Several years of exhaustive research will blossom — literally — in less than 90 days when Beauvoir: The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library unveils Varina’s Garden, a recreation of the garden cared for by Varina Howell Davis, Mrs. Jefferson Davis.
The restored garden, which will cover 8 1/2 acres behind the Davis home and will be traversed by concrete pathways, will feature a fruit garden, a vegetable garden, and a rose garden with 17 varieties of roses, according to Bertram Hayes-Davis, who oversaw a ground-breaking in mid-March, where he announced the garden would be completed by June 30.
State Deputy Historic Preservation Officer Kenneth H. P’Pool of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History hailed the occasion as a “spectacular addition to what is already the state’s most visited historic home” and one of the region’s most important historic sites.
P’Pool, who was on hand for the ground breaking, said Mississippi Department of Archives and History researchers were able to re-create the garden through numerous letters Mrs. Davis wrote to her daughter Winnie who was in school in Europe.
The letters, which were written over several months in 1880, used words and sketches to illustrate the contents and layout of the garden, as well as the variety of flowers, fruits and vegetables Mrs. Davis planted in the garden. “They are wonderful records,” P’Pool said.
Among the garden fare, which also will be included in the new garden: strawberries, artichokes, radishes, peppers, eggplants, Irish potatoes, and asparagus. Common and exotic fruit-bearing trees produced oranges, citrons, figs, peaches, apples, pears, quince, pomegranate, and jujube. Flowers and fragrant flowering shrubs included gardenias, jasmine, anemones, gladiolus, Japan lilies, St. Joseph lilies, fire lilies, and mignonette.
Katrina destroyed the last remaining remnants of the garden in 2005, but it had begun its decline in 1889, when Mrs. Davis left Beauvoir after her husband’s death. Said P’Pool: “The soldiers had tended it after that, and there were some remnants, but, of course, all of that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.”
The restoration is being funded by grants from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the National Park Service.
Said P’Pool: “Restoration of Varina’s garden will not only reestablish a significant historic feature of Beauvoir’s landscape, it will also provide an important attraction for the Gulf Coast’s heritage tourism industry.”
The background: To read Kenneth H. P’Pool’s statements about the significance of Varina’s Garden, click here.
Beauvoir overview: The Mississippi Department of Archives and History drafted a Beauvoir grounds tour for the Statewide Preservation Conference in April 2012. To see the document, click here.