Each year, as the cold loosens its grip on the air, daffodils announce the arrival of spring in the pavilion gardens. Soon come the brightly colored hyacinths and tulips, the whistle of the tufted titmice, and the cheery sounds of robins, cardinals and blue jays.
But it was not always this way. When Thomas Jefferson drew up plans for the Academical Village (see this issue’s retrospect “The Gardens, According to Plan”), he left the gardens blank, for private use by the faculty members living in each pavilion. According to UVA landscape architect Mary Hughes (Arch ’87), “They did anything they wanted in the back there. If they were gardeners, they could have a garden. If they weren’t gardeners, in most cases they ultimately filled up with outbuildings and smokehouses, slave quarters, utility buildings.”
It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s, when the Garden Club of Virginia undertook to reinvent them, that the pavilion gardens became the colonial revival gardens that generations have known. The group brought in renowned landscape architects from Colonial Williamsburg to reimagine gardens Jefferson might recognize, using landscape fashion and plants from his time.
They also opened the gardens to the public—though that’s not always clear, says Zach Root, a landscaper who works in the east gardens. Sometimes students and tourists “don’t really get that they’re public, because they don’t look it—gates and walls and things.”
Still, thousands make their way to the gardens each spring. Landscaper Shannon Adams says she sees gardeners from all over the country who come to talk about plants; others come to celebrate weddings or the end of the school year; locals come to walk their dogs; and students come to sling up hammocks.
Adams says she loves working in the heart of Grounds, hearing and seeing a bit of everything that goes on. Here, we offer our readers farther afield a look at what she and others saw this spring.