Visit Williamsburg's Gardens
Below are various sites throughout the greater Williamsburg area where you can enjoy natural beauty and lush gardens.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Busch Gardens has been named World's Most Beautiful Theme Park every year since 1990 by the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA). England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany and Italy serve as the setting for Busch Gardens’ 350-plus acres of exploration. The Williamsburg adventure park is committed to authentic and accurate theming; to create old-world European flair throughout its six countries, Busch Gardens carefully depicts each detail, from quaint cobblestone streets and building facades to designer landscapes and beautiful statuary.
The College of William & Mary
Adjacent to Colonial Williamsburg at the west end of Duke of Gloucester Street is the Sir Christopher Wren Building at The College of William & Mary, the oldest college building in America and the heart of the colonial campus. The Wren Building opens onto The William & Mary Sunken Gardens. Its design follows the spirit of 18th-century English landscape gardens, which abandoned the geometric parterres of Europe in favor of sweeping lawns intended to uplift the spirit by leading the eye toward a distant, natural setting.
In this case, that setting is the Crim Dell, one of the Williamsburg area's most beautiful sites to take a photo in spring. According to campus lore, two people crossing the bridge while holding hands will be lifelong friends -- and, if they kiss, lifelong lovers. Pathways around Crim Dell are planted with rhododendron, azaleas, and spring- and fall-blooming camellias, and large stands of Mountain Laurel present a spectacular display of blooms in May. The campus is home to numerous other gardens and green spaces, including The William & Mary Wildlife Refuge, a shady habitat that shelters four Trillium species, a variety of ferns, a number of common wildflowers and several rare species.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area offers more than 90 acres of green spaces and gardens. Certainly a highlight of any tour is the Governor’s Palace. Its complex of gardens, spread over 10 acres, resembles English country estates during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II. Three original features from the 18th century remain: the ice mount, the falling gardens (terraces) and the canal.
More than 26 other well-known historic and pleasure gardens, as well as kitchen gardens make a superb walking tour in Colonial Williamsburg. To name just a few, the Prentis House is an excellent example of garden development within the confines of a typical half-acre lot. The pleasure garden, behind the service yard, has been designed with six parterres edged in yaupon holly. The simple kitchen garden parallels the pleasure garden on the east, and a small orchard near the back of the street is balanced by the stable and paddock at the far of the site.
The Bryan House features an arbor covered with trumpet honeysuckle and American wisteria that offers a splendid view of the carefully trimmed boxwood parterres. At John Blair House, visitors will find a kitchen dooryard and small herb garden reminiscent of the “physick” gardens popular in colonial times. Make sure one of your stops is the Colonial Garden and Nursery, which displays rare and unusual varieties of heirloom vegetables, as well as a collection of heirloom rose and fruits. Staffed by interpreters and garden historians, it features a botanic garden of North American and European herbaceous plants and an herb garden with examples of culinary, medicinal and household herbs used by the colonists.
Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center
Springtime is planting time in fields and gardens at Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center, living history museums which include agriculture in the story of the nation’s beginnings. Varieties of crops and herbs and vegetables grown in the 17th and 18th centuries are cultivated at Jamestown Settlement’s re-created Powhatan Indian village and English colonial fort, and at the Yorktown Victory Center’s re-created 1780s farm. There, children and adults may get the chance to help historical interpreters turn the earth, water and weed.
Principal crops are corn, a food staple of the Powhatan Indians that English colonists adapted to their diet, and tobacco, Virginia’s premier cash crop during the colonial period. Dozens of varieties of vegetables and herbs used in the 17th and 18th centuries for food, medicine, fabric dye and insect repellant are cultivated year-round.
Virginia Living Museum
The Virginia Living Museum has the largest display of native plants in Virginia through exhibit and landscape plantings and display gardens. The museum encourages conservation gardening and gardening with wildlife in mind.
Plantings within the indoor Cypress Swamp and Mountain Cove habitariums include trees, shrubs and perennials found in those areas of Virginia. A series of “spot the tree” ID signs along the outdoor boardwalk help visitors identify native Virginia trees.
The Butterfly Garden contains more than 60 species of plants native to Virginia that are important to native butterflies. This includes trees, shrubs, vines and perennials that produce either nectar for adult butterflies or food for caterpillars. This outdoor garden attracts numerous wild butterflies and is a certified Monarch Waystation.
The Virginia Garden highlights Virginia’s botanical history from 1607 to the present. The garden includes native plant species that were present when the first settlers arrived at Jamestown, flora that was introduced to the colonists by Native Americans, and the plants that helped the settlers survive those first critical years. The garden also displays introductions to Virginia’s flora by the colonists and some native species that were exported to England to be used commercially and in gardens there. Finally, the garden emphasizes some plants that have been introduced to Virginia that have become invasive and threaten native plant populations.
The Conservation Garden showcases earth-friendly ways to garden. Seven themed landscape beds (each with educational signage) around the Goodson Living Green House illustrate how native plants, mulching and composting can reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It shows how proper landscaping methods can reduce stormwater runoff that pollutes local waterways while providing food, water and shelter for wildlife.
The Goodson Living Green House shows homeowners, architects and contractors all the latest techniques and products they can use to build and maintain an earth-friendly home, presented in a way that makes them understandable to the general public. Techniques include everything from a green roof and alternatives to PVC piping to a solar water heater and decking material alternatives. It's the first of its kind in Virginia and one of the first in the country.
The museum has created the Holt Plant Heritage Greenhouse, a working greenhouse for plant propagation, research into new ways of propagating rare and endangered species, displays of native plant collections, quarantine space for plants to be used in animal exhibits, growing areas for taller specimens, and potting benches for hands-on native plant horticulture for children and adults. This multi-use space is open to tour groups and classes on an appointment basis.
Williamsburg Botanical Garden
The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is located in Freedom Park, a two-acre ellipse seen by visitors approaching the parking area. The Ellipse Garden functions as a demonstration garden for plants known to do well in our coastal plain climate; the majority are species native to the area, and are labeled with their scientific and common names. Pathways guide the visitor through the Butterfly Garden, the Herb Garden, the Native Garden, two Wetland sites, a Native Meadow, Pine Woodlands and Native Grasses. A pavilion with a green roof, benches and picnic tables offer shelter.
Yorktown & the Yorktown Onion
The Yorktown onion is not native to this country, but came from the Old World. The scientific name of both our plants and those of the Old World is Allium ampeloprasum. Allium is Latin for "garlic," while alpeloprasum means “leek of the vineyard." Though the plant is always referred to as the Yorktown Onion here, it has several other common names. In print it has been called wild onion, giant wild garlic and wild leek. Our plant probably made its way to the New World, like many other plants, by accident. Legend has it that the seeds came here during the Revolutionary War mixed with crop seeds or fodder. Regardless of how it got here, it became firmly established as a wild plant in what is now York County.
The Yorktown Onion is protected by law, as Section 17-35, Subsection B, of the York County Code states that “Gathering or collecting the Yorktown Onion shall be prohibited."