Enrapt I sat in the quiet hour and found my soul in the heart of a flower.
There is so much treasure and serenity to be found in a beautiful garden. Walking along formal walkways or informal foot paths, there are beautiful discoveries to be had – left and right, up and down. A well planned garden conceals and then reveals its delights around every corner and The Elizabethan Gardens is a stellar example of lush, quiet beauty. Because Michael loves flowers and photography, I always look for special gardens as we travel.
The Elizabethan Gardens were originally planned to be a two acre garden site created to memorialize Sir Walter Raleigh’s English colonists of Roanoke Island whose settlement mysteriously disappeared and became known as the “Lost Colony”, 20 years before the permanent settlements of Jamestown and Plymouth Rock were established. The North Carolina Garden Club began designing the garden in the early 1950’s and they planned to represent a colonial garden typical of the 1850’s. With the help of the renowned landscape architectural firm, Innocenti & Webel, they were able to secure a fantastic gift of statuary including an ancient Italian fountain and pool with balustrade, wellhead, sundial, birdbaths, stone steps and benches, dating back beyond the time of Queen Elizabeth I. As a result of this gift, the original colonial garden concept was expanded to become a more elaborate design and to incorporate a much larger parcel of land.
The designer, Richard Webel, used the statuary to “create a garden Elizabethan in spirit and style but adapted to the present. Built on ten acres of indigenous growth, the gardens are the imaginative concept of an Elizabethan pleasure garden. Construction actually began on the historic date of June 2, 1953, the date Queen Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England. The Gardens were formally opened August 18, 1960, on the 373rd anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, the first child born in America of English parentage. ”
The gorgeous grounds begin at the beautiful gatehouse that has a flagstone floor and hand-hewn beams. It was constructed to resemble a 16th century orangery, a building designed to protect orange trees during the harsh European winters. Just outside the gatehouse is a large courtyard with a formal Shakespearean herb garden.
From here you can take a number of paths, some bricked or paved and others covered in soft pine needles, to see a magnificent statue of Queen Elizabeth the First who reined during this time; a 16th century historically accurate gazebo overlooking the sound; a statue of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the new world; and an exquisite sunken garden with a fountain, formal plantings and many beautiful Crepe Myrtle trees. The sunken garden is framed by hollies that are trained to form beautiful arches that provide delightful glimpses of the garden’s interior and draw you into the garden with its large fountain.
There is also a natural woodland garden, a formal rose garden and an extensive camellia collection that has 125 different species. There are HUGE Magnolia trees and a majestic Live Oak tree that is over 430 years old and was alive when the first colonists landed in Roanoke. There is also a very large, “great lawn” surrounded by trees and shrubs. During Elizabethan times, having a great lawn was a measure of wealth – only the truly rich could have land lie idle. All these gardens are connected by beautiful tree covered, canopied walkways that draw you further and further into the garden’s delights.
One very special building is an authentic reproduction of a 16th century gazebo that was built using period tools and techniques. The hand-hewn oak posts and beams were locked together – no modern nails we used in this structure. The gazebo is topped with an authentic thatch roof. The Norfolk reed, brought over from Norfolk England, is considered by many thatchers as the finest roofing material and when an expert constructs with these materials, roofs are expected to last 60 to 70 years (!) as long as the ridge is replaced every 10-15 years. The gazebo is delightful to look at and is nestled into lovely woods that open up to overlook the Roanoke Sound.
We spoke to one of the garden’s caretakers who has worked at the garden for over 12 years. Her love of the garden was clearly evident in her conversation about the types of plants grown in the gardens and their bloom cycles. The gardens are designed to have color all year round. Spring and Summer have the most variety of blooms and are probably the showiest times. Fall is beautiful because it is so mild in North Carolina and the annuals are still blooming nicely while the grasses turn lovely shades of brown.
Winter is special because all the Camellias, also called the Rose of Winter, are in bloom. The staff was starting to prep for a fall harvest festival with lots of activities for kids on the Great Lawn. This will be followed by Nights of Lights in December when the garden will be draped in twinkle lights which should be stunning.
Here is a sample of some of the plants that are in bloom now:
If you are ever in this area and like gardens and plants, the Elizabethan Gardens is a must visit excursion. (It is also located near the sweet town of Manteo – lots of lovely shops and restaurants on the Roanoke Sound.)
1. Information about this garden came from the Elizabethan Gardens website. Italicized text in quotes was pasted verbatim from the site.
2. Unfortunately, I could not find an author reference to the quote I saw at the garden on a plaque dedicated to Marie Perry Odom, Chairman of the Garden from 1974-1997 – Enrapt I sat in the quiet hour and found my soul in the heart of a flower. If anyone has any information, please let me know so I can update this post. Thank you.