Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Montpelier - James and Dolly's Place

I had the good fortune to spend the weekend in the rolling green countryside of Orange, Virginia as a craft and gift vendor at the Annual Montpelier Wine Festival this past weekend and we had a great time--a bit hot and sticky and Peter swears he lost ten pounds just sitting there but even as vendors we were able to get out and about to see what was happening at the "old homestead" of James and Dolly Madison.  Montpelier is nestled into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is currently under a major restoration to bring it back to it's once grand and stately self when the Madison's lived there. Today, it is still a show piece for the people of Orange County--especially the walled gardens that surround the mansion.

The weekend started off splendidly and we were surprised and thrilled to see all of the visitors to this event.  High heat, humidity and threatening thunderstorms apparently does not stop those in pursuit of their favorite libation--wine! Everyone, it seemed, was in a good mood, with or without a filled wine glass in their hand.  There was also kite flying along with live music and entertainment to keep the the thousands of visitors (organizers said they had around 9000 people stop by throughout the two day event) occupied and perhaps a bit tipsy at times while enjoying their picnic lunches out on the vast lawns that spread away from the mansion and frame a giant steeple chase horse track, built by the duPont Family in the early 1900's when they owned this grand estate. 

The duPont's also put their own brand of interior decoration on the place which, when the restoration is completed, will not reflect that period in this estate's history, although I am sure there will be nods to the duPont Family given by the tour guides here.  I had visited here seven years ago as a chaperon with Kevin's 6th grade history class when the restoration was just beginning.  Although it is not quite finished yet, Montpelier is looking quite a bit different from then.  The picture above is of the back of the mansion and I noticed that visitors taking a tour inside were treated to the upstairs as well, something we were not able to see back then because the upstairs had been gutted at the time.

But the gardens...ahhhh, the gardens...planned, constructed and planted in such a way as to hold private outdoor formal garden rooms and cozy nooks and crannies filled with stately trees and vibrant flowers, old stone urns and statuary.  By late afternoon on Sunday, Peter and I were able to take turns and steel away from the fair to walk leisurely through them and take in their beauty and tranquility. To me, this walled garden rivaled those of Monticello.  Take a stroll through the pictures and maybe you'll find a quiet corner to rest and read a book or close your eyes and dream....

The herb and vegetable beds, like the flower beds, were neatly planted in waves of color and texture and outlined by perfectly planned brick paths that lent to the ebb and flow throughout the garden rooms.  Even in the heat of the day, there was a feeling of repose and calm that made me want to linger and just enjoy.  I wonder if this is actually how the original gardens looked during the Madison's time here.  I know Dolly had fashionable flair and strong opinions about how things should look when company came 'a-calling" on the fourth President of the United States and I am sure these gardens were as gracious then as they are now.  The roads that led visitors here long ago were not quite what they are today but when guests arrived they were treated to a stay that would have been worthy of their hosts.

The original outbuildings and slaves quarters are long gone but there is a brick outline of the original detached kitchen today, just filled with grass and clover.  Given the choice, I'd take the kitchen this way--very simple with no appliances.  Eating out every day is my favorite style of cooking!

And then, before I knew it, it was time to get back to present day and the Wine Festival that was beckoning farther afield.  Wait a minute...I didn't even get a glass of wine to enjoy on my walk through the Madison's place...such is the life of a fair vendor...work, work, work--always work!  Well, at least I had a water bottle to keep me company and in just a few hours it would be time to pack up and head home.
Before I knew it, it was time to bid good-bye to the entire fair at 5pm on Sunday Evening.  We had survived the heat and humidity, dodged rain drops and even thunderstorms and strolled through the past in a very pleasant and inviting garden and met and enjoyed so many people over the weekend.  We were exhausted!  Back up the road due north to Philomont and Blooming Hill--maybe not quite as grand and historic as Montpelier but we call it home.

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