SEMINARY HILL is a private place. The houses sit way back from the road, hiding their rosy blushing brick under a fan of elderly boxwood, flowering bushes and tall trees, protected by ancient brick walls, and reached by curving drives originally cut for carriages. Ghosts, according to local legend, still linger like the smell of mimosa around the old places, and no one would wish them exorcised.

Seminary Hill holds itself aloof from the bustle of Alexandria, peeking through the trees to see what's going on below. In the 18th century, people had their plantations up on the hill, and lived there in summer, staying in their Alexandrian townhouses during the bad winters.

In the early 19th century, the Virginia Theological Seminary came along to give the hill its name.

In the mid 1800s, Union forces occupied the area, the best point to defend the Capital City against onslaught from the Confederates. All of Seminary Hill became an armed camp, centering around Fort Williams and Fort Ward. Even today, the old earthworks of the defenses crop out into people's gardens. Most of the old houses and their outbuildings were used as hospitals and stables.

Two decades or so ago, the hill was a favorite place to ride horses,, among its ancient, gnarled trees and wildflowers. Today, suburbia, like petunias, makes a border to the old gardens and houses.

The historic houses of the neighborhood, some of which once declined into genteel shabbiness, have now been restored into the great prizes they are. Many still have enough of their acreage to keep the country airs of their past.

The Historic Garden Week in Virginia provides a rare opportunity to see inside these houses on Saturday (April 26).

Three of the more interesting houses stand together, like a family, on North Quaker Lane.