William Paca House
(small entrance fee to gardens)
Leafy Prince George’s Street boasts some of the city’s most elegant residences, as it did during the 18th Century. Originally designed to be the town home for wealthy planter and statesman William Paca, this elegant five-part Georgian mansion was constructed between 1763 and 1765. Although the residence is lovely, the grounds are outstanding. The 18th Century pleasure garden was painstakingly reconstructed from historical drawings and documents. Its two acres include a fish-shaped pond with Japanese-style bridge and four Parterre gardens; a style that was derived from Medieval knot gardens that using flowering plants to represent threads of embroidered designs. The geometric patterns of the parterre reflect the Italian Renaissance style in vogue at the time. In reconstructing the gardens, horticulturalists choose species that represented popular colonial cultivars. Who else but a Romantic poet would name a languidly drooping crimson flower “Love Lies Bleeding”? Amazingly, the garden area was a parking lot before it was restored and opened to the public in 1973.
The large holly trees in the rear garden are pruned in the shape of sugar cones, a style popular in colonial times. Research authenticating details such as this was compiled from the diary of Mr. William Faris, a silversmith and resident of Annapolis during the end of the 18th Century.
A bald cypress, unusual because this species is one of only a few deciduous conifers (it loses its needles), grows near the pond. This species is not usually found north of Calvert County in Maryland. Other deciduous species include pin oak, willow oak, river birch and red oak.
Another interesting tree, the golden rain tree, is located on the left side of the steps to the lower garden. This tree was imported from China for its ornamental value. The clusters of tiny yellow flowers with red centers fill the tree with color during mid to late summer. Once the flowers die back, the fruits that remain are also attractive, forming three-sided capsules that somewhat resemble oriental lanterns.
As you leave the William Paca House, notice the ancient white mulberry on the front brick patio. This tree has a circumference of 14’3’’ and stands 28’ tall. Mulberries were a colonial favorite since they served as a preferred food source for silk worms. Asian species were introduced in an attempt to establish a silk industry but this idea eventually fell out of favor. Although birds seem to enjoy the berries of the mulberry, one colonial author said about them, “the rather insipid fruit is favored chiefly by chickens, hogs, and children!”
Trees such as this old mulberry are considered “unattractive” by some standards. Its gnarled, arthritic-looking twists and curves give testimony to its long and difficult life. Trees of this stature are given great respect in Europe and Asia, being allowed to continue on for centuries. The more you study its lines and bark, the more interesting it becomes. Alternatively, it makes an appealing backdrop for pictures.
To continue your tour, proceed down Prince George and turn left on Randall Street. This will take you to the entrance to the Naval Academy at Gate 1.
Last updated on November 20, 2001.
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