Historic Gardens​

The East-West Axis of the garden begins when exiting the east door of the mansion.

Two centuries ago, George Carter designed and built Oatlands House and Garden. In the style of Tidewater Virginia and its English antecedents, Carter placed his formally organized garden near his house. The structure of the garden is comprised of terraces carved into the hillside to provide level areas for abundant plantings of fruit and vegetables along with trees, shrubs, and flowers. Even now, Carter’s steps and landings provide access to these same terraces. Cut from locally quarried stone, these steep steps are major axial walkways.

Carter constructed and planted his garden with self-sufficiency and beauty intertwined. As one meanders through the garden, sweeping views of the surrounding hills and woods may still be seen even though the garden perimeter is enclosed by the Garden Dependencies together with the Garden Wall. Built with brick fired on the plantation and indigenous stone, the structures define the outer perimeter of the garden and shelter the garden plants.

Nearly a century after George Carter began the construction of Oatlands, Mr. and Mrs.William Corcoran Eustis of Washington, D. C. purchased the property as their country home in 1903. In spite of the garden’s neglected state, Edith Eustis saw the garden ruin as a quiet, still, mysterious place harboring “old secrets” that inspired her to fill Carter’s terraces with boxwood-lined parterres full of fragrant and colorful flowers such as tulips, peonies, iris, and lilies. Romantic plant containers, statuary, and structures were added.

The bowling green and the reflecting pool share one long terrace with the teahouse acting as one terminus and the young fawn statuary as the other. The rose garden and a memorial to a daughter of Mrs. Eustis also became garden elements. Under her care, Carter’s terraces were revivedwith ornamental charm typical of the Colonial Revival Style popular in her time. Edith Eustis took pleasure in transforming Carter’s garden. In 1923 she stated, “It was a thankful task to restore the old beauty, although the thoughts and conceptions were new, they fitted it. And every stone vase or bench, every box-hedge planted, seemed to fall into its rightful place and become a part of the whole.”

Carter plants: Boxwood, larch tree canopy, and English Oak.

Many Carter plantings survive today:

  • Towering above the east-west axis, American Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens `Arborescens’) provide shade as one descends the stone steps.
  • English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens `Suffruticosa’), along the north-south axis, remain but are experiencing decline.
  • Two large trees planted in Carter’s day still thrive: the European Larch (Larix decidua) welcomes all to the garden with soft descending branches at the garden gate and the English Oak (Quercus robur) stands majestic in the center of the garden.

Today, the challenge of maintaining and enhancing the Oatlands Garden is still a thankful task. With Carter’s garden structure remaining solid along with his values of self-sufficiency, the old beauty continues to inspire just as it did for Edith Eustis. Her vision and ideas encourage us to creatively provide for this garden so that it will sustain, grow, and thrive for generations to come.

Map Guide:

1. The Balustrade offers one of the finest vantage points of the garden.

2. Once through the Front Gate turn right to see two of the garden’s oldest Carter trees (numbers 3 and 4).

3. European Larch -—a deciduous conifer

4. English Oak

5. Hot colors are highlighted in the yellow and red beds on the                                                                  Short Terraces. Original Carter English boxwood line the opposite side. The Eustis boxwood parterres on the terraces behind them were restored in the 1990’s.                                  

6. The boxwood parterres planted under the Southern Magnolia trees at the corners of the Sundial Parterre are original and remain today.

7. The Mixed Border features a palette of blue, pink, purple, gold, and silver.

8. Oak Grove - At the path’s end, the overlooks “a grove of great oaks” which Mrs. Eustis called the “living glory of Oatlands.” The view to the east frames the Carter bank barn.

9. Exiting north, an allee of boxwood called the Bowling Green was planted on the site of Carter’s large vegetable garden.

10. A break in the hedge allows entry to the Rose Garden. Mrs. Eustis’ rosary design—two long borders, a cedar post and chain support for ‘Dorothy Perkins’ climbers on the outside backed by tall boxwood—shows the influence of English garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll. Three circular beds were added in the 1980’s. The back border features roses representative of the Carter and Eustis periods.

11. The Memorial Garden, honors Mrs. Anne Eustis Emmet, one of Mrs. Eustis’ daughters.

12. The entrance to the Carter Tomb is located on the north side of this terrace. To the south and beyond the garden wall lies the cut gardens.

13. The statue, “Vierge d’Autun”, in the shelter of the old Box Grove was Mrs. Eustis’ memorial to a daughter who died at the age of 24.

14. Mrs. Eustis built the Reflecting Pool in the late 1930’s. “The Fawn” stands sentinel at the north end of the pool. The sculpture was created by the Italian sculptor Attilio Piccirilli.

15. Mrs. Eustis left the protective North Wall area as she found it—small beds going uphill and old foundations cascading down to a grassy area.

16. The Herb Garden was designed and installed by the Goose Creek Herb Guild in the 1980’s.

17. The Dependencies—c. 1820, originally opened to the inside of the garden. The tool shed walls display the signatures and dates of retiring gardeners since 1912.

18. Mrs. Eustis added windows, a fireplace, and an ornamental door to the Carter Smokehouse for use as an art studio. Today, it serves as the garden office and display area for some of Mrs. Eustis’ woodcarvings.


Related Links


Oatlands Garden Plan


Garden Map

Click to enlarge