Landscape Changes at Poplar Forest Aimed at Historical Accuracy

Forest, VA- Some big changes are happening at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest. They might even be a little scary to some lovers of the historical property.

Keepers of the former president's home say a true history buff can only feel excitement about the new plans, though.

With the array of boxwoods gone from the front lawn, some say the change in scenery makes the centuries old home nearly unrecognizable. And staff members even admit, it is a bit ugly right now.

Eventually, though, they hope to turn it into a beautiful example of living history.

It all started with a mystery of historic proportions: Who actually planted Poplar Forest's iconic boxwoods?

"There's always been a debate about whether they were truly part of the Jefferson design or not," said Jeffery Nichols, President and CEO of Poplar Forest.

Jack Gary and his team of archaeologists solved the mystery with science.

"Through the excavations we determined that the boxwood shrubs that were here were not part of that landscape. They were planted probably in the 1850s," said Jack Gary, Director of Archaeology and Landscapes at Poplar Forest.

Jack and Jeff made history, by making the shrubs history, but it wasn't easy.

"Removing such a long-standing visual effect of the house was difficult," said Nichols.

Changes that big had to be OK'd by Poplar Forest Staff, an advisory board, and the Garden Club of Virginia. After they got the green light to get rid of the greens, Gary and his team started deeper excavations.

"It's through the archaeology that we find the exact locations, exact sizes. So then we match up the archaeology and Jefferson's records and we come up with a very accurate plan for what it would have looked like," said Gary.

"We're not just removing these and leaving it open with a field of stumps here. Rather we're going to be restoring it back to Jefferson's vision," said Gary.

"In the end it's going to be absolutely the right decision and the only one we could make to move forward here at Poplar Forest," said Nichols.

Jack Gary says they will be excavating until the end of this year. Then they'll start testing the samples they've collected.

After that, they'll take all that information and make maps of what the property used to look like, then use the maps to re-landscape the property as close as possible to Jefferson's original design.