Does the name “King Carter” ring a bell? He was extraordinarily powerful and wealthy in Colonial Times, hence the royal moniker. He was also a Virginian, so your familiarity with him may vary depending on where you grew up and how thorough your US History teacher was. (House of Burgesses, anyone?) I myself had heard of him only in passing, until I saw a Groupon* for discounted admission to Oatlands Plantation. (As a native daughter of Wisconsin—home to zero plantations—I try to take advantage of these sorts of opportunities.) Oatlands was built by some of King Carter’s descendants, and today is part of the National Trust.
Your first stop is the Carriage House, which now houses the ticket office and a tearoom of some sort. The staff had surprisingly little trouble with the Groupon* vouchers; typically I feel like I’m trying to use counterfeit money when I redeem one of those things. I didn’t stop for any tea, though, since I was underdressed and about 40 years too young. It was no Madam Puddifoot’s.
House tours are given each hour on the hour. We had about 45 minutes until the next one, so we decided to check out the grounds and outbuildings. If you’ve ever visited a large estate, you know that the main house is just the tip of the property iceberg. Oatlands has a couple of outbuildings closed to the public:
But a greenhouse—one of the oldest in America—that’s open:
As soon as I walked in, the lenses in both my camera and my glasses immediately fogged up. It was in the 50s outside the greenhouse but in the 150s inside (approximation). I snapped a few quick shots of the plants before the heat exhaustion could melt the flesh from my bones.
The house itself wasn’t as large as some I’ve been in (it’s not like the guy was President or anything), but it was decent. Our tour guide spent most of the time explaining the men, women, children, seniors, and animals depicted in paintings and photos on the house’s walls. Meh. But what she lacked in Focused Tour Giving Oratorio, she made up for in enthusiasm.
(No pictures allowed in the house due to funky National Trust rules.)
The gardens, though, were my favorite part. Full of hedgerows, bird baths, sundials, statues, and a koi pond. A proper garden, which would be right at home in any Lewis Carroll novel.
NB: Oatlands Plantation is in Loudoun County, one of Virginia’s richest. If you do go, prepare to see a lot of pro-fox hunting license plates and meet people who own multiple horses.
* Technically, Amazon Local. Same diff.