The four principal gardens are mentioned above. The lower or kitchen garden was the first to be created in 1760. It was intended to be a garden of necessity, necessary for survival and good health. It is unique for its purpose has not changed since Washington’s time. For 254 years vegetables, fruits, and berries have been cultivated within the garden walls.
The upper garden began in 1763 as a fruit and nut garden. With the landscaping changes that occurred when Washington returned from the Revolutionary War the upper garden’s purpose changed to that of a pleasure garden. Pleasure gardens, gardens where flowers were grown for their beauty and pleasure and not for use, were not that common in the 18th century. Even in Washington’s pleasure garden the flowers were only grown in borders that surrounded larger beds of vegetables. Even though the upper garden was a highlight of an 18th century stroll around the estate’s grounds Washington made it clear to his land manager that vegetables were the more necessary part of gardening and that the flowers should not overshadow the cultivation of produce grown for the family kitchen. This garden beautifully combined pleasure with necessity.
The botanical garden was Washington’s own experimental space. He fondly called this small space his little garden and kept detailed records as to what he planted and where. The space was intended to try out different types of plants to see which might be Virginia-proof, or in other words, what plants could survive the harsh conditions of both the winter and the summer. This enclosure was intended to grow plants that did not require much space.
The area known as fruit garden and nursery began as a failed attempt at a vineyard. Once the grapes failed the four-acre fruit garden and nursery was created. Today the fruit trees are planted in the arrangement that Washington recorded in his diaries. The nursery area was where plants that required more space were planted and they included grasses, vegetables and ornamentals.