April 17, 2008 — The University of Virginia will participate in the 75th Historic Garden Week in Virginia April 22. Events include a lecture by Will Rieley, U.Va. School of Architecture alumnus and former faculty member, and a student-designed exhibit on the architectural history of the U.Va. gardens. As always, the University's pavilion gardens and selected homes will be open to the public for the event.
Rieley, who serves as consulting landscape architect to the Garden Club of Virginia, which sponsors historic garden week, will give a public talk titled "The Garden Club of Virginia and the U.Va. Gardens" at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library.
Special Collections will also house a student-curated exhibit, "Designing History, Curating Nature: The Gardens Within the Academical Village" on April 21 and 22. The exhibit outlines the architectural history of the gardens and their relationship to the wider University community.
Landscape architecture students Jessica Calder, Melissa Celii, Taylor Cooper, Paul De, Kurt Fulmer, Dhara Goradia, Lauren Hackney, Christa Kolb, Elise Mazareas and Chihiro Shinohara, as well as College of Arts & Sciences student Mary Brandon Ingram, created the exhibit as independent study projects over the course of the year. They explored themes such as how the gardens have changed over time, their use as social spaces and the patronage of the Garden Club, which restored the gardens in the second half of the 20th century.
Landscape architecture professor Beth Meyer, who guided the students in developing the exhibit, said that the project was a chance for the whole University community to learn more about the unique spaces.
"There are a lot of myths about those gardens," Meyer said. She also pointed out that while Jefferson laid out the serpentine walls, "He didn't design the gardens. He let the faculty develop them the way anybody who moved into a house would. They had to grow their own food."
Until the early 20th century, the faculty residents of the pavilions had control of the garden space. Since then, they have increasingly become a more public part of the University. The Garden Club of Virginia offered to restore the gardens in 1948, commissioning landscape architect Alden Hopkins to create the current colonial revival designs.
"Hopkins was hired to develop gardens in the spirit of what Jefferson might have been interested in, and gardens that would be a little more public than they had been before," Meyer said. "From the gardens he had visited and written about, and the garden books and treatises he owned, they identified a range of garden types that they thought would be suitable and transferred those to the site here."
Just as Jefferson designed the pavilions of the Academical Village to present different architectural styles, each garden reflects a different garden typology. For example, the Pavilion VI garden was designed as a wilderness garden, and the garden of Pavilion VII, the Colonnade Club, represents a French style.
Lydia Brandt, an architectural history and art history doctoral student, also advised the students on creating the exhibit. According to Brandt, the students' work helps correct a surprising lack of scholarship about the gardens, considering they are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
"What the exhibit does beautifully is bring to light the varied history of the gardens," Brandt said. "One of the things that is really remarkable that the students have done is that they have included a lot of photos and maps that people have not seen before, in addition to the overall narrative of the exhibit."
Meyer also praised the students and their dedication to telling the story of U.Va.'s unique landscape.
"The fact that I was able to find so many students over the course of the year, interested in taking this on in addition to all their required classes, says something about how those gardens affect people," Meyer said. "Everyone wanted to know more about them.
" ... It is unusual to have a campus that has enclosed gardens at the heart. You think about an American campus and you think about quadrangles. You think about big lawns enclosed by buildings. But you don't think about this mix of domestic space and civic or collective space so close together. I think the reason the gardens are so memorable is that they are a big surprise."
She added that while visiting the gardens, "You feel as if you are transgressing a space that shouldn’t be public. There is something wonderful about feeling like you shouldn't be somewhere but you can be there. And there is an element of care to them that is unusual in a campus landscape."
After being displayed in Special Collections, the exhibit will be on the salon walls of the Architecture School's Campbell Hall from April 23 through April 27.
In addition to the lecture and exhibit, the following gardens and homes will be open April 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for historic garden week.
Pavilion I, III, VII, IX
West Lawn Rooms 29 and 39
West Range 13, Edgar Allan Poe's room
Carr's Hill, home of the University of Virginia President and Mrs. John T. Casteen III
U.Va. Art Museum - “Flowers Interpret Art” show, featuring flower arrangements inspired by works of art.
For a complete list of U.Va. Garden Week activities, visit www.vagardenweek.org/schedule-albemarle.htm.