William & Mary

Sunken Garden

  • The Sunken Garden
    The Sunken Garden  View from Wren Building down the Sunken Garden toward Crim Dell.  
  • Fagus grandifolia
    Fagus grandifolia  Rows of American Beech trees flank both sides of the Sunken Garden.  
  • Lagerstroemia indica
    Lagerstroemia indica  An attractive feature of the Crape Myrtle is its mottled, peeling bark.  
  • Buxus sempervirens
    Buxus sempervirens  The sides of the Sunken Garden are lined with Common Boxwood.  
  • Buxus sempervirens
    Buxus sempervirens  The Boxwood were pruned and refreshed in 2007.  
  • Nyssa sylvatica
    Nyssa sylvatica  Black gum at its peak fall splendor.  Steven J. Baskauf http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu/
  • Quercus phellos
    Quercus phellos  Willow oak leaves and acorns  Bruce K. Kirchoff http://www.uncg.edu/~kirchoff
  • Quercus nigra
    Quercus nigra  Note the shallow lobes on the water oak leaf apex compared to the lack of lobes on the willow oak leaf  Steven J. Baskauf http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu/
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The Sunken Garden extends west from the Wren Building and serves as a place for relaxation and recreation. Its design follows the spirit of eighteenth-century English landscape gardens, which abandoned the geometric parterres of Europe in favor of sweeping lawns intended to uplift the spirit by leading the eye toward a distant, natural setting. In our case that setting is Crim Dell, a campus jewel preserved so that, in the purported words of Thomas Jefferson, "the College shall forever look upon the country."

Initial design of the Sunken Garden was by College Architect Charles M. Robinson, in the early 1920s, and reportedly was based on Sir Christopher Wren's plans for the Chelsea Hospital. Budget concerns caused the idea to be shelved until 1933, when President Chandler reported to the Board of Visitors that a Civilian Conservation Corps camp had been assigned to the College for the purpose of beautifying and improving the grounds. Charles Gillette, a Richmond landscape architect, was appointed to supervise the work, which took place 1935-36.

As you look toward the sunken garden from the steps of the Wren building, you will note two very large and stately oaks along the walk to the garden, a willow oak to the south (Quercus phellos) and a water oak (Quercus nigra) to the north. These are assuredly among the oldest trees on campus. Just southeast of the water oak is an unusually full specimen of black gum (Nyssa sylvatica). Its early and splendid fall color are assets to any landscape plan and its fruits are food for wildlife.

Common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) line either side of the Sunken Garden, flanked by rows of American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica).