The Virginia Gardener – richmondmagazine.com

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Richmond owes the appeal of many of its historic gardens, college campuses and corporate headquarters to the genius of Charles Gillette. Often revered as the landscape architect of the South, Gillette spent the first half of the 20th century cultivating a regional style that became known as the “Virginia Garden”.

The Library of Virginia will celebrate Gillette’s contribution to the look of our local landscape with an exhibition of his work timed to coincide with Historic Garden Week 2022. “Matters of Scale: Charles F. Gillette in Petersburg” will display 15-20 pieces from the library’s collection, the Charles F. Gillette Papers, in the central branch of the Saint Petersburg Public Library from April 27 to June 30. Massive reproductions of Gillette’s architectural renderings, photographs of his finished work, samples of client correspondence and a Gillette bench, one of a pair designed for the Kenwyn House gardens and recently restored for a garden in Petersburg, will be exhibited, all reflecting his influence on the gardens of Petersburg.

Gillette inherited from his father, an herbalist and farmer, a love of the land and a vast knowledge of plant materials. Without a background in landscape architecture, Gillette read extensively about landscaping in his youth, amassing an impressive collection of books on historic gardens. In 1913 he came to Richmond to oversee the construction of the campus of Richmond College (now the University of Richmond), and two years later opened his own landscaping business here, spending the 56 years to shape some 2,500 public and private spaces. in the upper south.

The stately campuses of the University of Richmond, Radford University, Mary Washington University, James Madison University and the College of William & Mary are Gillette masterpieces. He interpreted the gardens of Virginia House and Agecroft (reconstructed English mansions in the Windsor Farms neighborhood of Richmond) and restored the original landscaping of the Kenmore Plantation in Fredericksburg. The Virginia Executive Mansion, Reynolds Metals Co. Headquarters, and Ethyl Corp. Corporate Campus. all bear the distinctive Gillette imprint. His latest collaboration, five major housing projects created for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, represented a final shift in focus and testifies to the extent of his influence in the former Dominion.

Rather than imposing his own ideas on the exterior, Gillette let the landscape inform his work. “He responded to the architecture of a property, cultivating a harmonious relationship between the structures and the plantings he designed for them,” notes Dale Neighbors, visual studies collection coordinator at the Library of Virginia. Scent, seasonal color, shade, garden statuary, highly crafted masonry, furniture and water features became the vocabulary he used to describe the park settings that unite architecture with its environment and connect people to the natural world. “His natural gift was to observe plants and trees in place,” marveled nurseryman and Gillette contemporary Robert W. Askew. “From the moment they were planted, his specimens seemed to have been there forever.”

Establishing a tradition of quality and professionalism that became standard in his field, Gillette was a gifted American artist who held himself to the same high standards he demanded of his associates and his art. At the height of his career in 1938, his work was honored by the Architectural League of New York for its “charm and adherence to Southern tradition”.


“Matters of Scale: Charles F. Gillette in Petersburg” will be open to the public from April 27 to June 30 at Saint Petersburg Public Library Central Branch, 201 W. Washington St.

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