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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Lorton in Fairfax County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Organizing Nature

 
 
Organizing Nature Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
1. Organizing Nature Marker
Inscription.  George Mason designed a formal, symmetrical garden south of the house. A tall wooden fence separated the garden from the surrounding buildings, roads, fields, and forest. Visitors entered the garden from the mansion or through a gate off of the Landing Road, which curved up the hill from the river and dock below.

Mason's son John described this “extensive garden touching the house [as] … a perfect level platform” of ground neatly smoothed by Mason's enslaved workforce. This “flatte” extended one acre. Side and cross paths intersected the wide, central promenade leading from the porch towards the river. Small boxwood shrubs bordered gravel walkways. A variety of fruit trees, vegetables, flowers, and grasses flourished in each of the four quadrants, or garden rooms. At the end opposite the house, John noted “a spacious walk” and “some falls on the brow of the hill looking towards the river.” Mason's enslaved workers further sculpted the rugged terrain into three gently sloping terraces, a popular design in 18th-century Chesapeake gardens.

Boxwood Borders

Colonial
Organizing Nature Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
2. Organizing Nature Marker
Chesapeake gardeners followed the English tradition of using boxwood.


Gardeners valued their hardy branches, strong roots, long life, and the ease by which boxwood can be grown and pruned. These ornamental plants required regular, seasonal care by Mason and his knowledgeable enslaved gardeners. Some of the Masons' boxwood survived more than 250 years. The botanist Philip Miller recommended that small boxwood shrubs be planted “for bordering Flower-beds … for which Purpose it far exceeds any other Plant.” His Gardener's Dictionary (1735) became a valuable and standard reference for many. Following the boxwood's natural decline, we re-planted the garden with new, healthy boxwood in the manner Mason most likely used. This practice of using boxwood, Miller explained, kept “the Borders from washing into the Gravel-walks more effectively than any Plant whatever.”

Precision In All Things

George Mason's design for the garden helps us learn about his way of thinking.

Mason must have been a man who liked order. Every dimension in the garden fits with mathematical precision into his plan for the area around the mansion. For example, the main pathway of the garden is 12 feet wide. It aligns perfectly with the 12 foot wide central hallway of the mansion and the 12 foot wide lane that continues on the
View of the Fishing Shore image. Click for full size.
By Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1797
3. View of the Fishing Shore
Benjamin Henry Latrobe, “View of the Fishing Shore on York River at Airy Plains, looking to the East,” 1797.

John Mason explained the “Landing Road” was “where all persons or things water borne, were landed or taken off, and where were kept the boats…and canoes…for business transportation, fishing and hunting.”
Close-up of image on marker
other side of the house.

He used 60 foot square grids as the basis for his arrangement of the garden, kitchen yard, schoolhouse, and mansion. Mason's careful attention to detail demonstrated to his visitors his good taste and fine education.
 
Location. 38° 39.834′ N, 77° 9.6′ W. Marker is in Lorton, Virginia, in Fairfax County. This marker is at the east front of Gunston Hall. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Lorton VA 22079, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. A “Considerable Force” (within shouting distance of this marker); “Resources within Themselves” (within shouting distance of this marker); What Lies Beneath (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); Shiloh Baptist Church (approx. 0.6 miles away); Fort Belvoir Military Railroad Historic Corridor (approx. 1.9 miles away); ‘Thermo-Con’ House (approx. 1.9 miles away); Belvoir Grounds and Potomac View Trail (approx. 1.9 miles away); The Birth of a River (approx. 1.9 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Lorton.
 
Categories. AgricultureColonial Era
 
The Box Tree image. Click for full size.
Internet Archive
4. The Box Tree
From A Curious Herbal, Containing Five Hundred Cuts, of the most useful Plants, which are now used in the Practice of Physick, 1737, by Elizabeth Blackwell, John Nourse and Samuel Harding.
Diagram of Gunston Hall's Garden Restoration, 2017 image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
5. Diagram of Gunston Hall's Garden Restoration, 2017
by Robert McGinnis Landscape Architect.
Close-up of image on marker
Gunston Hall image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
6. Gunston Hall
This marker is visible on the right in this photo of Gunston Hall.
The Landing Road<br>Through the Boxwoods image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
7. The Landing Road
Through the Boxwoods
 

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Credits. This page was last revised on May 29, 2019. This page originally submitted on May 28, 2019, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. This page has been viewed 82 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on May 28, 2019, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.   7. submitted on May 29, 2019, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. • Andrew Ruppenstein was the editor who published this page.
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