The garden is located behind the Manse and is open to the public from dawn until dusk. Visitors do not need an admission ticket to tour the gardens.
The original property of the Manse did not have a garden, but rather outbuildings, functional plantings, and served as grazing land for the family sheep. The gardens were designed after President Wilson’s widow provided funding to begin the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.
The gardens at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library have evolved in four phases.
• Phase One: The first gardens, designed in 1933 by Richmond landscape architect Charles F. Gillette was done as a project by the Garden Club of Virginia. The Victorian restoration, suitable to the 1846 construction date of the house, the gardens included two terraces, the lower one featuring boxwood-lined bowknot beds, the only bowknot garden that Gillette created. To further highlight the features of the gardens, a brick terrace and pathways, designed by landscape architect Ralph E. Griswold were erected in 1967-68.
• Phase Two: The second phase of the garden took place in 1990, with the Rudy J. Favretti addition of a forecourt and lawn around the new Woodrow Wilson Museum and added garden walkways connecting the Museum and the rest of the grounds.
• Phase Three: The third phase occurred in 2008, as the Garden Club of Virginia brought new life back to the garden by rebuilding perimeter fencing, planting new boxwoods, lilacs, hostas and perennials.
• Phase Four: Unfortunately, in 2015, the Boxwood blight (Cylindrocladium buxicola) disease destroyed the boxwoods in the lower garden. The disease was first identified in Virginia in 2011, and by 2013, several properties around the Commonwealth were infected with the fungus. Symptoms of the disease include brown leaf spots that lead to defoliation and black streaking on boxwood stem tissue. The boxwoods were removed in fall 2016, and plans for a new design of the garden are currently ongoing.