Maymont’s one hundred acres are populated with thousands of stunning trees and shrubs. Species native to Virginia abound at Maymont, many notable for their size and beauty. However, Maymont’s Arboretum also includes more than 200 exotic species of trees and plants imported by the Dooleys in the early 20th century, when Major Dooley began a planting program of considerable magnitude.
The Dooleys traveled around the world and visited gardens of international acclaim. It is presumed that these visits fueled their desire to develop a tree collection for Maymont. The Dooleys’ collection of exotic and native species indicates an unusual degree of sophistication, suggesting that trees were collected not only for their beauty, but also for scientific and educational purposes. The size and age of many of the exotic specimens indicate that they were carefully placed to allow for optimum future growth. Among these are the False Larch, Pseudolarix kaempferi, from Japan; the White Enkianthus, Enkianthus perulatus, a shrub from China; and the Persian Ironwood, Parrotia persica.
In 1986, Maymont’s tree collection was recognized by tree experts as one of the country’s notable arboretums. In a 1982 Museum Assessment Program survey report, Gordon Tarbox, Jr., Director of Brookgreen Gardens, noted that “the magnificent tree collection could not be duplicated in one hundred years.” Today, Maymont’s Arboretum is home to several “exotic champions” including the Blue Atlas Cedar, Cedrus atlantica; Cryptomeria, Cryptomeria japonica; European Vineleaf Linden, Tilia europea and the previously mentioned Persian Ironwood.
One of the fortunate characteristics of Maymont’s tree collection is that the individual specimens were originally situated with plenty of room to expand. As noted horticulturist Robert Hebb once commented, “whoever did the original tree planting was very, very knowledgeable about the way trees grow.” Too often, only years later is it realized that trees have been planted too close together. “The original landscape architects,” according to Mr. Hebb, “were pretty forward-looking to suffer the barren look for our benefit.”
Unique too, are the unparalleled vistas of natural beauty found on the estate that appear neither contrived nor planned. This critical achievement exemplifies of one of the most important objectives of the landscape garden style. Today’s casual visitor may notice the more formalized arrangement of trees along Magnolia Drive or the stylized allée of evergreens alongside the Gate House, but most would find it hard to believe that when this tract of land was purchased by the Dooleys in the late 1880s, it was simply open farmscape.
Much of the credit, of course, must go to the Dooleys themselves, who were intimately involved in every aspect of their estate’s development. Henry E. Baskervill, the architect for the Italian Garden and Fountain Court as well as the outbuildings, presumably had a hand in directing the plans for the overall landscape design as well.
Some of the most distinguished specimens in the Dooleys arboretum are concentrated on the lawns surrounding Maymont Mansion, most convenient to the Historic Estate entrance.
As public trustee of this priceless tree collection, the Maymont Foundation recognizes its responsibility to future generations to both preserve the old trees and, equally important, to initiate a vigorous planting program to ensure the future health of this living collection. With assistance from such granting institutions as the Institute for Museum Services (IMS), America the Beautiful and the Virginia Department of Forestry, the Foundation is working to stabilize the condition of the original collection.