Garden Wonderland

Like a peek into the past, Birdsong Pleasure Garden echoes gracious gardens of yore.

Herb garden.

Photos courtesy of Birdsong Pleasure Garden

It has been said that good things come to those who wait, and certainly, a garden is no different. Because it is alive, a vibrant ecosystem brimming with life, a garden is not born fully realized, but nurtured from inception to maturity. After nearly 30 years of developing their garden, Lesley and Tom Mack of Luray have perfected the arts of patience and perseverance, as well as working in harmony with nature, and the result is a beautiful garden experience unlike any other: the Birdsong Pleasure Garden. 

Sharing a passion for plants, the Macks have always enjoyed gardening. As they traveled with Tom’s military career, including a number of years in Hawaii, they took their hobby with them. “We always kept our fingers in the dirt,” says Lesley, “even if it was just a pot on a patio.”

Tom and Lesley Mack

After moving to Virginia in the early 1990s, the Macks purchased three acres in the Shenandoah Valley. The property, once part of a farm, was a blank slate with a few cedars and a small orchard. To these plant-loving elementary school teachers, it was a dream come true. They developed their gardens during summer vacations, bringing ideas home from visits to Maymont in Richmond, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, and the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. As they turned memories of their travels into plans for their property, their mantra became, “We can do that!” 

The Macks have brought their dream of a beautiful garden to life literally from the ground up. “The best way to get started with a garden,” says Lesley, “is to incorporate organic matter, especially composted leaves, to enrich the soil.” Next, she says, it’s important both to know your site and read your plant labels so you can plant appropriately. The Macks mulch with composted leaves and woodchips, and use organic fertilizers to ensure healthy plants and big blooms.

As they designed their garden and watched it take shape through the years, the Macks, both history enthusiasts, were drawn to the idea of pleasure gardens. Popular in England during the 18th and 19th centuries, these carefully designed parks comprised assorted gardens, allées (an alley bordered by trees or shrubs), paths, waterfalls, fountains, alfresco dining, musical entertainment, dancing, and even fireworks. Pleasure gardens allowed visitors to escape city life, socialize, and see and be seen by London’s high society. In modeling their garden on historic English pleasure gardens, the Macks have created a dreamy, romantic place where visitors can relax and enjoy the beauty of Virginia’s verdant Shenandoah Valley. 

Arriving at this wonderland, you step through a pergola into the “rainbow room,” a garden brimming with blooms of all colors, as well as a sparkling goldfish pond. The rainbow room leads to the vegetable garden, which features a solar cold frame and seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables. Another pergola guides you to the bonsai garden, a minimalist space featuring a waterfall and stream as well as a variety of hellebores and shrubs. From there, you enter the shade garden, with its small pond with ferns, spring bloomers, and rare and unusual plants like shooting star orchids. 

Leaving the shade garden, you pass under another pergola and grape arbor to stunning views of Strickler Knob in the George Washington National Forest and the Luray Valley. A hydrangea walk takes you down the hill to the evergreen forest, with its variety of unique specimens, such as variegated white pine, contorted pine, and redwood. Returning up the hill, visitors stroll up the allée, which leads to the daylily gardens, the east glade, and a nature trail with native plants. At the top is the main pergola, as well as herb and cutting gardens inspired by Colonial Williamsburg. Visitors finish their garden tour on the north lawn, where they enjoy a walled garden and long, grassy promenade.

The Macks hope that visitors will not only enjoy the experience, but take home ideas for their own gardens, as well. “We have a love for the land and all the critters,” says Lesley. “If we can help save a tree, shrub, or habitat for the birds, that’s important to us, and we want to share that with the public.”  

Birdsong Pleasure Garden near Luray is open year ’round by appointment. Admission is $6 per person or $10 per couple; all money raised is donated to land preservation efforts in the Shenandoah Valley. The garden is part of the Virginia Artisan Trail Network and is a recognized Virginia Treasure (a conservation, recreation, and cultural heritage designation). BirdsongPleasureGarden.info


This article originally appeared in our House + Garden 2019 issue.

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