Virginia Living Museum
The Virginia Garden at the Virginia Living Museum highlights Virginia’s botanical history from 1607 to the present. Visitors see the native plant species that were present when the first settlers arrived at Jamestown. They can then see flora that was introduced to Virginia by Native Americans and the plants that helped the settlers to survive those first critical years. The garden also displays flora that the colonists introduced to Virginia, which eventually became naturalized, and some native species that were exported to England to be used in gardens there. It also showcases an early colonial botanist who was key to identifying and naming Virginia’s flora. Finally, the garden emphasizes some plants that have been introduced to Virginia which have become invasive and threaten native plant populations.
The entrance to the garden is through a Virginia woodland of pines and flowering trees and shrubs.
As the visitor emerges from the woods, the plants that Native Americans introduced through trade are displayed. Beans, corn, sweet potato, and tobacco are just a few. Across from that are blueberries, dogwood, and timber trees, which helped the colonists survive by providing food, shelter, and revenue.
When the visitor moves a little further down the path, we discuss the difference between a native and a non-native. Not only did the settlers arrive in 1607, but so did their livestock. In the bellies of their livestock resided seeds of European plants, which were deposited on Virginia soil. Queen Ann’s lace, dandelion, and ox-eye daisy are thought by many to be native, but are, in fact, introduced. Virginia did not have suitable native grasses for grazing either. Therefore, colonists imported seeds of grasses that would be better suited for the task.
At first, crops were grown to support the settlement as a whole. More colonists arrived and towns began to form. People began to cultivate individual gardens where food plants, herbs, and medicinal plants were grown together. Visitors can see what these colonial gardens were like, the types of plants that were grown, and how they were used.
There is also a portion of the garden that is dedicated to the display of “New World Ornamentals”. Early naturalists and botanists, like John Bannister and John Clayton, began to catalogue and name the vastness of Virginia’s flora. As they did, they discovered beautiful and unusual species that were prized by European collectors. Many of our native flowering trees and shrubs were collected and exported as “exotic species from the New World”.
Finally, there is a section of the garden that discusses non-native invasive plants in Virginia. The visitor gets an opportunity to discover which plants are taking over native ecosystems. Some plants, like kudzu, were introduced to Virginia to help with a particular problem, like erosion control. Others, like purple loostrife, were imported for use in our gardens. All of these plants are growing out of control and are choking out native plant populations.
The Virginia Garden is located in front of the Harry Wason Education Center.
The garden has been partially funded by The Common Wealth Award obtained by the Huntington Garden Club from The Garden Club of Virginia, with additional support from Lancaster Farms Wholesale Nursery and Custom Gardens, Inc.