An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

November 1, 2008

All Souls' Day Eve - Williamsburg

In one sense there is no death. The life of a soul on earth lasts beyond his departure. You will always feel that life touching yours, that voice speaking to you, that spirit looking out of other eyes, talking to you in the familiar things he touched, worked with, loved as familiar friends. He lives on in your life and in the lives of all others who knew him.
- Angelo Patri -

Today we took a day trip to Williamsburg, which we try to do every fall. We usually take the Jamestown/Scotland Ferry and the Colonial Parkway for maximum scenic benefit. This is how I get my fall foliage fix, and a good opportunity for the three of us to spend time together. The weather was perfect, close to 70, clear blue cloudless skies and windless. We stroll the streets of the historic area, eat, shop and some of us poke our un-ticketed heads into fenced off gardens.

We have made this trip many times, but this time we stumbled into a garden I have never noticed before, just outside of the tourist area on the campus of William and Mary. There was a sign at the entrance to the brick walled garden inviting people in, but the sign that drew me in was the fall color from a Coral Bark Japanese Maple. The garden was small, but it was packed with many species, in beds linked by a circular path of crushed oyster shells - the traditional Tidewater paving material.

We spent a lot of time in this garden (2/3rds of us enjoying from a bench). When we were ready to leave, I passed a plaque at the other entrance to the garden dedicated to Gregory S. Adams, class of 1981 (with the above statement). He apparently died at a young age and this garden was planted in his memory. I do not know who Gregory S. Adams was, but I figure he was one or two years older than I am. Whoever he was, he was well thought of and missed - enough so to have a very nice garden created for him. It was a good place to spend to spend part of the day enjoying the weather in a garden.

There were several Ligularias (Farfugium japonicum) in the garden including this one in full bloom.Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum) is pretty but poisonous.
This is the Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku') that drew me in.

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is one of my favorite small trees. The sweet aroma from the flowers was almost overpowering and could be smelled well beyond the garden wall.

In the center was another favorite tree, a Gingko with unusually large leaves, but it is still too early for these to turn to golden yellow here.
Outside the garden wall was yet another tree on my A-list, the Chinese Pastiche (Pistacia chinensis). This tree is street-wise tough, has great fall color and interesting fruits.

Although I once spent my share of time in church, All Souls' Day was never part of my experiences there, but I do think that taking a moment to remember the dead, whether we knew them or not, is not a bad idea.

If you would like to see more of the Adams garden, you can click here and see a slide show of what it looks like in other seasons. I'll post more Williamsburg pictures as time permits.


  1. Hiya Les,

    Your fall colours are from very 'up-market' trees. Never heard of most of them.

    I agree with the quote up top that people live on in your mind, whether you knew them personally or not. Words are very powerful and that is how I recall those that are no longer amongst us, whether family or those you have read about. And it is always what they said or wrote that touches me most.

    Another powerful link with the past is through trees, which outlive us so ruthlessly. That fact was brought home to me in the gardens of that lovely house on the Potomac where Washington lived. I always forget the name and I know it is not Monticello. The house with all the rockingchairs on the porch. Good grief, what was it called again?

    Anyways, he planted a tree there that he loved and that dumb tree is still there as large as life. The man himself, so erudite, so capable, so influential on so many lives, is not.
    Makes you think.

  2. Jo,
    Thanks again for your visit and your comments. Mt. Vernon is the home you are thinking of, and a Brit can be forgiven for not recalling the name of the place. Now it is possible to have some of George Washington's trees for your own garden. There is an organization that is producing new trees from historic ones all around the country. FYI, I tried to comment on one your recent posts, but was not allowed in, regardless I wanted to let you know how nice your Cotinus was. I have 'Royal Purple' and enjoy it greatly.

  3. I love that Coral Bark maple too. Sure is colorful! It is a deep thing to think of others our age who have passed. Dave at the Home Garden is hosting a fall color project if you want to post about your colors there.

  4. I would have parked myself under that coral bark maple and been unable to look at anything else. What a lovely specimen.

  5. What a lovely garden to honor someone who's presence obviously was cherished. I've never seen that garden either, thanks for sharing your trip.

  6. I always try and make room for a Coral Bark Maple in most of my gardens. It does pretty well in shade as a bonus. I found out about Pistacia in California, beautiful fall color in a nice form. Although it says Zone 6 for hardiness I don't recall seeing it here before.

    It sounds like it was a good trip. I have always wanted to visit Williamsburg.

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  8. Hi, Les--I know that garden very well--I have the distinct pleasure of walking through it several times a week. I don't know exactly when it was planted, but I know it's been there for at least 15 years, and for many of those years it was planted and tended by a brilliant gardener named Madeleine Watkinson, whose secret, as she would tell anyone who asked, is "chicken poop." It was wonderful seeing a familiar space through your talented lens. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  9. Tina,
    Thank you for the tip on Dave's fall color project. I will try to link up. What was kind of unusual about this garden was the fact of enjoying it, but not finding out about its reason to be until the end.

    I have some lovely pictures of my camera phobic wife and act-it-up ham of a son under this tree. It was certainly spectacular and the largest one I have ever seen.

    As close as you are to the Adams garden, I would recommend that you pay it a visit next time you are in Billtown. Judging by the plantings, there is something to see no matter what time of year you go.

    Thanks for stopping by. Some people who live near Williamsburg often refer to it as a tourist destination and not always in a flattering manner. But it is usually one of the first places we all take our visiting friends and relatives. They always have a big gardening weekend in spring and bring in big name speakers and offer special gardening tours for that weekend. Unfortunately, I do not know of any professional gardener who can spare time in spring.

    Thanks for the link, and I too suffer from "selective recall". I like to attribute it to all of the facts in my brain needing some sort of organization and the less important are stored further away from the librarians desk.

    Thanks for stopping by again, and I am glad that someone else who has been to this garden can comment. I tried to find some information on Gregory Adams, but the only info on-line pertained to the garden and not the person. I saw several references to your brilliant gardener, Ms. Watkinson - how do you know of her? I loved this garden because it was so unexpected and it was packed full.


  10. I must look to see if the loquats in my area are flowering right now, too. That seems impossible, but who knows. They are street trees here, although E. deflexa is somewhat more common.

    I love that ligularia. I had it for a bit, and it died.

  11. Dear Les,

    I don't know who you are specifically, but I appreciate the sort of person you must be to have created this document of a fall day in the life of a garden that I have not visited since 2005. I was present at the dedication of this garden in the fall of 1986. I think that was the year. I had not planned to be there, but a phone call I made from my graduate architecture studio in Cambridge to my old W&M fraternity house the previous afternoon changed my mind. After about an hour of talking with any number of PiKA brothers (and sisters) who happened to be on the premises, I hung up the studio payphone and headed out through light rain to my Somerville tenement. I changed into a suit, put a toothbrush in my overcoat pocket, and caught the T to Logan Airport.

    Greg Adams is indeed well thought of and missed. Whenever I think of friends I lost too early or, on darker days, lost friends who would almost certainly have made more of life than I have, I think of Greg Adams first, with gratitude. I am grateful to have met him early in the fall of 1978, and to have pledged his fraternity. I am grateful to have been able to go with him on impulsive road trips to Blacksburg and Myrtle Beach and New Orleans and Texas, and to have had him as my family's guest for a few days in Dallas. I am grateful to have been in Seattle when his leukemia treatments took him there, and that I had the time and he had the energy to get out on the town a bit during the last weeks we were able to spend together. I am grateful to his family for treating me like a son.

    We have all known men and women whose meager deeds are mythologized or idealized in death. The grandness of their memorials mocks the life they lived. Greg was mythic in life. His life represented an ideal of generosity, of gentle good nature, and of sheer love of living to everyone I know who also knew and loved him. His spirit was a garden thoughtfully tended, with fringes of untamed, exuberant nature.

    Who was Gregory S. Adams? He was a son, a brother, a friend. He was bright and brimming with youthful promise. He was outgoing and friendly to everyone he met, without a shred of arrogance. He never, to my knowledge, held himself above or aloof from anyone.

    I am grateful that, when you wrote this six years ago, you took a moment to wonder about Gregory S. Adams. I am grateful that I found your post today. I am grateful for this occasion to remember my friend.

    1. Thank your fro taking the time to leave a comment about Greg. My sentiments are still sincere about how I felt seeing this garden and wanting to know something about the person it was dedicated to. I hope my words prompted some fond memories for you.

    2. They did, Les, however painful in some ways. After writing my comment, it came home to me how much Greg, at the time of his death at the age of 25, was a page on which life had only begun to write. Nothing I could write about him could really help anyone understand what he was like to know in person. When I wrote "a son, a brother, a friend," I had know idea that I was echoing the words on the marker, which I have not seen in years, but which must have lingered in my subconscious. I am truly grateful that his family and Pi Kappa Alpha chose to create this garden in his memory, and I feel privileged to have been a part. A garden, unlike a stone monument, is about life. Greg was all about life.