Williamsburg in Mission Hills

Heritage and contemporary gardens share classic style

Sustainable. Low maintenance. Eco-friendly. All natural. Green.

These are certainly buzzwords for gardeners who wear SPF 35 sunscreen and Crocs. Yet they also rang true for gardeners who wore periwigs and breeches—in Colonial Williamsburg.

You can find a little leafy enclave of 18th-century style behind the Mission Hills home where attorneys Scott and Sarah Mathews live with their three sons Parker, Duncan and George.

“The design and construction of our home was a true labor of love for Mary and Dave Lockton, who built the house in 1998,” explains Sarah Mathews.

The Georgian-style home, based on the 1715 president’s home of William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, presents an elegantly austere face to the world. Yet the gardens in the back are intimate, welcoming, and even soulful. A master gardener, Mary Lockton stayed true to Williamsburg design, materials, and plants— with careful attention paid to those plants that would also do well in the Midwestern climate.

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When the Mathews family moved into the four-story brick house several years ago, they vowed to keep the house and garden as close to the Locktons’ vision as possible. “I have tried my very best,” says Sarah, with a wry smile, “to keep all the plants alive.”

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In 18th-century Williamsburg, formal gardens would have been practical as well as beautiful. Bordered by outbuildings, the gardens were the pleasurable connector to daily activities not suitable for indoors. The stable and coach house, smokehouse and paddock of yesteryear now find fresh reinterpretation as the garage, potting shed and contemporary garden at the Mathews’ home.

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Stepping out the back door at the end of the central hallway, you pass the nest of a mourning dove. “They mate for life and come back to nest here every year,” says Sarah. “We can hear their cooing echo up and down the chimney, and it’s very soothing.”

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A former rose bed is now a stand of clipped boxwood, prized for their formal shape.

And then you enter into the formal garden itself, which follows a typical Williamsburg pattern of four square beds outlined with the herb germander (which Sarah finds at Soil Service in Kansas City). Paved brick pathways lead to the potting shed with its distinctive fish scale shingles, the back entrance of the house, the garage, and the back garden. A white picket fence, custom-made from cedar to mimic Williamsburg patterns, encloses the garden. Gates to the front and back feature authentic weighted pulls so the gates close by themselves.

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Planted inside the square beds is a succession of white-blooming plants authentic to Williamsburg, from tulips to white aster. The predominately green and white color scheme and formal pattern can almost seem meditative.

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In the corners, deep pink blossoming crape myrtles give a little shade to a variety of hydrangeas. Antique roses climb along the fence. And just over the picket fence, pink-blooming rose of Sharon.

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“Early in the spring, when everything is blooming, it’s just gorgeous,” says Sarah.

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The gate to the paddock or contemporary garden leads you to a broad swathe of grass bordered by native pine varieties, ferns, flowering dogwood, magnolia, lily of the valley, and columbine. A raised seating area continues the sight line from the formal garden to the back and echoes the Chinese Chippendale-style garden seat, painted with authentic white milk-based paint.

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