The Elizabethan Gardens on Manteo are on a par with such world sites as the Generalife in Granada, Spain, the Enid A. Haumpt Garden at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden in Hartford, Connecticut. And unlike those, which enjoy the support of national or at least city governments and major institutions, they are the result of efforts of a group of local gardeners, the North Carolina Garden Club.
The gardens, open year-round and dog friendly, are a series of formal and semi-formal glades separated by long hedges and groves of mature trees. One of the several live oaks on the premises is believed to have been growing on the site when Sir Walter Raleigh founded what became the Lost Colony in walking distance from the garden entrance.
The herb garden (above), the first section you enter, is a beautiful example of an English formal garden, with a geometric layout of beds bordered by hedges containing growing herbs. Much of the garden beyond is more natural, with grass swards often surrounding statuary and bordered with stands of mature trees including magnolia and other southern specimens. Visitors can wander at will down various trails that open up into green spaces. Near the center is a large, bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth I, reputed to be the largest in the world.
My one disappointment was the rose garden. I expected a formal garden, perhaps similar to Elizabeth Park or the rose garden at Generalifé. It turned out to be a small oblong, paved with stone and with a narrow bed with rose bushes around the edge.
That aside, the Elizabethan Gardens are well worth an afternoon, even for non-gardeners like myself. Built to commemorate the age of the Lost Colony, it is based more on the English formal garden tradition than anything in the North America of that period. It provides a place of peace and green order that is certainly the expression of an earlier age.