April, 2013 marked the celebration of the 80th Annual Historic Garden Week in Virginia, presented statewide by the Garden Club of Virginia each Spring since 1929. This year’s official Garden Week book indicated that 178 homeowners all over Virginia, assisted by over 3000 volunteers from the 47 member clubs, opened their homes and grounds to public tours last week. Proceeds from the Tours help preserve the grounds of historic landmarks all over the state as well as to fund scholarships in landscape architecture. The Eastern Shore of Virginia has so many beautiful historic homes that have been preserved and restored that going to the Garden Week open houses here is always a delight. The homes that are selected are always great and the last week of April is a perfect time to show gardens in full bloom here on the Shore. This year six waterfront homes in Northampton County’s beautiful southern tip were open and we devoted our Saturday afternoon to visiting three of them, two historic and one quite contemporary home. Each was gorgeous in its own particular way. I only wish that interior photos were allowed because the architectural detail is often remarkable in these homes, as is the decor, including some outstanding collections.
Our first stop was at Old Castle, home of Northampton County Supervisor Rick Hubbard and his wife, Kate. It’s a lovely traditional style home located on the Cherrystone Creek inlet from the Chesapeake Bay near the historic little town of Eastville, seat of Northampton County, well known as the oldest repository of continuous court records in the nation. The house itself is of a telescoping design, a favored architectural style on the Eastern Shore in the 1700 and 1800′s, with a gambrel roof . The approach to the front door is through a double row of ancient boxwoods, taller than I am, and pressing close in, don’t think that someone the size of Pavarotti could have made it through without a bit of a push. Once inside the spacious foyer, which features a striking custom floor covering by well-known local artist, Mariam Riggs, it quickly became clear that a lot of love and work went into the restoration of this lovely home. My favorite interior architectural details were the two identical fireplace mantels in the parlor and the dining room. I’ve not seen any quite like them, multiple layers of thin carved wood in descending size, sort of like thin steps in descending order, apparently created from a single solid piece of wood, creating a remarkable effect, especially given the tools of that day. As part of the Garden theme, each room in a Garden Tour Home has a floral arrangement custom created to compliment the colors and feel of the particular room in which it will be placed. Lots of lovely floral pieces throughout this home, clearly a great deal of thought and effort went into these arrangements. Interesting collections abounded, especially Kate Hubbard’s amazing collection of salt cellars — an entire room is devoted to display shelves featuring nothing but salt cellars. All shapes and all kinds, crystal, silver, porcelain, from countries all over the world– who knew that the Chinese even used salt cellars or that German salt cellers were generally so ornate ? But the real showplace was the backyard where Mother Nature took over the limelight, including one of the most beautiful crape myrtle trees I’ve ever seen as a focal point. Fronting on the Cherrystone Creek inlet, Old Castle’s fabulous views spread right out to the Chesapeake Bay, totally awe-inspiring, I’m sure that sunsets are absolutely spectacular.
Off next to nearby Pleasant Prospect Farm, a 170 acre working farm, home to retired 4 star Admiral William J. Flannagan, Jr., whose distinguished naval career included the very serious responsibility of being the Norfolk, VA based Commandant of the entire US Navy’s Atlantic Fleet. True to its name, Pleasant Prospect Farm is indeed quite pleasant, with a quiet approach through fertile waterfront farm fields , sun glinting off the glistening blue waters all the way down the driveway. Passing several outbuildings, including a two story garage with a castle-like appendage, we arrived at the main house, a very attractive Dutch colonial style with two huge pin oaks heralding the front entrance. The original section of the home can be dated back to the 1750′s. During restoration, support beams were found in their original, unfinished state, revealing a numbering system directing the order in which they were to be installed, a rare historic construction detail. The original wainscoting is also still in place which I believe is fairly unusual. A new kitchen has been added, large, luminous, with a lightly stained hardwood ceiling adding warmth and texture, a dream kitchen really,with every detail and convenience one could wish for right there, ready to take on anything from a simple omelet to a large dinner party. My favorite floral arrangement of the day was here, the long dining room table the display surface for a striking composition consisting of 5 small, dark green watermelons (or maybe they were citrons ), about 6 inches in diameter, handsomely striped, arranged in a zigzag pattern among fancy curled Lucky Bamboo stalks which had been arranged in delicate vases of a variety of sizes and shapes, but all in various hues of pale green, a pleasing contrast to the deep green of the melons. Absolutely stunning, kudos to the ladies who created it. Once outside in the backyard, we took a few minutes to peek into several of the numerous outbuildings, my favorite being an elegant little building, light-filled, housing a built-in marble jacuzzi, waters steaming and swirling, neck muscles could unwind just by looking at it. From there, Mother Nature took over the limelight again. If possible, even broader views of Cherrystone inlet and the Chesapeake Bay were on display here, simply inspiring, no other words for it.
Then, as they would say on Monty Python, now for something completely different. Leaving the Eastville area, we headed to the Eastern Shore’s very southern tip, past Cape Charles, nearly to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, to the Pickett’s Harbor area and a new beach house nestled into the rolling sand dunes of this unique topography. Unlike most homes on the Eastern Shore, this home is very contemporary, a single story home, almost a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style home, appearing as if it had just grown out of the ground, looking as natural here as any of the numerous trees and shrubs which surround it. Cedar sided, it blends quietly into the wooded setting right at the edge of the dune line. Yet immediately as you enter the house you realize that instead of just simply being in a beautiful woods you are actually on the edge of an amazing beach, that although the house is nestled into woods on the front side, the rear of the home is balanced on sparkling, rolling dunes, nothing but sand and swaying sea grasses for hundreds of feet, ending only at water’s edge, where a view of infinite blues takes over the eye’s focus. The house itself, designed by its architect owner, Tom Goffigan, an Eastern Shore native, now transplanted to the bright lights of L.A., is long and narrow, basically one room deep in many places, but each of these bright and airy rooms enjoy fabulous views of sparkling waters, glistening sands and golden sunshine. What more could be asked of such a pristine setting ? My favorite room was the screened porch, full house wide, built- in window seats spanning one entire end, framed with wide cedar cross posts forming a soothing pattern, breezes flowing through, laden with the tangy sea aromas. Outside, a long, low slung boardwalk zigzags unobtrusively from the house to the end of the dune line, providing an easy path to the beach and protecting the fragile dune vegetation from being trampled. This is a very handsome home, decorated with all sorts of Eastern Shore memorabilia, old maps, photos, antique fishing reels, a very restful space indeed, a great home to end our tour with. From there, after making a quick stop at nearby Nottingham Farm Market to pick up some tender, picked-that-morning-fresh local asparagus for dinner, ever so yummy grilled with lemon butter, we set out for home, a delicious spring treat in hand, the end of an interesting day. (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr.,Machipongo VA)