How to Get Inside Virginia’s Most Beautiful Homes

The garden gate leading to the Eyre Hall Gardens on the Eastern Shore

Have you ever driven by a magnificent home and wondered what was behind the front gate? Well, now’s your chance to see some of these beautiful homes in Virginia. The Garden Club of Virginia (GCV) recently announced that tickets are now available for the 2020 Historic Garden Week home tours.

Every year in late April GCV offers a wide array of garden & house tours throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Communities show off some of their most beautiful homes. From centuries-old historically significant homes, filled with stories dating back before the Revolution, to modern dwellings that reflect our view into the future. Here are some behind-the-scenes secrets of how these unique events come together. So, mark your calendar to visit Virginia between April 18th and 25th, 2020!

One of the home tours in the last few years was held in the picturesque town of West Point, Virginia. This quaint hamlet is where the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers flow together to form the York River. I was honored to meet and chat with Adele, one of the Chairwomen of the Garden Club of Middle Peninsula while I was in town. She was so helpful in giving me a glimpse into the workings of the tours.

Many of the answers were provided directly by Adele, so you’ll see her name, like this [Adele] next to the information in those cases.

She Shed Reading Nook on the Virginia Historic House Tour
A cozy She-Shed on a recent Historic Garden Week Home Tour in Charlottesville

What is the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV)?

GCV was started in 1920 with eight regional clubs. They were the Warrenton Garden Club, the Albemarle Garden Club, the Garden Club of Norfolk, the James River Garden Club, Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club, the Garden Club of Danville, the Dolley Madison Garden Club and the Augusta Garden Club.

As active members of the community for nearly 100 years, the goals and focus for the 47 clubs today are clear, concise, and inspiring:

“To celebrate the beauty of the land, to conserve the gifts of nature and to challenge future generations to build on this heritage.”

The individual clubs that make up the Garden Club of Virginia are all different. Some are clubs in larger towns and cities, some cover an entire county, and some are clubs made up of multiple counties.

What is Historic Garden Week (HGW)?

Historic Garden Week is often called “America’s Largest Open House.” Each spring over 25,000 visitors tour over 250 of Virginia’s most beautiful gardens, homes, and historic landmarks. This 8-day statewide event provides visitors a unique opportunity to see magnificent gardens at the peak of Virginia’s springtime color. You can stroll through beautiful homes sparkling with over 2,300 flower arrangements painstakingly designed to enhance the decor and created by Garden Club of Virginia members.

Each location hosts a 1 or 2-day open house, usually consisting of 3 to 5 homes, gardens or historic sites that can be toured at your own pace. Every tour is unique because of its region, bonus offerings and the wide variety of homes chosen each year. Most of the homes are different every year, so you can go again and again and always see something new.

Tour proceeds fund the restoration and preservation of more than 40 of Virginia’s historic public gardens and landscapes. Funds also support a research fellowship program, awards, grants and a Garden Club of Virginia Centennial Project with Virginia State Parks.

Bright colored modern art painting with flowers in matching colors preparing for a Historic Garden Week house tour
When finished, this floral arrangement will coordinate perfectly with the decor

How Can I Buy Tickets for the Home Tours?

You may see advertising about tickets being sold locally if there are HGW tours near you. You can also visit the Historic Garden Week website for details about when and where tours are held and tickets are being sold. Purchase discounted advance tour tickets online or at local outlets beginning in November of the prior year.

There are a limited number of tour tickets sold for each tour location/city. Ticket prices vary by location and range from $25 to $55 per-tour, which includes multiple homes. Some regions also offer Combo Tickets for multiple towns that are near each other. For example, a Combo ticket is available for the towns of Williamsburg, Hampton-Newport News, and Norfolk for $85. This is a savings of $20 over the price of $105 for the 3 consecutive tour days sold separately.

Please note: Online and advance tour ticket sales end at 10 a.m. on the day of each tour. In other words, if a tour takes place on April 29, online ticketing is available until 10 a.m. on April 29. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t go to that tour headquarters and buy tickets in person.

If you plan to visit several home tours throughout the state, consider a Statewide Pass.

You can purchase tickets online at the HGW website here.

2020 dates are Saturday, April 18 to Saturday, April 25th.

2021 dates are April 17th to 24th

What Else Will I Get With my Garden Tour Ticket?

Every region and tour is unique but here are just a few of the additional benefits that have been offered on various tours:

  • Watch Plein-air artists create works of art
  • Shop at a local marketplace of artisans and craftspeople
  • Get free admission to nearby historical sites
  • Learn from local experts about gardening, floral arranging and other topics of interest
  • Visit the homes of local celebrities like authors, artists and more.
  • Learn about regional practices like smoking Virginia ham, fox hunting, farming, oyster harvesting, or plantation life.
  • Peek into the homes and back yards of gorgeous private estates that you’d never see otherwise.
  • Enjoy a low-cost lunch or free refreshments prepared by local groups or restaurants
  • Learn about the intimate history of Virginia as you hear the stories of the people who lived here.

How Does GCV Manage So Many Tours Around the State?

[Adele] Each club has its own Historic Garden Week (HGW) committee that runs the tour for that club, following the guidelines from Garden Club of Virginia. The guidelines are mostly about the nuts and bolts of HGW — insurance issues, signage for the tours, communicating with homeowners, and most importantly getting the ads and information to go in the HGW guidebook.

Beautiful horse stables and corral in Warrenton, Virginia
Beautiful horse stables and corral in Warrenton, Virginia
Even the stables were gorgeous at this home tour near Warrenton

Why are Some Home Tours Hosted by more than one Club?

[Adele] Not every club hosts a home tour each year. Some clubs are in such rural areas that they might host every other year and some clubs combine with a neighboring club to host a tour.

The Garden Club of the Middle Peninsula (GCMP) is made up of Essex, King & Queen, King William, and Middlesex counties and we rotate HGW through the four counties. Each county is responsible for HGW every four years. Last year it was King William County’s turn to host HGW. We began planning 18 months before we hosted the tour in West Point.

Do the Garden Clubs Accept Donations from Businesses?

[Adele] As part of the tour prep, the local garden clubs ask businesses and interested parties to help by donating funds or services to cover the costs incurred, such as printing brochures, tickets or paying for portable restrooms. That money helps make all the proceeds from the home tour ticket sales go straight to Garden Club of Virginia. Our goal is to ensure that all ticket money goes to GCV projects, not to cover tour costs. All donations are prominently recognized by the club in a variety of ways.

GCV accepts donations throughout the year. Find out more about how you can help here. As mentioned before, all proceeds from the Historic Garden Week tour tickets are used solely for designated projects — landscape restoration, conservation, research fellowships and for specific projects in Virginia State Parks.

This is part 1 of 4 in my series going behind the scenes at Virginia’s Historic Garden Week. To learn more about this and my other travels, visit my blog at Traveling with Purpose.

Originally published at https://travelingwithpurpose.com on January 15, 2020.

I’m a travel and lifestyle blogger at https://Travelingwithpurpose.com. I love learning, photography, creativity, studying people and sharing my discoveries.

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