platform and possibly for shooting deer in the park below.

Construction on the terraces behind the Riverside Garden

Other construction projects are also in the works at the historic property. According to marketing director Sandra Vieira, detailed planning will soon begin on the East Yard Project, which involves the reconstruction of slave quarters as a memorial to the hundreds of people who were enslaved there. To support that two-year project and help with descendant community research and engagement, Gunston Hall staff are in the process of hiring a temporary public historian.

Planning is also underway at George Mason’s home for new archaeological and maintenance facilities and a proposed new visitor center.

Gunston Hall plans to use funding from a Commonwealth History Grant it received last year to secure updated signage regarding Native Americans who once lived on and around Gunston Hall. The signage will include interpretative panels on the Mason Neck Trail along Gunston Road and near the shore of the Potomac River on one of Gunston Hall’s hiking trails.

The public is invited to attend Gunston Hall’s Garden Opening Celebration, Saturday, Oct. 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The open house-style, family-friendly event will feature some welcome remarks, cupcakes, guided tours and a variety of gardening-oriented activities like seed saving and flower arranging. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $8 for kids; Gunston Hall members receive a 50% discount on attendance.

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