The upper garden began as a fruit and nut garden in 1762. It was transformed to a pleasure garden in 1785. A visitor in 1796 recorded in their diary that they saw “a neat flower garden laid out in squares and boxed with great precision.” The three large planting areas within the upper garden are edged with boxwood and surrounded by a 10 foot border full of fruit trees, shrubs, roses, and annual and perennial flowers. In the center of each bed are cultivated vegetables of all types. For more information on Mount Vernon's reasearch into the garden's original layout, see our archaeology in the upper garden page.
The garden's most formal element is a well-documented, recreated boxwood parterre in the shape of a French fleur-de-lis. Mount Vernon scholars speculate that George Washington's use of the parterre was a way both to honor his friendship with the Marquis de Lafayette and to pay tribute to the French for helping America win the Revolutionary War.
On the other side of the Mansion's west lawn across from the upper garden is the "lower," or kitchen, garden, where you'll discover a delectable variety of fruits and vegetables. Much of the produce that appeared on the Washingtons' table was raised in this brick-walled, sunny spot located directly behind the stables and their unfailing supply of manure. Today rows of asparagus, beets, beans, spinach, and peas grow in beds edged with low-growing herbs. Apple and pear trees pruned to form waist-high, stout fences line the paths between beds of artichokes, onions, and lettuce. The garden is a wonderful example of a formal English kitchen garden. It also showcases the abundance of "vegetables indispensable to the kitchen," that so pleased Martha Washington.
Tucked away between the upper garden and the north lane is a small, enclosed space where George Washington quietly experimented with growing a variety of plants. He fondly called it his "little garden." Washington would himself sow the untried seeds, tend them during the growing season, and record the results. Many of the seeds were sent by friends and admirers from foreign countries.
George Washington spent much of his life experimenting with plants and crops. He first used this four-acre garden in 1771 to experiment with grapes. He planted more than 2,000 grape cuttings, however they did not succeed due to disease. After the war, he used the garden as a nursery, and planted a variety of grasses, wheat, grains, and vegetables to produce seeds for his farming operation. George Washington wanted his farming operation to be self-sufficient. He believed it was “disreputable” for a farmer to continue to buy seeds year after year.
In 1786, he designed an orchard, which covered two-thirds of the garden’s area. He planted dozens of saplings that had been sent to him by family and friends, and transplanted mature trees from his own gardens. The orchard supplied the Washingtons with fresh fruit nearly six months a year. George Washington kept detailed records of the trees planted, which included 11 different varieties of pears, four of apples, three of peaches, two of cherries, and a number of plums.