A Garden Walk at Oak Hill
The phrase “Southern Hospitality” must have come into being on such a noble estate as Oak Hill in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. There, in the ample days “befo' de wah,” the Hairstons would bid a score of guests for a visit. These would drive up gaily in quaint, old, round-bellied coaches with postillions galloping behind, and be-chintzed band-boxes and little haircloth trunks bulging from every railing and step. What greetings at the wrought-iron plantation gate — always cordially open! What low bows from gallants! What sweeping curtsies from bright-eyed ladies!
Then the front walk at Oak Hill, no pinched, half-way affair, but a long sweep of rock-laid path, generously broad, flanked by tremendous hedges of the well-beloved Boxwood, most luxuriant and lavish of evergreens. Up the wide steps into the wainscoted hall, where dim paintings of old Hairstons and massive furniture, mellow with age, bespeak the lineage and standing of the house.
Box Hedges at Oak Hill
At sunrise next day the guests gather for the fox-hunt. The earlier ones walk in little groups through the fresh morning garden, the red-coats of the men flaring in the sun against the dark shine of the Box hedges. (Do you know the quickening tang of the Box when the dew is on it?) At last all are ready; to horse and away with a long haloo, a baying of hounds, and the silvery ring of the hunter's horn sounding ahead!
Back again in the late afternoon pleasantly a-tingle from the long ride, to watch the proud winner of the brush nail his trophy to the great barn door of solid oak. Then a placid cup of tea and cool ices in the sleepy afternoon garden, where the scent of mignonette and magnolia and marguerite rises sweetly with the spicy aroma of the sun-heated Box that is the garden's frame.
That evening with a thousand candles shimmering along the walls and in the mirror-like floor, the violins, the flute and the harp begin a tinkling minuet. All the splendor and daintiness of the old South is in that beautiful dance, so stately, so graceful, so delicate.
Oak Hill, Pittsylvania County
And there will be more than one fine youth and dear girl who will leave the gay ball to stroll, a bit silently, through the walk to the old moonlit garden, to stop a moment in a quiet curve of the winding path and listen to the faint notes of music and laughter floating out over the garden. The silent old Boxwood makes the path a bower of tranquility and peace, and in that scented retreat full many a troth has been plighted.
Oak Hill has always been maintaned with munificence and plenty. There were in the old days a hundred devoted slaves to keep the garden ever lovely. There were wooly-headed picaninnies who would, as a respite from turning the haunch of venison on the spit, be marshalled out to cut the grass borders with knives. They would be sharply supervised by the older negroes, to the most careful of whom was intrusted the clipping of the Box hedges; for every Colonial garden had its Boxwood, and the owners took great pride in growing perfect and vigorous specimens.
There is a pile of old brick in one corner of the garden which marks the site of a long-ago school-house. Education was a family matter then, and in this small building the young Hairstons were brought up as Southern gentemen with a firm grounding in the classics and history. It was in this school, too, that their neighbors, the “Stuart boys,” learned the three r's. One of these became General J. E. B. Stuart, that adored Confederate hero, who is so sympathetically portrayed in John Drinkwater's play, Robert E. Lee.
This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House in Chatham, Virginia.