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Annie duPont Formal Garden

From Madison Vegetables to duPont Flowers

In the early 19th century, President James Madison enjoyed a garden of nearly four acres, including the site of the present two-acre formal garden. Following the fashion of the era, the Madison garden contained a mixture of vegetables, fruit trees, flowers, and ornamental shrubs.

Evidence suggests that the Madisons’ formal garden was designed by a French gardener, Charles Bizet, about 1810. Several enslaved laborers worked as assistant gardeners. After Bizet returned to France, Archibald Blair (a native of Scotland) served as head gardener from 1818 to 1824. Three enslaved gardeners took over Blair’s duties after his departure, and Dolley Madison wrote “we hope to have from them as many good things as usual.”

Mary Cutts, Dolley Madison’s niece, left a description of the Madison garden in a mid-19th century memoir (original spellings retained):

“At some distance from the house was the garden laid off in the shape of a horseshoe by an experienced French gardener, who lived many years on the place; his name was Beazee [Bizet]; he and his wife came to Virginia at the time of the French Revolution and left Mr. Madison shortly before his death to return to “La Bell France.” They were great favorites with the negroes, some of whom they taught to speak French. Madame contrived a hat to shade Mrs. Madison’s eyes; it was hideous, but she liked it and when she took her morning rambles always called for her “Beazee bonet.”

The choicest fruits, especially pears, were raised in abundance, figs bore their two crops every summer, which Mr. Madison liked to gather himself, arbors of grapes, over which he exercised the same authority. It was a paradise of roses and other flowers, to say nothing of the strawberries, and vegetables; every rare plant and fruit was sent to him by his admiring friends, who knew his taste, and they were carefully studied and reared by the gardener and his black aids.”

After William duPont’s purchase of Montpelier in 1901, wife Annie duPont launched a project to transform the space into an early 20th-century formal garden. The profiles of the terraces were restored; flower beds, shrubs, and trees were planted; and the brick garden walls, statuary, and ornamental iron gates were added. Later, Annie’s daughter, Marion duPont Scott, commissioned noted landscape architect Charles Gillette to redesign several perennial beds as well as the brick parterres on the upper level. Mrs. Scott also introduced a number of uncommon specimens to the garden, including a Dawn Redwood and a China Fir.

Following Montpelier acquisition in 1984 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the plantings of the Annie duPont Formal Garden were carefully inventoried and cataloged. Restoration of the garden began in October 1990, and was funded by The Garden Club of Virginia. A granite plaque commemorating the restoration’s completion is located at the south end of the garden. The crescent beds incorporate perennials known to have been cultivated for the Madisons and found in the early duPont garden – many varieties of irises, daylilies, and peonies.