The walls of the graperies, now called the Walled Garden, were constructed in 1834-1836 with greenhouses attached in which grapes were grown. By the 1890s, however, the greenhouses were no longer standing and there was a boxwood hedge planted within the walls.
By the 1930s, pictures depict an already overgrown boxwood hedge and, in the early 1990s, the boxwood showed signs of decline. The hedge was starting to fall prey to the many insects and diseases that boxwood are susceptible to. Correspondence between James Biddle (1929-2005) and the landscape company, Doyle and McDonnell, Inc., in 1992 and 1993 reveal efforts proposed to save the 100-year-old boxwood hedge. Unfortunately, their efforts didn’t help the failing hedge and, in 1995/96, it was removed and a replacement planted.
The new hedge was Ilex crenata ‘'Green Lustre'’ which looks similar to boxwood, but is not susceptible to the same diseases and insects and is known to be very hardy. In 1998, we were still hand pruning and training the new hedge in the walled garden, and by 2000, we were shearing this hedge at least twice a year. By 2013-2014, however, the Ilex hedge had become overgrown.
In the spring of 2015, we noticed that the winter damage to this hedge was more severe than we had ever seen. With exterior construction projects at the Big House beginning, no weddings were scheduled which provided a perfect opportunity to rejuvenate the hedge by severely cutting it back.
Amazingly, by autumn 2015 the hedge was completely flushed out with beautiful new green growth. By next fall it will be back to looking full again, only at a reduced size, making it easier to have events in the Walled Garden.
I believe that even though the hedge is hardy, the Walled Garden creates a microclimate that causes damage to the hedge. During the day, the inside of the Walled Garden heats up followed by drastic drops in temperatures with night fall, much like what would occur in an unventilated cold frame in direct sunlight. To combat this problem, this winter (2015-16) we protected the hedge by using an anti-desiccant spray called Moisturine and constructed burlap walls around it.
I am pleased that we had the opportunity to rejuvenate this historic hedge, and I hope our continued efforts for winter protection will prevent any damage, keeping it looking great for many years to come.
Primary author: William Fuchs, Head Gardener
Connie S. Griffith Houchins, Executive Director