When I think ‘secret garden’ I think of a place that makes me feel as if I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and been transported to another time and place. For North Carolina, the first destination that comes to my mind is Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo. Beautiful, historic, unique, it’s the perfect place to spend a day away from the world.
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth I would keep elaborate, fanciful gardens as a way of entertainment. Today, the Elizabethan Gardens serve as a way to recreate that as well as a memorial for Sir Walter Raleigh and 'The Lost Colony' that inhabited this area 400 years ago.
In 1950s, visitors of the Lost Colony site approached the Garden Club of North Carolina with an idea to develop a two acre garden nearby as a tribute to Sir Walter Raleigh and the colonists. Development of the gardens began on June 2, 1953, which was also the date Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England. On August 8th, 1960, the birthday of Virginia Dare, the gardens opened.
Today, the gardens charge a small (but worth it) entrance fee to spend an afternoon immersed in nature. Guests enter through the gatehouse, which is a replica of a 1500s orangery, a greenhouse used to protect citrus plants from the harsh English weather. Above the entrance is Elizabeth I' coat of arms; the gate itself was actually a gift to the US by the French Embassy.
The gardens consist of a variety of different gardens with flowers that bloom throughout the year. You can stroll through the fragrant and beautiful Queen's Rose Garden, a cloistered area with bountiful rose blooms. There's also the woodland gardens, less formal, but reflecting its namesake.
Does it get more dreamy and enchanting than a gate to the ocean?
In his book,
Did You See That?
North Carolina author and historian Joe Sledge describes one breathtaking section of the gardens - "Just to the east of the sunken gardens are great views of the Roanoke Sound. Looking out over the water, a person gets an idea of what the colonists might have seen when they first settled on the island. Walking the paths through the sand is like putting yourself in the same place as Virginia Dare as a child, playing in the trees and beach, or where John White might have stood to ponder their fate, or maybe where Ananias Dare hunted for food for the colonists. The view was so appealing that the Gardens built a gazebo there in 1981. The gazebo is a nice place to sit and enjoy a restful moment while enjoying the view over the sound, but look closer and some discoveries about it can be made."
One central point of the gardens is the statue of Virginia Dare, the first child English child born on US soil and granddaughter to John White who led, then later discovered the disappearance of, the Lost Colony. The statue of Virginia Dare is so unique, it deserves its own article.
In summary, Joe Sledge says in his book, Did You See That? "The Virginia Dare statue was carved by Maria Louisa Lander, an American artist working in Rome in an art colony there. Lander showed a talent for sculpture early in life, and moved to Rome in her twenties to start a studio there. " "
"During her time in Rome, she was involved in a scandal that caused her to be shunned by the American art society there. Rumors included stories of an affair and her posing in an improper state of undress for a fellow artist. Even though she received no more commissions, Lander would not let the rumors stop her. She continued to work, carving the Virginia Dare statue out of a column of Carrara marble in 1859. Lander interpreted Dare as she would have looked if she had grown into adulthood, living with the local natives, and dressed as a princess in beads, with only a fishing net wrapped around her waist." Even once the statue was completed, it still met an interesting journey until being placed in Elizabethan Gardens, "The finished statue was placed on a ship bound for America, but the vessel shipwrecked off the coast of Spain, where the sculpture stayed at the bottom of the sea. The statue was salvaged two years later, and Lander was forced to purchase her own sculpture from the salvagers. It was finally brought to Boston and displayed in an art gallery there." "The sculpture was then sold to a collector in New York for the sum of $5000. After the sculpture was delivered to the owner’s studio, his building caught fire. If not for a pair of folding doors that had been closed at the time, protecting the statue from the flames, Virginia Dare may have been once again lost, for good. The purchaser of the statue died soon after the fire, and his estate refused to pay for the statue, so Virginia Dare was returned to Lander." It seemed the Virginia Dare statue was impressivly adept at surviving near statue death time and time again. She finally found her home at the Elizabethan Gardens some many years later. Today, the beautiful statue sits tucked away beneath twirling tree branches and in a dense coastal forest environment. While many have seen the statue, few know the story behind both the actual Virginia Dare and her statue counterpart.
The statue of Elizabeth I is said to be one of the largest statues of her in the world, at 1.5 times life size.
Joe Sledge / Did You See That?
The gardens are a beautiful place to spend a day while also feeling like royalty and learning the unique history of both the Lost Colony and all the various items that came to be and found their way here.