George Washington’s love of agriculture extended to his gardens where he passionately designed and experimented, creating the formal “Upper Garden” in 1763. This space, redesigned in 1775, remains the centerpiece of Mount Vernon’s gardens and grounds. Through the years, subsequent generations have utilized, restored and interpreted this space to reflect Washington’s 18th-century flower garden.
In January 2005 Mount Vernon’s archaeologists began a long-term research project exploring the layout and design of the Upper Garden. With the decline of the larger boxwoods in this space, Mount Vernon will need to make some major changes to the garden over the next several years, and we are taking this opportunity to assess the archaeological remains in the garden before these changes occur.
Our initial excavation in January 2005 lasted approximately three months, investigating pathways and planting beds in two areas. While we anticipated finding numerous layers of soil and features which relate the garden’s long history, we did not expect the garden to hold too many artifacts, although we knew from a preliminary survey that fragments of flower pots, window glass and bricks would be found. We were most interested in documenting the alignment of garden beds and paths and combining our discoveries with historical evidence.
Based upon the discoveries in the winter of 2005 we returned to the Upper Garden in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010 for additional excavation. To date about 12% of the Garden has been investigated and we have a much clearer understanding of the many changes that have occurred in this space over the last 250 years as well as what it looked like in the 1790s.
View of the greenhouse in the Upper Garden at Mount Vernon (Rob Shenk))
In 2011, Mount Vernon's horticulturalists transformed the garden back into its 1799 layout. This garden was opened to the public in April 2011 as an authentic replica of the Upper Garden which George Washington designed and nurtured.