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Road Trip

A Festival of Flora in Virginia

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

WHERE: Virginia.

WHY: What's in bloom, secret gardens and a place where young Jefferson slept.

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HOW FAR: Up to three hours by car from Washington.

Virginia, how does your garden grow? During Historic Garden Week, most likely with daffodils, tulips and other eye-popping flowers that herald springtime in the Old Dominion.

The nine-day affair, starting Saturday, is the oldest statewide house and garden event in the country. "America's Largest Open House" was started by the Garden Club of Virginia in 1929 as a way to display local properties. It has been held annually ever since, minus a four-year period during World War II when Virginians worked their victory gardens. This year's Garden Week includes more than 250 gardens, homes and landmarks, providing visitors with an opportunity to peek behind gilded gates and over towering hedges. Proceeds from the 30-plus tours will fund restoration of historic properties across the state.

Southern estates have long been showpieces of genteel architecture and elaborate landscape design. Some of the homes on the tour date to the Colonial era, when floral plantings added a touch of color to working farms. Other gardens are modern, such as the one at the Ash house in Great Falls, which features more than 1,300 plant varieties and dozens of whimsical sculptures tucked among the petals and leaves. (The Ashes will also display their collection of luxury cars, including Ferraris.)

Multiple tours are offered daily and vary from self-guided drives to docent-led shuttle bus rides. A few go beyond the casual garden stroll: The April 22 Petersburg tour, for example, includes demonstrations, gardening discussions, a luncheon, music and even a fashion show. On the map, we highlight one tour per day, so you can smell Virginia's flowers for the whole "week."

-- Ben Chapman

Historic Garden Week in Virginia: Saturday-April 27. Various locations. $10-$40 per event; discounts available for children. 804-644-7776. http://www.vagardenweek.org.


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