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Garden Week a rare opportunity to tour redesigned Carr's Hill

Dogwood, iris, tulip and azalea — all were in bloom at Carr’s Hill at the University of Virginia on Monday.

“Perfect timing” was said on more than one occasion for more than one reason Monday afternoon. Not only was Monday one of the very few days out of the year that members of the public not affiliated with UVa could tour the gardens at the residence of UVa President Jim Ryan as part of Historic Garden Week in Charlottesville, but it was also the first time the gardens had been opened to the public since a major renovation to the house and the property roughly three years ago.

“We’ve had a good turnout,” Marie Pace, director of operations at Carr’s Hill, told The Daily Progress. “I’d say close to 100 people have come in.”

Ryan was away Monday. An avid runner, the school’s president was participating in the Boston Marathon.

In his absence, crowds jumped at the opportunity to stroll the terraces and gardens on the only day of the year they could.

“We do open houses for the students, and then we do different open houses for staff, faculty and students, but for the actual community, this is the only one,” Pace said.

Renovations to both the house and garden at Carr’s Hill started after Ryan assumed office in 2018. Unlike past UVa presidents, Pace said, Ryan and his family intended to make Carr’s Hill their primary residence. Seeing as how the property had not been renovated since 1909, that required some work.

Work on the gardens began in earnest about three years ago, according to Paul Josey of Wolf Josey Landscape Architects, which helped oversee the project.

He described the previous landscaping as “jumbled.”

“It really never had a formal landscape plan to organize it,” he said.

The only strong lines in the landscape were the “cowpaths” students used to cut across the lawn traveling through the property to Grounds.

“Before President Ryan came on board there was a goal to renovate the building but also renovate the landscape. Knowing that the past presidents hadn’t necessarily lived in this as a primary residence, the goal was to make this more of a livable landscape for a family,” Josey told The Daily Progress on Monday. “We created a number of outdoor rooms, really, courtyards, sort of raised-terrace formal, semi-formal event lawns as well as an event terrace. And then there’s a separate garden area that’s really more of a family garden space.”

The property is still very much open to students and the UVa community, Josey said, whether they’re cutting through to commute to class, attending parties the Ryans are hosting on the terrace or crying after exams in the Oval Garden.

“It’s still a public space, but we added a few simple landscape measures,” he said. For instance, he said, low retaining walls were added to give the different “outdoor rooms” a better sense of privacy and gates modeled on those at the different Pavilion Gardens off the Lawn were added.

“They’re not locked, but it certainly gives you the awareness that this is where someone lives,” Josey said. “It all has a semi-private feel to it, a semi-public feel to it; we’re blending that line.”

Carr’s Hill was the first site of off-Grounds student housing at UVa.

Because the Carr’s Hill property was not originally designed to be the stately residence of the university’s president, Josey said, there was not much historical precedence on the hill itself from which landscape architects could draw their inspiration.

So instead, they looked next door.

“When we think about successful public spaces, the Lawn with the Rotunda, the Pavilions,” he said, “You can start to see the larger design intent in the landscape.”

Much of that can be seen in the redesigned gardens: brick pathways, terraced gardens and plenty of strong lines.

“It really is perfect timing,” Josey and Pace said, not only for the crowds at Historic Garden Week but for the landscape architects behind the gardens at Carr’s Hill.

After three years of hard work, Pace said, “It’s all started to grow in.”


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