“Virginia Military Institute: Houses, History and Honor” Enticed Us to Lexington for Easter Weekend

Spring flowers at The Greenbrier, April 22, 2011

Last week, more than 250 gardens, private homes and historic landmarks across Virginia were open to the public for the 78th season of Historic Garden Week in Virginia. On Saturday, Lexington celebrated Historic Garden Week with “Virginia Military Institute: Houses, History and Honor,” an eight-stop tour that included lunch and two lectures about VMI’s history. What better reason to spend Easter weekend at one of our favorite places?

We began our Garden Week itinerary with a stop at The Greenbrier on Friday afternoon, where a children’s afternoon tea party with Greenious H. Brier, Greenbrier’s holiday hare, was about to start.  Colorful plantings of pansies and tulips provided a great idea for Nails to try next spring.

19th century scarecrow, Stonewall Jackson House, Lexington, Virginia

In Lexington, the backyard kitchen garden of the Stonewall Jackson House was our first stop on Saturday morning. Before serving for the Confederacy in the Civil War, Jackson was an instructor at VMI; he purchased the brick house at 8 East Washington Street in 1859. Jackson owned an 1858 edition of Robert Buist’s Family Kitchen Gardener and followed a detailed planting schedule for growing flowers, vegetables and melons. To extend the growing season, he used a cold frame and a hotbed to protect his plants from frost. A “scarecrow” from James Anderson’s The New Practical Gardener (1879) was our favorite part of this reproduction garden. Used to chase off birds, this scarecrow consists of a feather-studded potato hanging from a sapling. The potato gives the scarecrow weight so that it sways in the wind; the feathers are meant to make birds think that there’s something strange watching over the garden.

Tom the Nipper and Spec in front of their home, Lee House, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia

Next, we stopped at Lee Chapel to adopt two new pets: Tom the Nipper and Spec Lee. Robert E. Lee’s daughters, especially Mildred, loved cats; Tom was admired by the General for his gravity and sobriety in chasing rats and mice. Spec was the Lees’ black-and-tan terrier who accompanied the family everywhere; in fact, he even attended church with them. When Spec distracted some children during one service, Lee thought Spec should be left at home, so the next Sunday morning, Spec stayed behind and watched the family out an open second-floor window, but not for long. Spec jumped out of the window, joined the Lees just as they reached the church, and went in with them as usual. After that, General Lee allowed Spec to go to church whenever he wanted to.

Then, it was time to head down the Colonnade to VMI to start our “Houses, History and Honor” tour. Check back tomorrow to find out what we did next!

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