By Annie Young
A frigid, arctic wind blasts across Clarke County. It is the coldest day we have had in years. I’m dreaming of spring gardens, bright colors and sunshine streaming through open windows. It’s a perfect day to meet with Terry Chandler who is not just dreaming of gardens, but is busy planning and organizing the Historic Garden Tour for Clarke County and Winchester. Mrs. Chandler is the Tour Chairperson for the Winchester-Clarke Garden Club and the Little Garden Club of Winchester. The Historic Garden Week takes place annually throughout Virginia with the local tour the weekend of April 26 and 27.
Spring seems in the distant future as we make our way through the icy fields to Long Branch Plantation, headquarters for the spring tour. The boxwoods shiver along the brick walk as we scuttle into the warm offices of Nicholas Redding and Cassie Ward. Redding, as the executive director of Historic Long Branch, is leading a phase of restoration on the house and garden.
Although the house was completed in 1811, their vision is to bring the house and furnishings to the 1860s period, with some rooms used as rotating exhibits. Cassie Ward, director of public programs, explains that the 1860s is a period of significance because of an inventory taken in 1861 detailing the entire contents of the estate.
Now they are painstakingly working on returning many of the original items back to Long Branch. One such item is a grandfather clock that was contained in the inventory and in a later photograph. Redding did “reverse genealogy,” and found the exact clock was still in the family. She was able to bring it back to the precise location where it sat for decades. Visitors can view the photograph and the clock in the front hall of the mansion. Through details like these, even visitors who have been to Long Branch many times, can get a new historic view of the home.
The circulating exhibits include Isaac’s Legacy, showcasing the late owner’s work in restoring the mansion, adding an addition, and creating the foundation that oversees Long Branch today. There is also an exhibit about the preservation and restoration work currently underway there.
Visitors are welcome on Fridays or by appointment, but many are waiting for the opening weekend of Memorial Day, when the Historic Garden Tour gives eager visitors a preview of the home and gardens. Interpreters will give guests perspective of the two hundred year history of Long Branch Plantation. “We want visitors to feel as guests of the home and experience it at their own speed,” says Ward.
The Winchester-Clarke Garden Club and the Little Garden Club of Winchester will create fresh floral arrangements to decorate the interior. The members are already planning the floral designs for the event. They source some flowers from their own gardens to create colorful arrays throughout the tour. Tea will also be served at Long Branch Historic Dining Room during the tour.
“It’s the gardens that knit the story of the house back to the landscape,” said Redding. The Rose Garden is dedicated to Sheila Macqueen. It is the only garden in the United States to be named for the well known British floral designer who created arrangements for the royal family.
New garden plans are also underway. Heirloom gardens will be made using nineteenth century building materials and styles, like kitchen and slave gardens featuring small plots with heirloom vegetables typically grown in that era. Future plans include heirloom varieties of animals. While the gardens will not be completed at the time of the Garden Tour, they will offer a seasonal occasion to visit throughout the year.
Historic Long Branch hosts monthly events. Coming in January and February is the Created Equal Movie Series featuring three films with a tour and discussion following. It is free and open to the public. More information is available online www.visitlongbranch.org