Last week I shared photos of Colston Burrell’s garden near Charlottesville, Va. and promised to show off two amazing gardens in that historic city. Here ya go!

The Garden of Podcaster Leslie Harris

I visited Charlottesville at the invitation of Leslie Harris (no relation) whose podcast I’d been catching up with since we met in January at a trade show. I’ll be covering her podcast in my next round-up of gardening podcasts (lots of meaty tidbits!) but for now, check out her GARDEN!

The top photo is the view from the street that told me I could silence the woman giving me directions on my phone because clearly THIS is the home of a crazy-ass gardener, something I’ve learned from her podcast that she definitely is. (I’m one, too, but my yard is tiny compared to hers. Okay, compared to almost anyone’s.)

I also had to laugh at myself for having assured Leslie via email that I, the experienced gardener, was prepared to see her garden not looking its best in early April. You know, so I’d be forgiving in my judgments. Little did I know.

That goes double for her back garden, seen here from a second-floor window. Between the woods, the evergreens, the paths, the emerging perennials and the cool design features, this garden hardly needs flowers to look great. But with dogwoods and (surely) thousands of bulbs and even a few early azaleas, the effect was kinda thrilling on the cool rainy afternoon that I visited.

We lunched in the plant-filled “garden room” on the lower level, seen on the far right in this photo. With its expansive view of the garden, covering two lots, it’s an incredibly beautiful spot and I kicked myself afterwards not capturing it in pano photos or even video. (Sorry! I’m bad at remembering that I blog.)
Visit Leslie’s Instagram account for lots more photos of her garden and others in the area.

The Periwinkle Garden

Leslie took me to see the famous Periwinkle Garden, which is so historic it’s in the Archive of American Gardens  of the Smithsonian and also on the Virginia Landmarks Registry, where it’s described thusly: “Periwinkle Cottage is a one-and-a-half-story Colonial Revival-style dwelling built in 1938-39 that borders the Farmington Country Club golf course.” About that golf course, it’s stunning! And views of it add immeasurably to the beauty of the Periwinkle Garden itself.

Virginia Living has covered the garden, with lots of photos in that link and this description:

…a mix of informal and formal, intimate and grand floral motifs, all enriched with a variety of textures, colors, scents and sounds. And, like any well-loved garden that is tended by its owner, it is a work in progress, always growing, changing and reflecting the character of its makers.

The current owner is Donna Ernest, whose parents created the garden and lived there until their deaths. I got to meet Donna, now in her 90s, and I can report that she’s not only fun and witty but honestly, beautiful.

Donna Ernest’s mother was a keen gardener with a good eye for design. Her garden—started from scratch—evolved organically as she dug up periwinkle from nearby woods to carpet the floor of her own open woodland, planted boxwoods to create garden rooms, and laid out paths connecting the spaces. She planted a Victory Garden during the war and an orchard of apples and peaches.

Intrigued by this elegant woman’s penchant for hands-on gardening, the local children began to call Irene Sims “Mrs. Periwinkle.” She was frequently seen weeding the periwinkle while properly dressed in her high-heeled shoes and stockings, gloves and a sun hat. “Mother died in the garden in 1987, age 92, with her arms full of irises,” says Ernest. “She was a gardener to the end.”

Several designers have contributed to the garden over the years, including none other than Cole Burrell:

C. Colston Burrell, a native plant expert living near Charlottesville, helped the Ernests select a pleasing mixture of native plants, hellebores, ferns, bleeding hearts and Japanese roof irises to fill the beds on either side of the path.

And guess who else has chosen new plants for Periwinkle Garden? Why that would be Leslie Harris, who owned a “fine gardening” company for seven years before selling it to one of her best workers and starting her podcast. (The company is now called Abigail Gardens.)

So it’s no wonder Leslie knows so many great gardens in the Charlottesville area, having worked in many of them herself. On top of that, she’s now chair of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week for that part of the state.

Me, I shudder at the thought of taking on that volunteer job. Organizing tours of top-notch gardens for large crowds is huuuge! I say God bless the event-organizers!