The central portion of the house dates to the 1790s and as the house was expanded in the mid 19th century, the gardens evolved as well. The Georgian style mansion is an elegant house, and a refined garden was developed to complement it. The high location catches cooling river breezes and allows a view of Falmouth and the river to the southeast.
On the east side of the house is the 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; an expensive garden feature that signaled to visitors the important social standing of the estate and its owners. The most important feature of the Long Walk, however, is the curved double stair with exquisite ironwork leading to the East Porch.
Georgian landscape design was based on symmetry and geometry, represented at Belmont in the four parterre beds on the south lawn; triangular beds edged in boxwood are filled with roses, annuals and tulips. Stone benches and oak trees at the south and north sides of the house form the starting and
ending points of an axis that runs through the house and garden.
When Gari and Corinne Melchers bought the house in 1916, it had undergone several expansions and changes. The Melchers took immediate steps to improve their “country house and acreage,” and this included restoring the existing garden while adding their own touches to suit their needs and lifestyle. They added walls, gates and statuary, and built a cow barn, wooden garage with hay-loft, and stone garage – all of which survive today. Stately elm trees surrounded the drive, and a stone summer house on the south end of the garden was, and still is, a perfect spot to view the river or have afternoon tea.
Corinne Melchers spent most of her time in Virginia where she busied herself with the gardens and farm. Chickens and turkeys roamed the farm-yard, and cows provided fresh milk and cream for her husband’s favorite treat—ice cream. Apples, cherries and plums grew in the orchards around the house, and a vegetable garden was the source for fresh produce such as peas and asparagus.
A wide variety of flowers are grown at Belmont; in addition to perennials such as sedum, iris and peonies, there is a number of bulbs. Daffodils, tulips and hyacinths make for a spectacular spring show. Cosmos, old-fashioned hollyhocks, zinnia, ageratum, geranium, verbena and cleome brighten the gardens in summer. Corinne Melchers had a large collection of roses and these have been replanted in various places around the house, such as on the rose arbor at either end of the Long Walk.
In 1931, Mrs. Melchers laid out “a winding path in the grove.” This path runs from the summer house to the ice pond located at the bottom of the hill. Trees, vines and shrubs had obliterated the walk over time, and a restoration was undertaken during the winter of 2000-2001. A number of native trees and shrubs have been planted to restore native plant material and to help protect the Rappahannock watershed. In the summer of 2006 the grove beds were restored to the original 1930s design. This path is one of the many entry points to the nature trails that wend through the woodlands to the Rappahannock River.
Garden Club of Virginia
Corinne Melchers was a founding member of the Rappahannock Valley Garden Club, a Garden Club of Virginia (GCV) affiliated club, and an active member of the committee that oversaw the restoration of the gardens at both Kenmore in Fredericksburg, and Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County. The GCV is now supporting the restoration of Gari and Corinne Melchers garden at Belmont. Starting in 1993, the organization has undertaken several restorations at the estate. The projects include cutting back the boxwoods and rebuilding the arbors at each end of the Long Walk, landscaping of the main entrance and Visitor Center, and an irrigation system for the formal lawn and gardens.
The GCV also funded the conservation of wooden gates and the stone eagle which has greeted visitors since it was placed at the head of the drive. Most importantly the Putto statue on the south lawn is now back in the garden.
In addition, there have been several tree and boxwood plantings over the years. The latest being the restoration of flowering trees and boxwood edged beds on the west side of the house, and along the historic drive. Landscape restoration is an ongoing process, and the staff at Gari Melchers Home and Studio is dedicated to preserve and protect the historic landscape at Belmont.
Gardens are open 9 am – 5 pm.
The Southern Garden History Society stimulates interest in Southern garden and landscape history, in historic horticulture, and in the preservation of historic gardens and landscapes in the South. Gari Melchers Home and Studio is a longstanding member of the organization and was the host of the annual meeting in 2005.