Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

The Not so Secret Gardens of UVA

Sunday May 4, 2014
Charlottesville Virginia



Getting there.

Many people come from all over the world to Charlottesville to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and the University of Virginia which he founded and designed.  I worked there for 26 years and I can say without a doubt that the best part of it was spending my lunch time in the University’s Pavilion Gardens.   It has been nearly 5 years since I was last there so this morning I set out early to see how lovely they were looking this spring.

I left from Winnona and walked the about a mile through the neighborhoods getting increasingly near the university.  There are some wonderful old homes along the walk





I took lots of pictures of them but this one house has always been my favorite.  There is just something about it.



Many of the houses have lovely walls and gates around them.



The Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church was looking lovely with it’s simple spire against the blue sky and its matching blue door.  During the year the church has a portable indoor labyrinth that they set out about once a month for anyone to come and walk by candlelight and often to the accompaniment of harp music.  A truly wonderful experience.  Or you can come anytime and walk the outdoor labyrinth in the yard behind the building.






The Heart of Mr. Jefferson’s University.

All of these things are on Rugby Road which eventually dead ends into the original section of the University built by Jefferson with its keystone building, The Rotunda.  The historical plaque is very interesting so rather than repeat it, I’ve put it here for you to read. 





This is the front of the building visible as you drive down University Avenue.  It is a one half scale copy of the Pantheon in brick with white columns and originally held the University’s library.  Today it is used for special functions and can be toured.





A statue of the founder in front.  Notice the building’s “wings”.



The lovely little University chapel is at a distance to the right of the Rotunda and is a very popular place for weddings.  I’ve heard you have to book more than a year in advance.  Guess that makes for a long engagement.   The Gothic Revival style chapel is a later edition dedicated in 1889.





Remember those “wings” well here they are.  Lovely sheltered walk ways to take you from one part of the “Academical Village” to the other during inclimate weather, including snow.





In Spring a young person’s fancy turns to……….   There are LOTS of benches here as you will soon see.




I walk through the wings and past the young couple whose bench is right beside the garden walls.  I enter the first of the not so secret gardens.



The Map

If you look at the map below and find the Rotunda, you will see the chapel off to the left in this diagram of the village facing University Avenue which is where I have come from.

The Pavilion Gardens, as they are known, are behind each of the 10 Pavilions which housed the 10 faculty at the opening of the University.  Each professor lived on the upper floor and taught on the first floor.  The Pavilions were connected by 54 student rooms.  Everything is connected by covered walkways and faces “the lawn” which is just what you would expect. 


Lawn and Gardens Map


The Lawn


In the pictures below,  you can see the lawn and the Pavilions stair stepping down on either side as well as the back of the Rotunda facing the lawn.  It is really a beautiful design.

There are a total of 206 columns surrounding the Lawn: 16 on The Rotunda, 38 on the Pavilions, 152 on the walkways. The columns are of varying orders according to the formality and usage of the space, with Corinthian columns on the exterior of the Rotunda giving way to Doric, Ionic, and Composite orders inside; Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian on each of the pavilions; and a relatively humble Tuscan colonnade along the Lawn walkways





Each of the Pavilions is done in a different style of classical architecture all the better to instruct the students.   In the picture below you can sort of see the two story pavilions which are connected by single story student rooms all fronted by the columned walkways.




Many visitors to the grounds (that’s what the campus is known as here) don’t realize that the gardens behind each pavilion, in which there are still faculty living, are open to the public.  I don’t believe there is a regular tour of the gardens.  You just walk to the back of the pavilions and look for a door in the walls.   Secret gardens.  So wonderful.

Back to the map.   I begin my morning stroll in the Gardens behind Pavilion #1 and work my all the way down to garden #9, cross over the lawn, at which point I took the pictures above and begin again at garden #10, working my way back up to #2.

I’m not going to take you through garden by garden.  (I can hear you breathing a sigh of relief).  They are all unique and beautiful but I am going to show you the recurring features of the gardens in a mix of pictures I took on this glorious Sunday morning.


The Flowers. 

To say the flowering trees, bushes, bulbs and flowers are fantastic is such an understatement.   They were in profusion this morning.  Here is just a small sample of the pictures I took and the beauty that was there.    Benches of every shape and design are provided for quiet contemplation, reading, gazing dumbfounded at the beauty or doing your homework.   The trees are huge and labeled.


























The Gates

Most of the gardens are on two tiers, an upper area near the Pavilion and a lower one which usually has a gate leading out.  But there are some gates that lead into other gardens or across lanes into a matching gate, or not.  It is a bit like a maze when you first are visiting.  Just too much fun.  Like the gardens, the gates are all unique.











When you go through the gates, you find yourself in a magical land of paths winding through the beauty.  I usually spent my lunch time in a different garden each day and in all seasons and weathers.   But that will have to wait for Part II.   I really do hate to break this magical morning into two parts but I’ve put in too many pictures already. 

Perhaps I should ask you, do you prefer one GIANT post, 2 big posts or three 20 picture posts on those occasions when I take hundreds of pictures and spend way too much time cutting it down to 75.

This is such a unique place I don’t know how to tell the story without showing at least a little of the variety here.   Those who are long time followers might remember my numerous and detailed posts from Williamsburg last fall.  Similar problem.  Such a GREAT PLACE.


  1. I really enjoyed that tour. What a magical campus. I understand why you spent your lunch breaks in the gardens. I think those gardens would be even better than prozac.

    The length of this blog was just perfect. In my opinion, when there are too many photos, they get jumbled in my wee little brain.

  2. Oh, how beautiful! Your new camera seems to be doing quite well with you behind the shutter, Sherry! I would love to see those gardens in person. I know there are some amazing gardens and arboretums in that part of the country, but have yet to be there to see them at the right time of year. Thomas Jefferson was one brilliant man. After our visit to DC a few years ago, I read more about his background and philosophies. Pretty amazing. Wish we had more like him around today.

  3. What a lovely campus and neighborhood. Reminds me a bit of Cornell's campus with its stately buildings and landscape.

    I'll take your posts however I get them. You choose, I'll read! :)

  4. That is a lovely campus.How lucky you were to have such a peaceful place to spend your lunch hour.
    I have the same problem about putting too many pictures in a post but it's just too hard to pick sometimes. I read your posts and enjoy all the photos, whether they are short or long. It's your blog, do whatever feels right to you.

  5. Wow! That's about all I can say. Your pictures are fantastic and they really capture the beauty of the place. This is definitely another must visit place on our list. Thank you so much for the tour.


  6. What a beautiful place. It must be magical to watch the seasons change in those gardens. I wondered where your inner serenity was grown - certainly this "work place" contributed. I read you at the S&B with high speed Internet so I don't know if the number of pictures is an issue elsewhere. For me, here, any way you want to share it, I'm happy.

  7. I'm so glad you came back during this beautiful time of year - and, that you got these gorgeous shots since it's been ages since I've taken the time to tour the gardens. Really beautiful documentation of so many places you've traveled and share with us! Thank you!

  8. The flowers are beautiful! When you live near a place and see it semi-regularly, I think you can begin to take it for granted and not realize how special it is-

  9. It is such a beautiful place, but I can't imagine coming here as a college freshman and not being completely overwhelmed by the place.

    I think I prefer a really long post broken down into smaller ones - otherwise I tend to scroll through too fast to take everything in.

  10. Love all the garden pictures. Flowers always seem to be the promise that everything will be right with the world with dedication and the work required. The history of places is always so interesting to me and I always enjoy learning more. It is always interesting to me that when I visit a place I have seen before I always find something that I didn't see before.

  11. Or you could book the chapel first and then go find somebody to marry... ;c)

    See, you can go home again!

    1. I thought about that too Paul. What does that say about us?

  12. Attention spans are shorter these days. Especially mine. I like the shorter ones with about 20 photos

  13. I had always heard that UVA had the prettiest campus in the ACC by far. Now I know that it's true thanks to your post. As far as the length of your post, do what's right for you. I'll still read it long or short.

  14. What a beautiful campus. I am disappointed I never visited in my working years. We will have to make a visit just for fun.

  15. Those gardens are definitely neat. I love the walkways, the mystery and the beauty of them. The history there is amazing. And, your camera takes great pictures! Color and precision-both there. I remember walking the labyrinth. That is a surprisingly powerful experience. I like this sort of length for a blog unless trying to split it up in fact takes longer for you. Whichever way I'm a big fan :)

  16. I went camping several years ago up in Shenandoah. We visited Monticello. What an incredibly lovely campus--Beautiful country you live in for sure, Sherry. The gardens are amazing. I love the way I feel like I’m walking along with you as you describe things. You are a great narrator/story teller. I’m playing “catch up” as always reading blogs. I read for a while, they rest, and when I get back there are more blogs! I can’t wait until I can write one ABOUT a place I’m visiting!

  17. The university is such a beautiful place. I can't believe we never saw the gardens! Love the gorgeous flower photos.

    As Gayle said, this is your blog do what you enjoy. I read and enjoy what I have time for depending on the day.

  18. We will need to come one of these Springs and get a personal tour... You sure know your way around!! The garden photos are gorgeous

  19. How wonderful. . .I loved it all. . .


  20. Our timing has never been right to wander through the grounds ... someday. In the meantime, thanks for the tour.

  21. OMWow! This campus is set up so conveniently for staff and students. Love the architecture and all the thought put into the place. Including the stunning gardens. Looks like you could spend days, weeks, months, and years exploring them in all seasons.

    I like the way you provide a tour, wherever you take us. Your story and photos carry me along with you. A cliff hanger is exciting at least once in a while.

  22. Attended UVA back in the '70s. The university grounds are truly beautiful. There's so many nooks and crannies to visit. Write the blog for yourself. Don't attempt to satisfy an "audience".

  23. This was awesome. I had no idea UVA was such a beautiful place. Have driven by it many times but never appreciated what was there. Next time I'm in Charlottesville, I will make a point of stopping taking a short tour and visiting the gardens

  24. The fragrances of all the flowers must have been dizzying! Just beautiful. Some shorter blogs make me yearn for more, but I like the longer 'tours' too.

  25. Wow, what great gardens and such a beautiful place to enjoy lunch for many years. Write the blog the way it makes sense for you, always enjoy it no matter the length, wish I had your gift of writing.

  26. Oh, my!!! Such beauty... and you got to work IN it all the time, how very special.... your love of the place just shines through... and LOVE your pictures!!!

  27. Wow, I am one of those tourist that visited only the Monticello. So I enjoyed this garden tour and the University tour. I think you had the best job environment for 26 years, lovely and just lovely.
    As for the post, I usually break it off, especially if you have taken so many pictures (just as I ) attention span is getting shorter these days.

  28. Really GREAT post! It is just as you describe and I must say they have done a great job preserving it despite al the growth in and around the University.

  29. What a gorgeous campus -- and of course, you took full advantage of the beauty while you were working there! I'm glad you shared this special place with us, because we otherwise might have overlooked it when we're in the area next year. I love secret gardens! As far as the length of your posts, do whatever works best for you. I have the same concern with our blog -- sometimes I think I write too much/take too many photos, but I figure people will read in depth, just look at the photos, browse, or skip it entirely according to their interest. I enjoy whatever you do. ;-)

  30. I prefer you do it however you like. However do put you whole album of pictures on line and give us the link to them. You can add a widget for your favorite links and add a link to your pictures there. Then we can find them by the same or similar title as your blog. But let us see more of your pictures.

  31. We love universities so will have to keep this one in mind. Lucky you to have spent so many years here. This was a lovely post Sherry and I agree with your other readers, do what makes you comfortable with your blog. I, for one, loved the tour.


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