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The Pleasure Gardens of Virginia

From Jamestown to Jefferson
Peter Martin

BUY Paper · 240 pp. · 7 × 10 · ISBN 9780813920535 · $32.50 · Nov 2001

Using a rich assortment of illustrations and biographical sketches, Peter Martin relates the experiences of colonial gardeners who shaped the natural beauty of Virginia's wilderness into varied displays of elegance. He shows that ornamental gardening was a scientific, aesthetic, and cultural enterprise that thoroughly engaged some of the leading figures of the period, including the British governors at Williamsburg and the great plantation owners George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, William Byrd, and John Custis. In presenting accounts of their gardening efforts, Martin reveals the intricacies of colonial garden design, plant searches, and experimentation, as well as the problems in adapting European landscaping ideas to local climate. The Pleasure Gardens of Virginia also brings to life the social and commercial interaction between Williamsburg and the plantations, and examines early American ideas about gracious living.

While placing Virginia's garden tradition within the larger context of that of the colonial South, Martin tells a very human story of how this art both influenced and reflected the quality of colonial life. As Virginia grew economically and culturally, the garden became a projection of the gardener's personal identity, as exemplified by the endeavors of Washington at Mount Vernon and Jefferson at Monticello. Martin draws upon both pictorial representations and the findings of modern archaeological excavations in order to recapture the gardens as they existed in colonial times.


Eminently readable.... The trials and frustrations of tilling ground with a climate so unlike Mother England's make interesting reading; it is fascinating to look back to a time and place when so many uncertainties confronted the would-be gardener.

Publishers Weekly

Martin shows that... Virginians were experimenting with all sorts of imported and, increasingly, native flora... as a means of expressing themselves and their places in the new world.

Virginia Quarterly Review

Martin's book is a first of its kind. By drawing on a wide variety of new material, by considering the development of gardening in Virginia as an entity, and by applying his skills as a garden historian, Martin has brought into sharp focus a crucial era of American gardening. Partly because it is so well written, and partly because of its subject, this volume [has] a wide appeal.

John Dixon Hunt, Professor and Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania

About the Author(s): 

Peter Martin is Professor of English at Principia College, and a former garden historian for Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. He is the author of Pursuing Innocent Pleasures: The Gardening World of Alexander Pope, A Life of James Boswell, and Edmond Malone, Shakespearean Scholar, and is the editor of British and American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century.

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