Oatlands Historic House & Gardens
Oatlands Historic House & Gardens is a preserved 1800s house and gardens that attempts to tell the story of its owners & the many slaves making their lives possible.
Address: 20850 Oatlands Plantation Ln, Leesburg, VA 20175
Hours: 10am – 5pm
Phone: (703) 777-3174
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Oatlands has been on my radar for a while, but I had been a bit dissuaded by its history as a plantation. Acknowledging the ugly side of our nation’s history is the only way to move forward and really understand the complexity of the past, so I decided to visit anyway and make up my own mind. Rather than recognize the wealthy family that owned the plantation, I chose to focus on the beautiful horticultural elements they left behind and to appreciate the impressive upkeep of the intricate original garden design. It was noteworthy that there was display honoring the enslaved peoples that made this property possible and an ongoing database attempting to reclaim the stories and names of these individuals.
The gardens consist of a series of landscaped terraces built into the sloping hillside just east of the main house. A large old European Larch tree stands with a friendly slant just within the entrance to the first level. I enjoyed the way each section of the stepped garden is obscured by the one before it, allowing for an element of surprise as every subsequent terrace reveals its treasures. Looking down from the Balustrade along one side of the front lawn gives a sweeping view of the gardens below, and gave me the perfect vantage point to watch the last lingering wedding guests and waiters clear out from an earlier ceremony.
Aside from the photo-happy wedding party and a few other groups of visitors, there is a real feeling of serenity present within these gardens. Benches are tucked along walkways and underneath arbors, always encouraging a moment’s relaxation to appreciate the old trees and annual plantings or to just gaze out over the rolling hills in the distance.
Boxwood in just about every possible shape and size can be found throughout the garden adding an orderly elegance when clipped into short border hedges, and a sense of history when allowed to grow into gnarly, older specimens. I was most enchanted by the densely-packed bushes that formed a few strange, bumpy hedge squares between gardens. I liked how these hearty bushes could function on their own in proper rows and other decorative shapes, or as garden edging.
The boxwood bonanza continues as you exit the ornate teahouse that overlooks the sundial garden and into a long boxwood allée known as the Bowling Green. Not only is this stunning hallway of deep green a bold design feature, but the tall hedges form the walls of the adjoining gardens on either side. It was here that I stumbled upon an almost-overlooked passage into the charming Rose Garden, which seemed an oasis of its own, removed from the rest of the garden, and which must be quite a sensory overload in full bloom. There were so many sections of the garden like this in which I could have happily idled away an afternoon.
Final Rating: I came to Oatlands with some negative associations, but eventually succumbed to the beauty of the gardens and surrounding countryside. The amazing old trees and manicured gardens have outlived darker times and grow on in a beautiful setting where visitors can learn the full history of the place. Many beautiful trees add a great deal of structure and character to the property, from the massive magnolia that almost dwarfs the mansion, to the grove of oak trees forming a backdrop to the gardens. Other highlights include an 1800s-era greenhouse that still houses the more delicate flowers and plants in the winter months and the pieces of weathered statuary that blend into their overall garden setting. I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon exploring the terraced gardens at Oatlands and would gladly return to experience it in other seasons. FOUR BLOOM RATING