Tag Archive for Virginia

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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Happy Thanksgiving to One and All-

Wishing a happy and healthy Thanksgiving to one and all-

 

Thanksgiving Day 2016

Thanksgiving Day 2016

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A Walk Through the Garden on a Beautiful Summer Day

It’s a beautiful summer day here in the Washington Metro area. The humidity is low, and the temperature is mild — time for a stroll through the garden! Enjoy the tour….

The caladiums are just spectacular. Maybe my favorite new flower!

The caladiums are just spectacular; they may be my favorite new flower!

A favorite spot in the shade on the east side.

A favorite spot in the shade on the east side. The crepe myrtles have been flowering for a month and a half already!

The back yard is filling out nicely, and the "green fence" is almost solid now.

The back yard is filling out nicely, and the “green fence” is almost solid now.

This is the path up to the deck. Everything here is very full this year from all the rain we've had this month. I think we are on track to set a new record-

This is the path up to the deck. Everything is very full from all the rain we’ve had this month. I think we are on track to set a new rainfall record…

Up on the deck this year all the planters are spilling out with coleus, vinca and sweet potato vine.

All of the planters up on the deck are spilling out with sun-loving coleus, vinca and sweet potato vine.

Here's a close up of one of the planters. I am amazed at how many varieties of coleus there are. I don't know which one I like best-

I am amazed at how many varieties of coleus there are. I don’t know which one I like best…

This sweet potato vine might take over the deck if I let it!

This sweet potato vine might take over the deck if I let it!

I think my friend Stomper has the right idea- time for a nap!

I think my friend Stomper has the right idea — time for a nap!

 

 

Gardening in Historic Alexandria

Rhododendren are native to Virginia. I am lucky to have this beauty in my front garden!

Rhododendron are native to Virginia. I am lucky to have this beauty in my front garden!

I’ve been asked what it’s like to garden in the Washington, D.C. metro area, and in a word I’ll say — interesting! We are in the middle of the Atlantic seaboard, so we experience the weather extremes of both North and South and everything in between. The weather seems constantly changing, so much so that we locals joke: “If you don’t like the weather, just turn around!”  It is rarely the same two days in a row.

I live and garden in the Mt. Vernon section of Alexandria, in Fairfax County, Virginia (what a mouthful!), on property once owned and farmed by George Washington. My home is by the banks of the Potomac River, just 1 1/2 miles from the estate’s main house. This is now the eighth house I have lived in since moving to Alexandria in 1969, and each has had its own distinct micro climate!

Front left- azalea

Azalea in full bloom in my east garden. These beautiful bushes are treasured by gardeners in our region.

We are most famously known for our cherry blossom trees, but there is an amazing bounty of other beautiful natives: azaleas, dogwoods, rhododendrons, to name a few. We take pride in having a large number of flowering tree varieties. Many have been brought in by people from all over the world to represent their home cities, making for a stunningly beautiful springtime! In addition to many home garden tours throughout the year, we have the amazing U.S. Arboretum and the U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C.

This is a blackberry lilly. These were grown by Thos. Jefferson as a curiousity. The beautiful coral flowers give way to seedpods which look like blackberries.

This is a blackberry lily. These were grown by Thomas Jefferson as a “curiosity.” The beautiful coral flowers give way to seedpods which look like blackberries in late summer.

This region is filled with history buffs (myself included!) who enjoy planting our gardens with some of the same plants as those of our country’s forefathers.

Colonial gardens were much more than ornamental; they served practical needs. Fruit trees lined walkways and often were grown in an espalier style (attaching the branches to walls or fencing) for convenience in harvesting. By growing fruit trees against brick walls, or lining herb and vegetable rows with brick paths, colonial gardeners would add warmth to the plants in cool months, extending their growing season — very important when one’s survival depended on your crop! In the picture below is a fig tree which I have been pruning to develop sideways branches for espalier. I will attach it to my east facing fireplace wall when it grows a little larger.

This is a fig tree grown from cuttings from Mt. Vernon estate.

This is a fig tree grown from cuttings from Mt. Vernon estate.

Many of the varieties of heirloom flowers, fruits and vegetables from those days are still very popular in today’s gardens. I have collected several for my own garden from the Virginia estates of two of our former presidents. My blackberry lily is from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, in Charlottesville,  and I have a special variety of boxwood from Mt. Vernon.  And of course, my favorite little fig tree started as a cutting from there, too.

An example of the homes in the historic section of Old Town Alexandria. My little green house in the center was built in 1790.

An example of the homes in the historic section of Old Town Alexandria. My little green house in the center was built in 1790, although very tiny inside, it has a 50 ft. deep back garden!

We have diverse architectural styles, from the quaint row houses of Old Town Alexandria dating back to the mid-1700′s, to the contemporary home designs of Hollin Hills (which was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in late June and has been recommended to the National Park Service for addition to the National Register of Historic Places), each with their own unique gardening styles ranging from practical to formal to natural. So, no matter what style appeals to you personally, we have it here!

If you happen to be visiting Washington, D.C., why not tour the surrounding neighborhoods to observe the pretty gardens? If you see me tending mine, please stop and say hi and tell me about yours. Happy gardening!

Update- Here is a photo of the blackberry lily with it’s “blackberries” in bloom. The seedpods really do look like blackberries!

Seedpods of the blackberry lily. They look so much like real blackberries- Ican see why Thomas Jefferson was so enamored by them!

Seedpods of the blackberry lily. They look so much like real blackberries- I can see why Thomas Jefferson was so enamored by them!