Back from the James River, on the highlands, nestled among the trees which have long been a feature of the place, lies the Recess garden. This was laid out under the direction of General John H. Cocke, who left his home in Surrey County, Virginia, to come to the estate of his forefathers, before the War of 1812.
General Cocke settled temporarily at Bremo Recess while he was building the handsome home a few miles away which he called Bremo, in memory of an early home of his family in Henrico County.
The Recess Garden occupied an exact acre and lies four square. The uplands were not as fertile as the lowgrounds, so General Cocke has three feet of the soil removed from the garden and replaced it with three feet of earth from the lowgrounds, thus making it rich to begin with. The garden was laid out in squares with walks between and a narrow border around each square for flowers or grapevines. It was all enclosed by a stone wall, parts of which were and still are covered with English ivy, making it very picturesque.
There are vines and rosebushes left in this garden that were loved and cherished by the wife of General Cocke. One in particular, that flourishes today and has given delight to many of her descendants, is called the musk cluster. This has the most unique and excquisite odor imaginable. Like all odors, it has the power of awakening the memories of so much that is dear and sacred of those who are gone.
Before he died, General Cocke gave Recess to his oldest son and namesake. One of the legacies left by the latter was a splendid collection of pear trees, which have delighted generations of children and grown people with their delicious fruits.... When covered with their snowy veil of blossoms in the spring the trees looked like brides, so I heard one of their beloved mistresses say.
The next owners were a most devoted and flower-loving couple who added much to the beauty and fruitfulness of the garden in its variety of raspberries, peaches, pears, apples, and grapes. They also added to the large number of figs planted by General Cocke. How well I can remember those fig-bushes against the stone-wall! They have been a joy to friends and relations far and near; those visiting the family, or those dear ones near enough for the delicious fruit to be transported in large or small containers. Most of the late figs are gone now. All of the different kinds that are left are buried six inches below the surface of the ground and staked down about November 15th, to escape freezing weather. They are not taken up again until the middle of April, which treatment assures an abundance of fruit.
Not very long before the War Between the States, a friend sent General Cocke two scuppernong grapevines from North Carolina. He sent them to his daughter, Mrs. Arthur Lee Brent, to whom he had given Recess after the death of his son, John, who died unmarried. Mrs. Brent planted them in the lower part of the garden and they were busily running over the arbor in my early childhood. They would have run riot all over the whole garden by this time had they been permitted to do so. However, loving hands restricted them and now they are not only beautiful but have born bushels of grapes, from which delightful wine and jelly have been made. It was some years before the scuppernong vines began to bear at all, and when they did, at first they produced but one grape at a time here and there; then two and three came, until now they yield good sized bunches, which hide themselves under the pretty leaves of the wonderful vine, giving forth a very sweet odor.
Another charming feature of the Recess garden of my childhood days comes to mind as I recall the arbors that stood there. Three of these, large and octagonal, were placed at the intersection of the walks and over them climbed roses and other vines. One, in particular, seemed very beautiful to me. It was covered with yellow roses called the Lady Banksia, which blooms in long wreaths and clusters.
Once, when a May party was the occasion of celebrating the birthday of a fair young girl who, after a great many years, became the mistress of Recess, ices and dainties of various kinds were dispensed to her companions from a new arbor covered with pink roses. Seats were built around this arbor and a pretty rustic table was placed in the center. It stood near the late figs, at the highest part of the stone wall which bounded the garden.
Shrubs of many kinds and great bushes of ivy formed quite a feature of the Recess garden. It is strikingly picturesque when the golden forsythia or tall, white lilies tand out against the dark compact greenness of the boxwoods. The many beds of spice pinks of the same variety that used to be in in the lovely garden at Mount Vernon, also give charm and sweetness to this old Virginia Garden.
Web edition copyright © 2002 Sarah E. Mitchell