Gardens & Arboretums
Elizabethan Gardens On Roanoke Island
While at North Carolina's Outer Banks journey to the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island for an oasis of natural splendor at the site of one of history's mysteries.
A quick history lesson first.
In the 1580’s Queen Elizabeth I gave Sir Walter Raleigh permission to establish a settlement in the New World. Roanoke Island (between the mainland and the barrier islands now known as the Outer Banks) became that colony.
Problems arose between the male colonists and the Native Americans, but in 1587 a second group, which included women and children, arrived. Soon Virginia Dare was born. She became the first English child born in North America, and the main character of a mystery.
Virginia and others became members of the lost colony. Over 100 people disappeared, and their whereabouts remain unknown. 370 years later, the summer-time outdoor drama "The Lost Colony" had been running for almost 15 years, when the idea arose to ask the 17,000 members of North Carolina's Garden Club to establish a year-round memorial to the lost settlers.
Thus the Elizabethan Gardens were born.
Nestled into the wooded lands, which once bore the lost colonists footprints, the visitor arrives first at a crape myrtle lined lane. Trails are carpeted by pine needles and along the rows of low greenery small birds and the occasional squirrel flit about.
Suddenly in a clearing stands her majesty! Resplendent in bronze and holding Tudor roses, she benignly gazes over her former realm. A small and seductive rose garden allows one to easily imagine it being the private meeting spot for Elizabeth and her court favorite – Robert Dudley. In reality it honors the present Queen, Elizabeth II, who in turn sent a rose from Windsor Castle.
Large blooms of rhododendron blanket walks from April until the first frost, and bits of humor are evident with ivy covered bears and deer. The grounds expand to include a children’s garden, fragrant Shakespearean herb plants, cooling woodlands and its crowning centerpiece – a sunken garden. Complete with an ancient Italian water fountain and statues of the Greek and Roman gods.
In 1952 John Hay Whitney, from his parents’ Georgia estate, donated much of the European statuary, placed throughout the gardens.
Virginia Dare is also honored with a statue. Depicted as she might have looked as an adult, she survived shipwrecks, fires, scandals (she is partially nude), abandonment and almost 100 years of wandering before coming to the gardens.
Benches invite visitors to enjoy the varied botanical venues. One of the more poignant is by the gazebo. Under a thatched roof, surrounded by the sounds of nature, one gazes out to the Roanoke Sound where Native Americans first sighted English ships, and the beginning of the end to their way of life.
During the summer costumed Elizabethan actors provide the gardens with more Gloriana. Any season, the Elizabethan Gardens are grounds for a noble expedition.
Want to know more? Check out the ultimate source for Cultural Resources in North Carolina, NCDCR.
by Linda J. Bottjer
by Linda J. Bottjer
added: December 18, 2008
updated: December 7, 2010