Garden Photo of the Day

Spring in Colonial Williamsburg

Fresh beauty in a historic town


Colonial Williamsburg, in Williamsburg, Va., is known for its historic buildings and staff dressed in period costumes. If you go off the main roads and slip through the little white gates into the spaces behind the buildings, however, you’ll discover numerous beautiful little gardens, which now are a riot of spring color.

The style of the gardens and the plants in them are authentic to the time period. The overall layouts are very formal. They are all straight lines, square beds, and lots of trimmed hedges. Within that formality the plantings are rich, layered, and a little bit wild. The formal structure tames the informal plantings, and the final effect is magical.


A patriotic color scheme combines red and white tulips with blue wind flowers (Anemone coronaria, Zones 7–10) and blue forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica, Zones 5–9).


Dutch irises (Iris, Dutch hybrid group, Zones 6–9) aren’t grown nearly as commonly as they should be. These fall-planted bulbs produce elegant blooms the next spring in a wide range of colors. Like tulips, they are usually best the first spring they are planted, but also like tulips, they are still well worth growing.


Yellow tulips mingling with red-and-yellow native columbine (Aquilegia canadensisZones 3–8) and blue Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica, Zones 3–8).


Spanish bluebells are everywhere in the gardens. These tough bulbs take sun or shade, resist deer, and multiply to make big, romantic masses like this. In addition to the common blue, there are white and pink forms, though they tend to be a little less vigorous in the garden.


Neat brick paths and mown grass contain the wild exuberance of the plantings. The whole garden is presided over by an old crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indicaZones 7–9) with a beautiful trunk. White fences and historic buildings frame the scene.



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View Comments


  1. user-7017435 04/27/2018

    Good morning, Thank you for this terrific post this morning.
    The white picket fences & brick paths offset these gardens beautifully. I am always looking for blue plants & the Spanish bluebells fit the bill.
    Thank you & good luck, Joe

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 04/27/2018

    Love those Dutch Iris. Supposed to be good down to zone 9. I am zone 8b & have never been able to get them to grow. Well, one came up. But other gardeners in my zone say they can't get them to grow either.

  3. User avater
    meander_michaele 04/27/2018

    I also belong to the failure with Dutch iris club... but have had great success with Siberian iris which have very similar bloom shapes (to me). Plus, the Siberian iris come back reliably in ever expanding them.
    That is a gorgeous crepe myrtle in the final picture...its height and spread is very impressive

  4. cheryl_c 04/27/2018

    Beautiful photos of an historical and beloved space. I was given starts of the Spanish bluebells many years ago - mixed colors - and first they 'sorted themselves out' so that the blues grow in one area, and the whites in another - the pinks have long since died out. They are VERY tough - remember, tough is sometimes spelled T-H-U-G, and I've really had to concentrate on pulling out huge quantities... after they bloom... to keep them manageable. They are in the full shade of an old dogwood.

  5. user-7017435 04/27/2018

    Good morning Cheryl, Thank you for mentioning their thuggish habit. I had intended to plant them in a new cottage garden but now will start them in a more remote area.
    Thank you, Joe

  6. btucker9675 04/27/2018

    I'm going to try the Spanish bluebells in the dappled light, wooded area at the rear of my backyard - we have thinned out the trees slightly, and limbed up to allow for a "sun-lit shady" quality. Thanks for the beautiful photos.

  7. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 04/27/2018

    This post brought back fond memories of exploring Williamsburg with our children. The best part to us, was walking through this gates to see the backyard plantings.
    Joe, we have a different type of bluebell here in the PNW. They’re beautiful but as Cheryl said, you’ll be finding them all over your yard. I don’t mind since they’re easy to pull out

    1. cheryl_c 04/27/2018

      Mine only spread by bulb division, not out into other beds, so Joe should be safe. But, if we never hear from him again, we'll know what got him!

  8. cheryl_c 04/27/2018

    Oh, and I have gotten the ground cover form of plumbago, which wakes up pretty late, to fill in over them once I pull out all their mushy foliage in late May.

  9. phungnguyen 07/10/2018

    Great to see the blooming tulips, this is a very beautiful spring with lots of fresh flowers hoa khai truong

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