The Gardens

When Governor Fowle moved into the mansion in 1891, the grounds were a sea of mud. One early dinner guest who happened to be a professional landscaper, Mr. Gifford Pinchot, was asked to make some casual recommendations as to how to proceed. Mr. Pinchot, who was involved in the landscaping of the magnificent grounds at the Biltmore Estate, suggested a simple plan with native trees and green plantings which would not interfere visually with the elegance of the house itself.

grounds of the executive mansionThat edict of simple green plantings around the mansion was adhered to for many years. However, many first ladies yearned for more elaborate gardens with blooming flowers and shrubs. A detailed plan was drawn in the 1960s for First Lady Jeanelle Moore, but lack of funds made it impossible to implement. The addition of a handsome brick and iron wall around the grounds during the Robert Scott administration (1969-1973) greatly influenced the growing need for a formal plan for the grounds. Finally, in 1985, with the support of the Junior League of Raleigh and the N.C. Association of Nurserymen, First Lady Dorothy Martin set in motion a plan that continues to evolve today.

At the northwest gate, visitors are greeted by a beautiful, old-fashioned Rose Garden. Designed and planted in 1989, the garden is entered through a wooden pergola (arbor) covered by the Trier variety of climbing rose. The garden peaks in May when roses, peonies, iris, and daisies are in bloom.

Brick walkways lead toward the house, past beds of blooming shrubs. The lawns are shaded by venerable oaks and magnolias. Small beds of hollies and small dogwoods line the main walk. The flowerbeds around the entrance to the mansion reflect the spirit of the Victorian garden. Colorful beds of plantings admired by Victorian gardeners, such as elephant ears and cannas, create a background for more traditional southern selections, including azaleas, camellias, and rhododendrons.

The Southern Victorian Garden lies on the south side of the grounds and provides a private outdoor entertaining venue. The formal beds are separated from the lawn by a bullnose brick edging. The focal point of the garden is a hand-carved limestone fountain from Italy. The brick wall that surrounds the house and a privet hedge give the garden a sense of intimacy and privacy. In the spring the garden is a magnificent display of pansies and tulips that are replaced by colorful annuals during the summer months.

kitchen gardenThe Kitchen Garden is located behind the mansion at the kitchen entrance, and provides herbs for cooking and flowers for floral garnishes. A brick retaining wall creates two levels for the garden. On the lower level, a small fountain in a niche in the wall creates the restful sound of water. On the upper level, a large brick outdoor grill often is used in the preparation of meals.

The most recent addition to the grounds is a Vegetable and Cut Flower Garden. A walk made of 1891 slates from the 1994 re-roofing of the mansion and a redwood grape arbor add charm and interest to this garden. Here vegetables and herbs are grown for year-round use in the mansion kitchen.

A Woodland Play Area is located to the far rear of the east lawn. Shaded by a sugar maple, the area is planted with shade-loving perennials and naturalized woodland plantings. The area has wooden play equipment, a birdbath, and birdfeeders—all for the delight of young visitors to the mansion.

There are numerous borders and planting areas throughout the grounds. Artwork by North Carolina artists provides accents in all the garden areas. Wooden sculptures by Clyde Jones, birdbaths by Virginia Bullman, and oversized pots by Mark Hewitt are used along with Lutyens benches to create lighthearted accents and visual interest.