Airlie’s Formal Gardens: A Historical Treasure

aerial view of airlie gardens

When I set out to write this blog, the idea was to focus on Boxwood care. After a little bit of research, I was able to find a digitized copy (thanks Google!) of House & Garden Magazine from 1907 which featured Airlie… and down the rabbit hole of history I went. I was entranced by the fact that what started as Harry Connelly Groome’s private residence has now evolved into a beautiful, thriving property for so many to enjoy. Can you imagine Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. walking through the Boxwood hedges while working on ‘I Have a Dream,’ or Senator Gaylord Nelson taking a stroll after presenting the initial concept of Earth Day?

And for so many couples, it has served as their path to the altar – full of emotion, joy, and love. Oh, if those stems could talk. But I digress – and quote the great Lewis Carroll, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” So history it is, with a few tips for all the Boxwood owners out there. Read on to learn more about the past, present, and future of Airlie’s treasured landscape – the formal gardens.

This cornerstone of Airlie grounds is (literally) rooted in history – 118 years to be exact. Planned and planted after the completion of the Manor House in 1900, the formal gardens provide an idyllic setting for all who walk their paths. Whether you are a conferee, relaxing at Airlie over a weekend getaway, or attending a special event – the gardens are sure to inspire.

While our wistful musings of the gardens may seem apropos, present-day Airlie staff and guests aren’t the first to take notice. Fifty years prior to Airlie becoming a renowned conference destination, the formal gardens were featured in House & Garden Magazine. The January – June 1907 issue highlighted the property as a whole, with special focus on the design and layout of the gardens.

1907 airlie garden plan
House & Garden, 1907

aerial view of airlie boxwood garden
Drone view, 2017

Since Groome’s Airlie was conceptually inspired by Airlie Castle in Scotland, it is unsurprising that the gardens would follow suit in grand fashion. While the landscape has changed a bit, the majority of the garden elements are original – the most striking of which are the boxwood hedges. Historically revered worldwide with traces back to the ancient Egyptians, Boxwoods have been fundamental in classical garden architecture for ages. Though keeping them in pristine condition is no short order. Root rot disease has plagued English Boxwoods, causing many to shy away from planting them.

To gather a better understanding of Boxwood care, we asked Alyssa Truschel, Groundskeeper in charge of the formal gardens. She explained, “They require an initial trim in late winter to early spring. In Virginia, that typically means mid-February. A team of five works on that first trim of the season, and then I monitor and trim as necessary moving forward.” She continued, “Proper watering, soil makeup, and drainage are also essential to maintain healthy Boxwoods, especially of this age. It is clear that the initial planting and care of the gardens was designed to stand the test of time.”

1907 sunken garden2016 sunken garden







Other structural elements original to the garden include an Italian bird basin, bird house, and sun dial located in the middle of the Boxwood garden. House & Garden referenced the sun dial as “an old iron dial face set on a stone pedestal of simple but graceful design, bearing the motto Lux et umbra vicissim sed semper fortitudo.” Translated: Light and shadow in turn but always a strength.

sun dial

2016 bird house

bird fountain








1907 boxwood garden

House & Garden, 1907

2016 boxwood garden getaway mavens

Getaway Mavens, 2016

Conceptualized and designed for a private residence, little did Harry Connelly Groome know that his cherished gardens would one day be traversed and enjoyed by thousands. Long before the days of social media, it was impossible to imagine that images of this special place would be seen around the world, just seconds after they were taken. That so many would choose to live their most important moments here at Airlie, both professional and personal.

bride and groom kiss

bride and groom embrace

bride with umbrella








wedding in garden
Lieb Photographic, Shannon Moffit, Stephanie Dee, Katelyn James

We hope you will join us and enjoy the gardens for yourself one day soon.

According to House & Garden, “On a summer afternoon when the setting sun throws long shadows across the grass and the red paths, the gardens of Airlie are at their best, ‘Unheard the murmurs of the distant world, While Time speeds noiseless on his measured way.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.