Tag Archive for Mt. Vernon Estate

A Field Trip to Washington’s Gardens at Mount Vernon

Beautiful Mt. Vernon wearing her new "old" colors again.

Beautiful Mt. Vernon mansion house wearing her new “old” colors again.

Each year on George Washington’s Birthday, the Mount Vernon Estate opens its gates to the public for free. As you might imagine, it is filled with people coming to celebrate the day. Since it’s right down the street from my home, I try to go every year. There is always something that is undergoing a renovation, and it’s great to see what’s newly been uncovered with all the advancements in technology they have. The mansion house has now been painted with colors that have been discovered to be the original — very different from the colors we all thought for years to be accurate. For at least the last century, it has been painted white and it’s bright red roof shown against the blue sky. Now the colors are much softer and more muted. A golden tan is on the field of the house, and the roof is a much softer red. It’s very pretty, but for those of us who see it everyday, quite a change!

The amazing view from the veranda looks exactly as it did when George Washington lived there.

The amazing view from the veranda looks exactly as it did when George Washington lived there.

The “back yard” of the house it is still just as it was when President Washington lived there. Believe it or not, the view from the veranda has been protected in a way that you cannot see any other structures across the Potomac River — 80 square miles of protection to be exact! I think that’s an amazing accomplishment. All the lawn that you see is trimmed by a scythe, no mowers used here. It’s quite impressive to watch. The estate’s team of gardeners have a wealth of knowledge about the colonial era tools, and there are special tours where they will demonstrate many of them. If you get a chance to visit, you might want to call ahead and request a special tour!

The inside of the orangery at Mt. Vernon

The inside of the orangery at Mount Vernon.

This year I went specifically to see the orangery and it’s surrounding garden. This area was used in housing the small citrus trees that they grew in planters. The trees would be outside in the warm months and moved indoors into the orangery in the winter. It has a dark colored slate floor, and masonry walls which would soak up all the warmth from the sun during the day through the south facing, floor to ceiling windows. Then in the evening, the shutters would be closed, and the floor would radiate it’s heat back into the room, keeping it above freezing, and all it’s tender trees and plants would be kept alive. They have not quite finished this renovation and the plants are not inside yet, but soon it will be full of tender plants.

Enjoying a warm and beautiful walk in the brick walled garden. A cherry tree espallied against the wall is almost ready to spring back into growing from the extra warmth of the wall.

Enjoying a warm and beautiful walk in the brick walled garden. A cherry tree espallied against the wall is almost ready to spring back into growing from the extra warmth of the wall.

On the outside of the building there is a large garden surrounded by brick walls to protect against nibbling deer and other animals. This area was mainly used to start new plants for transplant into the other landscaped areas and was used as sort of a colonial era plant nursery. President Washington was the recipient of many gifts of plants and new varieties of seeds and, according to his journals, enjoyed experimenting with them.

The walls of the garden have many different varieties of espallied trees — mostly fruiting trees like apple, peach, fig and cherry. They were grown against the walls for extra warmth to prolong the growing season, and also pruned to just a few feet tall, to make harvesting the fruit easy. The colonial people were very clever in their farming practices!

Early Autumn is when the figs ripen to perfection!

This fig was from a past Mount Vernon plant sale, one of the Washington’s favorite!

 

Along the brick lined paths they additionally would grow herbs and medicinal plants. A very diverse variety of plants grew there. The tiny little boxwood plants that you see edging the walk, figs trees, herbs and many other plants and seeds are sold in the annual plant sale fundraiser, coming up in Garden Week, another really fun event!

 

Here is a close up on the apple trees. February and early March are when the do a major pruning on them to keep them low, and easy to harvest

Here is a close up on the apple trees in the larger vegetable garden. February and early March are when they are pruned to keep them low, and easy to harvest.

 

 

There is a huge vegetable garden on the other side of the mansion as well. With hundreds of mouths to feed, this was a most important garden, and it was in constant rotation of crops. Lettuces, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, melon and many more things grew here. This season the early spring onions and cabbages were looking great.

 

 

 

 

 

A dove with an olive branch sits atop Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington

A dove with an olive branch sits atop the cupola on the mansion house- — what a fantastic view!

I always hate to leave Mt. Vernon estate, but the afternoon was coming to an end. So until I am back there next year, Happy Birthday George Washington! And happy gardening to the rest of us-

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Making the Most of the Weirdest Weather Ever

Wild weather going from 70's to 20's with thunder, snow and hail, then back to sun- breaking records almost every day.

Wild weather going from 70′s to 20′s with thunder, snow and hail, then back to sun- breaking records almost every day.

We are having some truly crazy weather here in Mount Vernon. Over the last week, we have had a daily high of 74 degrees and a daily high 38 degrees; snow, hail, sun, and rain; and three or four days with 60+ mile an hour winds! It seems like we are having records broken every day. You never know what will be in store from one minute to the next.

I’ve been making the most of the nice days and getting lots done in the garden. There have been some interesting things — and some not so — but it’s been great to just be outside soaking it all in. Here are a few things that I’m doing here that I hope will be a useful reminder to you in your gardens.

An easy fix for mature grasses with a bare center- read all about it here!

An easy fix for mature grasses with a bare center — read all about it here!

When we’ve had a nice afternoon here and there, I managed to get at least one or two ornamental grasses trimmed down. With more than a dozen out in the garden, this is the most time consuming of all of the cutting-back tasks.  Mature grasses always start to die back in the middle after a few years, and it can start to look like a doughnut with all the growth around the edge and bare in the center. I have a tip for working with these: If you have a saws-all you can use a long blade to cut around the inner circle and remove it. This will dull the blade, but just keep it for this duty — makes it so much easier to cut out the fibrous, tough center. The bare center then can be then easily be filled in with a chunk of fresh, new growth from the outer edge, making the plant good as new.

These grasses can grow to be more than three feet in diameter in just a few years, so an alternative would be to divide it in fourths (or more) and turn one plant into many. Gardener’s gold! I have seven of them trimmed down now, so I’m well on my way. And — once you have finished trimming down the tops, don’t forget to clean out the old leaves and debris that settle in to the center during the course of the previous year. It will make the crown of the plant much healthier, and as a bonus it will look much nicer, too.

First Spring flowers are already blooming! Time to scratch up the mulch and enjoy the fresh Earth scent!

First spring flowers are already blooming! Time to scratch up the mulch and enjoy the fresh Earth scent!

Now that we are starting to have warmer days, I like to stir up the mulch. It can become so compacted over the winter when it freezes and thaws. By stirring it up, it is much more porous so the spring rains can more easily soak in. It also makes the mulch look fresh and nice.

This is also the perfect time to check on emerging bulbs and perennials. I like to take the time to clear out the branches and leaves that have blown in, and give the garden beds a good edge for the upcoming growing season. Another tip — use your senses to evaluate your soil. It should have a beautiful fresh earth scent, as you stir it up. If it doesn’t, remember where and return with some nice compost to stir in when the soil has warmed. Ditto that if you see an area where rain ponds up, or there is moss or heavy clay.

The roses are already sprouting leaves in this warm weather- time for a major pruning.

The roses are already sprouting leaves in this warm weather — time for a major pruning.

Right now is the perfect time of the year to trim up rose bushes. Leave five or so main branches, and cut out any that cross. Make your cut about 12-18″ up the branch just above an outward facing leaf bud.

Last year I heard a new tip and really like it: sprinkle cinnamon on the soil surrounding the rosebush about a foot in diameter. It keeps fungus at bay. It really works. I had no black spot at all on the leaves of the bushes where I did this.

On to a reminder about some of the ugly necessities in the garden. After 17 years, we are replacing the A/C system. I wish they lasted longer, but even though we have ours serviced every year, there are only so many years of life in them. Here’s a tip I’ve mentioned before, but bears repeating: make sure to trim any bushes or hedging back so that the unit has at least a couple of feet of breathing room around it. You will have perfect air circulation around the unit and the technicians will have room to service it.  Thank goodness for that invention, makes life so much more enjoyable!

I also made some progress clearing out a space to dedicate for storing my recycling bins and trashcan. It’s a little more visible than I’d like, so I’m still thinking about what I might do differently to improve on it.

On an exceptional day last week, we took a field trip to Mt. Vernon Estate, just down the street. More on that next time!

On an exceptional day last week, we took a field trip to Mt. Vernon Estate, just down the street. More on that next time!

In between some more wild weather, we had a beautiful day to take a field trip to George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon. I’ll be writing the next blog on some really inventive gardening tips from there that are still valid today!

I hope you’ve been able to get out in the garden on your good days, and may we have many more to come. Enjoy!

 

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