Charlie Seilheimer vividly recalls the first day he experienced the pastoral beauty of rural Virginia. "I was 6 or 7 years old at the time on a trip with my parents to see Monticello," he explains. "Jefferson was my hero." Already a student of history and architecture, this boy from Buffalo, New York, decided then and there that someday he would live nearby. He was right.
He had passed through the town of Orange, home to a breathtaking landscape called Mount Sharon Farm. In more than 200 years, Mount Sharon had known just a handful of owners. Though much had changed over the centuries, the early bones of the garden remained. A 450-foot path extended straight out from the house up a hill. Various gardens branched off left and right. Boxwoods planted on each side of the path in 1904 formed a central hallway. Today, these magnificent evergreens stand nearly 20 feet tall.
After college, Charlie and his wife, Mary Lou, settled in Virginia. In 1994, they learned that friends had a property for sale in rural Orange—Mount Sharon. After briefly touring the house, Charlie asked Mary Lou what she thought. "I said, 'If you don't buy this house, I think you're crazy,'" she remembers. Charlie wasn't crazy. They moved in.
The Seilheimers hired Charlottesville landscape architect Charles J. Stick to create gardens around the axis of the boxwood "central hall." He promised them two things. First, he would build the frame and let the Seilheimers paint the canvas. Second, his frame would never obscure the beautiful countryside. "When you design gardens, you should always have a big idea in mind," says Charles. "The big idea here was that all I was going to create in that place was going to be subservient to those views."
Foremost among the current gardens is the classical rose garden that rests on a south-facing terrace, just below a pair of rose-draped pergolas. Walk through an opening in the yew hedge and you discover a lower terrace containing a geometric boxwood parterre.
Not merely observers, Charlie and Mary Lou are hands-on gardeners. She tends her dozens of roses, earnestly tying the climbers to the tops of the pergolas. He enjoys trimming the boxwoods into cloudlike forms. Both hesitate to identify their favorite spot at Mount Sharon. "Wherever I am," says Mary Lou, "is the place I want to be."