Woodland Garden

Initiated in the late 1960s under the direction of James Anthony (Tony) Dove, the 8-acre Woodland Garden was the first to be developed. Working in collaboration with noted regional nurserymen and abororeta, Tony Dove, as the County Horticulturist, created this garden as a showcase for unusual plants and as one of the finest botanical collections in the area. Assisted by active garden clubs and individuals in the area, especially Susan Morton, Tony created a garden as impressive as its model, Windsor Great Park in Great Britain. Today, the mature specimens planted during Tony’s tenure, along with the native trees, create the bones of the garden.

The 8-acre Woodland Garden provides a mile long path through a variety of garden settings. These include a Holly Grove, Dry Stream, Spring Bay, Hosta Garden, Winter Walk, Camellia Collection, Wildflower Walk, Azalea Glade, and Dell. 

This Holly Grove includes a wide range of holly specimens, both native and exotic, as well as tree-form and shrub-like varieties. Many people are surprised to discover that there are deciduous hollies, hollies with tiny leaves, and hollies with yellow or black berries. They are also surprised to learn that most hollies have either male or female flowers, with only the female plants producing fruit. Here one will find native Winterberry and Inkberry, as well as several Asian species, some of which have become popular landscaping plants today. The large yellow-berry specimen is always a major draw for devotees of this evergreen American holly.

Located within the Holly Grove is the Hall Overlook, dedicated in memory of Theodore Hall III, Catherine R. Powell Hall, and Teddy Ewing Hall. From this vantage point, once the leaves have fallen from the trees, one can look out upon the Woodland Garden and its wonderful undulating terrain, with views of the South River beyond. In the 1970s, when the woods were first being cleared to create the garden, they were so thick with vines and brush it was initially thought that the topography was relatively flat. However, deep ravines were soon discovered when bush-clearing equipment went tumbling down the steep slopes.

The aptly named Spring Bay has many lovely early flowering plants. Magnolias in variety are among the first to bloom, and include the white and pale pink Star Magnolias and the popular rosy Saucer Magnolias. By late-March, the flowers of both these trees burst forth from grey fuzzy buds, which they scatter on the ground, acting like happy children tossing aside their winter jackets. These are joined by the Leatherleaf mahonia, with imposing, prickly foliage and fragrant yellow flowers and two Cornelian Cherries, which are small trees covered in a haze of yellow flowers. The daffodils that bloom at this time make handsome companions. A bit later, the path is edged with bleeding hearts, tall perennials in pink or white which go dormant in the summer heat. Behind the bench is a mixed grove of camellias, while on the slope looking out toward the river, native azaleas, Solomon’s seal and large drifts of the blue-flowered Brunnera can be found. May brings the lovely blossoms of the Mountain Laurel, large-leaf Rhododendrons and a special group of azaleas, known as the Satsukis. Satsuki means “fifth month” in Japanese and these large-flowered azaleas are known to continue in bloom through the end of spring, far into June. The Spring Bay is home to several species of both Redbud and Dogwood trees. Of special interest are the burgundy–leaf ‘Forest Pansy’ Redbud and the rare Evergreen Dogwood, located at the end of the Spring Bay, which bears small, creamy flowers in summer and rosy ball-like fruit in fall. Also of note are the Rutger Hybrid Dogwoods — hybrids formed by crossing our native Eastern Dogwood with a Chinese Dogwood. These hybrids have proven to have a greater resistance to the fungal diseases that have plagued our native dogwoods in recent years.

This quiet nook contains some of the many cultivars of the very popular hosta plant. Hostas are native to Asia, also known as plaintain lilies, and once called Funkias. While a few hostas were grown in our grandmother's gardens, they have recently enjoyed an immense surge in popularity, thanks to the need of today’s gardeners for low-maintenance shade plants and the ease with which hostas mutate into new forms or are hybridized. Over 30 species and 3,000 cultivars are currently recognized, so this little garden cannot do them justice. But the hostas grown here do represent the range of plant forms available— from large leaf to tiny, and gold, green or blue to variegated themes of each. In this garden, you will also see several other plants native to Asia and now popular in gardens worldwide. Evergreen azaleas, a Chinese fringe tree, a Japanese maple, Astilbes, Epimediums, Hydrangeas, Magnolias, Cherries, Camellias and oriental varieties of Dogwood and Redbud are all represented. A mature Japanese Styrax tree overhangs the bench. Growing in this garden is one genus of plant that is not Asian - the Italian arum. It has handsome patterned foliage that emerges in the fall and stays attractive all winter, then disappears in late spring and summer, leaving behind only a stalk of red berries. Consequently, this plant is the perfect companion for the winter dormant hosta — a tip we pass on for use in your own hosta gardens.

The Winter Walk features an allee of plants and trees selected for their winter interest, stretching from the gazebo, located at the south end of the walk, to the South River overlook. Evergreen foliage, bright berries, interesting branch form and unusual bark make this garden “room” visually delightful even in darkest December. Some of these plants actually grow and bloom in the colder months – Italian arum, Wintersweet, witchhazels, edgeworthia, hellebores, camellias and winter daphne all lend their color to the winter garden.

London Town has an extensive collection of camellias scattered throughout the garden, including spring-blooming Japanese camellias, fall-blooming sasanqua camellias, pure species and many hybrids. The glossy foliage and beautiful flowers of these shrubs make them very popular with gardeners. You may be surprised to see camellias growing here, since they are generally thought to be a southern plant. There is a very important group of camellias that grow at London Town. These are hybrid camellias, developed in the 1980s by Dr. William Ackerman of the U. S. National Arboretum. By crossing the very hardy Camellia oleifera with showier camellia species, Dr. Ackerman produced fall, winter and spring blooming camellias that can withstand temperatures as low as 15 degrees below zero. On the path behind this bed you will find many unnamed hybrids. This is where Dr. Ackerman grew camellia seedlings on to maturity and studied their hardiness and suitability for commercial production. We are very proud of the camellia ‘Winter’s Hope,’ which originated here and is named after Mrs. Hope Andrews, a founding member of the London Town Commission in the 1970s. In this area of the garden you will also find 'Pink Icicle,' 'Snow Flurry,’ ‘Winter’s Beauty,’ and Winter’s Interlude’ —all selections from the Ackerman breeding program.

The South River Overlook is a memorial to Admiral Eliot Bryant. Several permanent features of the Woodland Garden have been named for officers of the Navy, due to the active role played by the Naval Academy Garden Club in the creation of the gardens. The garden club members helped in a number of ways, from trucking the Academy’s fall leaves to London Town to improve the heavy clay soil, to donating funds to build structures, such as this lovely brick overlook.

The Meditation Garden serves as a memorial to Admiral and Mrs. Thomas H. Morton. Susan Morton was chairman of London Town’s garden committee in the 1970s. This quiet spot, which shelters species of hellebore and epimedium imported from Mrs. Morton’s native England, celebrates her vision, hard work and inspiration that brought about the beautiful gardens that you see today.

The Dell features a manmade pond crossed by a Japanese style bridge donated by the Four Rivers Garden Club. The magnolia hybrid 'Picture' grows beside the bridge. Other notable trees in the Dell include a Dawn Redwood next to the pond and a Bald Cypress by the river’s edge. Both are deciduous conifers, losing their needles in the winter. The Dawn Redwood, an ancient circumpolar species once thought to be extinct, was discovered in China in the 1940s and now graces many public gardens with its soft bright green foliage. The Bald cypress is native to the southeastern United States. You may notice its “knees,” or root protrusions, which help the tree get adequate oxygen in swampy soils. Shading the Dell is a magnificent willow oak, the oldest resident of the garden at about 150 years old. By climbing the steps on your right as you face the river, you can re-enter the Holly Collection, or proceed up the Dell from the pond along the rocky stream bed and re-enter the Ornamental Garden.


Public Hours

Public Hours

Wednesday - Saturday
Noon - 4:30pm


$10 - Adults
$9 - Seniors (62+)
$5 - Youth (7-17)
Free - Children 6 and younger

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