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
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