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Serenity on the St. Jones

A Formal Garden Restored

The John Dickinson Plantation may not look exactly as it did 200 years ago, but it still gives the feeling of the 18th century. In 1954, Alden Hopkins, who helped design gardens for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, designed a Colonial Revival garden for the plantation. The formal garden was installed during 1954 and 1955. The parterres (a flower garden having beds in paths, arranged in a pattern) in the formal boxwood garden resemble the British union jack, when viewed from the 2nd story of the house.


This formal garden is now more than 50 years old and it became apparent that some drastic renovations were going to be necessary to keep it looking it’s best. Various approaches were considered and it was eventually decided to try to retain the ‘bones’ of the original 1954 garden, but to give it a new look. Overgrown shrubs in the garden’s center were blocking the vista of the surrounding farm fields from the house and there was very little seasonal color in the garden. It was generally felt that the garden could be more useful as an area in which the public could be educated on perennial plants native to Delaware and as a gathering place for people awaiting tours of the mansion.

In 2004, overgrown quince shrubs were removed from the center of the garden and in 2005 all of the small boxwood shrubs, edging the parterres, were removed as well. The boxwoods were infected with nectria canker, a soil borne fungus, which was causing the plants to decline rapidly and for which there was no cure.

These shrub removals created 18 small geometric areas in which sod was then installed. The new grass provided a larger and more welcoming space for visitors to assemble.

images of John Dickinson Plantation gardens

Seating around the existing four holly trees was added to complete the picture.

images of John Dickinson Plantation gardens

Renovations were needed to the network of brick pathways that ran throughout the garden and these repairs were completed in August of 2005.

images of John Dickinson Plantation gardens

When the dust settled, eight open parterres remained along the outer edges of the formal garden. These areas were planted using perennials and bulbs in a palette of blue and yellow. This new plant material ensures that there will be visual interest in every season, however the best ‘flower show’ appears during the spring and late summer.

images of John Dickinson Plantation gardens

The renovated Colonial Revival garden is now a gathering place for visitors and school children. Butterflies, insects and birds are also visiting the garden in greater numbers due to the many blooming flowers.

images of John Dickinson Plantation gardens

The garden provides a thoughtful place to consider the house of John Dickinson and to enjoy the vista of the land he once farmed all the way to the St. Jones River. Our last addition to the garden will be the installation of a compass rose as a garden focal point sometime this year.
Come visit the John Dickinson Plantation and enjoy the wonderful, newly renovated formal garden!

John Dickinson Plantation Formal Garden Plant List

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