Gari Melchers Home and Studio Garden Tour
Take a walking tour of Belmont's gardens and learn about the many plants, statuary, trees and more that help tell the story of this unique site.
The eagle statue and shell bird bath were placed by Gari and Corinne Melchers at the head of the drive to greet visitors. The eagle is cast stone, and has a mark "London" discovered during conservation work. The stone plinth that supports the eagle was purchased by the Melchers from the ruins of the 18th-century mansion Mannsfield, about two miles south of Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River. Mannsfield burned during the Civil War, and the salvaged stone was sold early in the 20th century. Additional Mannsfield stone was used on the property for path, walls, and a similar plinth that supports the Putto. The hydrangeas are an old variety called "Otaksa" and can be seen in the 1923 site plan. The plaque was placed on the plinth in 1966 when Belmont was designated a National Historic Landmark.
These trees were planted by Gari and Corinne Melchers in 1923. Fun fact: Ginko bilbaos lose all their leaves in a 48-hour period. Ginko bilbao or Ginko biloba (both spellings are correct) also known as the Maidenhair tree are either male or female. Since only female Ginko trees bear fruit, and both of ours do, they are both females. Interestingly, ginko trees can change their sex, so it is quite possible that at one time we had one male and one female. Prehistoric fossils of the ginko species have been found dating back 270 million years.
In 1923, Corinne Melchers planted six elms at the west elevation of the house. The trees matured into a cathedral-like canopy, providing shade and a stately ambience to the house's rear approach. Unfortunately, five of the majestic elms succumbed to Dutch elm disease and the fifth fell victim to a lighting strike. Our current Elm trees are a replication of the 1923 planting and are the Valley Forge variety, which is resistant to Dutch elm disease.
Built in 1923, these sunken cold frames provided insulation to overwinter plants, extend the growing season, start seeds, and harden off plants. Cold frames typically have a transparent covering to allow light in while providing wind protection. A layer of manure from the cow barn was put in the bottom of the beds. This layer was covered with soil; and seeds were planted in the soil. As the manure decomposed, it emitted heat that gently nursed the seeds into germinating. A large vegetable garden provided fresh produce and strawberries for both eating and making homemade wine. A fruit orchard with apple, pear, peach and nut trees was also located in this vicinity.
This is a recent addition. However, in 1932 the Gari and Corinne Melchers built a leaf pit at the South end of the Studio to save leaves for compost and mulch. Mrs. Melchers was interested in work related to the farm and had many Department of Agriculture bulletins on topics like canning, raspberry culture, and diseases of dairy cows.
On the trellis shading the West porch is Lady Hillingdon, a climbing hybrid tea rose.
Most of the named rose varieties found in the archives do not have a reference to where they were planted in the garden, but the roses on the east and west sides of the house are exceptions. Mrs. Melchers noted that she planted Paul’s Scarlet Climber on the east porch and Aviateur Bleriot on the west side of the house. Both are back in place, and the trellises they grow on are made to match the originals, based on archival photographs.
The south lawn is delineated by a rectangular stone path marked at each corner by a triangular parterre edged in boxwood. Mrs. Melchers planted these parterres with bulbs in the spring and annuals in the summer.
Gari Melchers was born in 1860, and Corinne Melchers died in 1955. The roses planted in front of their interment site in the Studio wall by museum staff represent almost one hundred years of rose breeding. It is interesting to see the difference in their habit, blooms, and presence, or lack of, scent, rose hips, etc. in the four roses planted there. They reflect the traits rose breeders thought would appeal to the public, and illustrate that what we find desirable in our roses has changed over the years. The roses in this bed range from a finicky, but deeply fragrant tea rose called Mme. Joseph Schwartz, released in 1880, the year of Corinne Melchers birth, to a sturdy, scentless, showy shrub called Dortmund, introduced in 1955. It was the decision of the University of Mary Washington to inter the Melcherses' ashes in the studio wall and create the brass plaque. The plaque incorrectly lists Corinne's birthday as February 11, 1880. Her correct date of birth is February 27, 1880. The Melchers left no instructions regarding their interment.
The figure of a chubby nude boy, or putto, is a bronze copy of an original wooden sculpture that Gari Melchers and his wife Corinne, brought with them to Belmont from their Holland garden. The stone plinth that supports the putto was purchased by the Melchers from the ruins of the 18th-century mansion Mannsfield, about two miles south of Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River. Mannsfield burned during the Civil War, and the salvaged stone was sold early in the 20th century. Additional Mannsfield stone was used on the property for path, walls, and a similar plinth that supports the eagle statue.
The white oaks around the the Summer House pre-date the Civil War.
This stone pedestal (no date) is topped by an old mill stone from Alum Springs mill. Numerous mill stones used as garden decoration can be found throughout the property.
On the east side of the house is the Ficklen-era Long Walk, a boxwood-lined walk which runs north to south on a “fall” or terrace below the house. This terrace was hand dug, most likely by slave labor and was an expensive garden feature that signaled to visitors the important social standing of the estate and its owners. Rose arbors are situated at either end and are planted with Thousand Beauties and American Pillar roses. The Long Walk flower beds feature perennials of all sorts, bulbs, and annuals.
Most of the named rose varieties found in the archives do not have a reference to where they were planted in the garden, but the roses on the east and west porches are exceptions. Mrs. Melchers noted that she planted Paul’s Scarlet Climber on the east porch and Aviateur Bleriot on the west side of the house. Both are back in place, and the trellises they grow on are made to match the originals, based on archival photographs.
Gari Melchers Home & Studio, in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, undertook a wildlife habitat restoration of part of the former pastureland. In the spring of 2000 the fields were planted in warm season native grasses (Big and Little Blue Stem, Indian Grass, and Switch Grass) mixed with wildflowers (Black-eyed Susan, Purple Cone Flowers, Butterfly Weed) to provide food and nesting places for butterflies, small mammals, and birds. A simple path, where the grass is kept short, circumnavigates the fields to allow visitors a close-up experience. Both fields are easily viewed from the main garden for visitors who prefer to stay on pavement. Update: As of 2023, the front pasture was converted from native grasses back to a mowed, grass field. The back fields will remain as native grasses.
A “straight range of trees” was a concept landscape gardener Bernard McMahon, friend of Thomas Jefferson, promoted as “proper” in his 1806 book American Gardener’s Calendar. A “range” of trees means trees planted in a line, usually along walks and drives to provide a majestic, formal note. Cedar allées were popular in the South and are seen in many old landscapes in the Fredericksburg area. Some of Belmont's cedars could pre-date the Civil War. Our allée of trees originally featured cedars on one side and locusts on the other.
Stairs on the west side of the house led to the Schoolhouse Studio, no longer extant, and further on to Falmouth. Steps predate the Melchers era and date to circa 1850. The lilacs that border the stairs may also be an earlier feature; a Civil War letter refers to the Lilac walk. Today these steps have been restored and we have a new set of stairs at the bottom that links us to the Belmont- Ferry Farm Trail. The wrought iron fence and gate at the bottom of the stairs originated from the grand 1834 house "Smithsonia" in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The cherry tree is on top of a "mound." Remnants of a circular carriage drive going around the mound can be seen. This is the original 19th century Ficklen-period drive that terminated in this area because the house's east side served as the "formal front" entrance. The stone bench on the north end of the house may have been used as a carriage 'step down.' From there, guests would have proceeded down the boxwood lined "Long Walk."
The Garden Club of Virginia provided the funds for the 2016 restoration of the hardy orange, Poncirus trifoliata, hedge by the Visitor Center entrance. The plants have evergreen stems, are very thorny and have small oranges that persist in the winter. It can be pruned into a thick hedge, and it was used to keep livestock out of the garden. The Melcherses planted this hedge in the 1920s and thanks to the Garden Club of Virginia we now have it back in the garden.