Mount Vernon

A repeat “Vintage” from 2012. . .

I love this 1902 photograph of the Upper Garden at George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. It’s so high Colonial Revival.

Early American Gardens has a post this week,  “Mount Vernon after George Washington’s death,” with images from the 19th century.  While looking at them I remembered the picture above and the two below.

Above is a hand-colored slide from a 1929 aerial photo, part of the lantern slides collection of Frances Benjamin Johnston.  The Upper Garden is on the right side.

And here is a general view (c.1910 – 1920) of the the Upper Garden by the Detroit Publishing Co.  All three images above via the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The 20th century photos are pretty, but they don’t accurately represent the Upper Garden of Washington’s time.  In the late 19th century, restorers thought that the boxwood parterres (many filled with hybrid tea roses) were original to Washington’s time, but research in the 1980s found that they were actually planted in the 1860s or 70s (although they may have been rooted from Washington’s boxwood).

The garden was substantially re-worked in 1985, but such is the romantic power of a boxwood hedge that the mid-19th century bushes were largely “kept in place by their own mythology and the mythology they supported of Washington as American royalty,” according to The History Blog, here.

But by the early 2000s, those boxwoods were dying, so the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which owns the estate, decided to make an extensive (six-year) archaeological dig on the site.  This culminated in a “new” (1780s) design in 2011.  The area now holds large open beds of vegetables and flowers.  They are bordered by low boxwood hedges and centered by a 10′ wide gravel walkway.

You can read about the restoration in this Washington Post article, here.  And I really recommend watching this very interesting 30-minute C-Span video about the research and archaeology that informed it.

(There’s more about the garden in 2017 here.)

The Sunday porch: Wellington

The Sunday porch/enclos*ure: Wellington, now River Farm, about 1931, Alexandria, VA, via Library of Congress.“Wellington,” near Alexandria, Virginia, 1931, hand-colored glass lantern slide by Frances Benjamin Johnston, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The white columned, ground-level porch wrapped around two and a half sides of one wing of the house.  I like the black and white wicker rockers and those terracotta jars.

Today, the house (built in 1757) and its surrounding 25 acres are the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) and are called River Farm.

George Washington originally gave the property that name after he purchased it in 1760.  It was then 1,800 acres in size and became one of his five farms around Mount Vernon.

During the 1800s, the property, re-named Wellington, passed through several owners’ hands, becoming progressively smaller in size.  It was only 280 acres in 1919, when it was purchased by local businessman Malcolm Matheson, who restored the house and gardens.

In 1971, when Matheson wanted to retire to Florida, the house and (then) 27 acres were bought by the AHS.  The funds for the purchase had been donated by board member Enid A. Haupt — partly to help the AHS, but also to keep the last of George Washington’s old farm out of the hands of the Soviet Embassy, which had wanted to buy it as a summer dacha for its employees.

Today, River Farm is open to the public  weekdays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. From April through September, it is also open on Saturdays, from 9 am to 1 pm. Admission is free.

And, of course, it can be rented for weddings and events.

A gardyn saw I, ful of blosmy bowes
Upon a ryver, in a grene mede,
There as swetnesse everemore inow is,
With floures whyte, blewe, yelwe, and rede

— Geoffrey Chaucer, from “The Parlement of Foulys

Mount Vernon’s garden and a Wednesday miscellany

I love this 1902 photograph of the Upper Garden at George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. It’s so high Colonial Revival.

Early American Gardens has a post this week,  “Mount Vernon after George Washington’s death,” with images from the 19th century.  While looking at them I remembered the picture above and the two below.

Above is a hand-colored slide from a 1929 aerial photo, part of the lantern slides collection of Frances Benjamin Johnston.  The Upper Garden is on the right side.

And here is a general view (c.1910 – 1920) of the the Upper Garden by the Detroit Publishing Co.  All three images above via the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The 20th century photos are pretty, but they don’t accurately represent the Upper Garden of Washington’s time.  In the late 19th century, restorers thought that the boxwood parterres (many filled with hybrid tea roses) were original to Washington’s time, but research in the 1980s found that they were actually planted in the 1860s or 70s (although they may have been rooted from Washington’s boxwood).

The garden was substantially re-worked in 1985 (the greenhouse was restored in the 1950s), but such is the romantic power of a boxwood hedge that they were largely “kept in place by their own mythology and the mythology they supported of Washington as American royalty,” according to The History Blog, here.

By the early 2000s, the boxwoods were dying, so the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which owns the estate, decided to make an extensive (six-year) archaeological dig on the site.  This culminated in a “new” (1780s) design in 2011.  The area now holds large open beds of vegetables and flowers.  They are bordered by low boxwood hedges and centered by a 10′ wide gravel walkway.

You can read about the restoration in this Washington Post article, here.  However, I really recommend watching this very interesting 30-minute C-Span video about the research and archaeology that informed it.

Miscellany

I’ve almost finished reading the excellent Gardens and Gardening in the Chesapeake, 1700 – 1805, by Barbara Wells Sarudy (aka Early American Gardens).  You can read its first chapter, about the 18th century garden of Annapolis, Maryland, craftsman William Faris, here.

For Anglophiles: thousands of aerial photos of Great Britain have recently been made available online; read about it here.

I recently found this 2010 (inside) art installation by Beilu Liu, which I think is just lovely, here.  It’s called “Red Thread Legend.”  (My Pinterest page — link on the right — is red today.)

In 2011, artist and former urban planner, Kathryn Clark, made a series of map quilts, shown here, representing neighborhoods that have had high foreclosure rates in recent years. Earlier this year, she gave an interesting interview with The Atlantic blog, Citieshere.

I also recently found the blog Miss Design Says, about “all good things Danish.”  It currently has a post about Rabalder Parken, a park that combines a street skate area  with an overflow water drainage system, here.

Of course I saw this on Pinterest: an umbrella that looks like a head of lettuce, here.  It’s from Japan, but the link will help you order it from other countries.

I liked this Q & A  information on rose hips in the New York Times,  here.  And I have recently been looking for some good flower frogs, and I found them here, from a tip from Gardenista.

Finally,  O-Dark-Thirty, the online literary journal of the Veterans Writing Project, launched in August.   The VWP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Washington, D.C.  It provides no-cost writing seminars and workshops for veterans, service members, and military family members. Please visit them here.

ADDENDUM:  Today, Thursday, Washington Post garden columnist Adrian Higgins discusses boxwood blight, a disease that comes from Europe and has infected shrubs in nine states, here.

The sago palms

On Friday, Diana of Elephant’s Eye commented on the age of my cycad. (The plant has a reputation as a slow grower.)

That made me remember some beautiful, rather ancient sago palms that I photographed at Tudor Place in Georgetown this summer. The sago palm is a cycad — Cycas revoluta — native to southern Japan.


Why weren’t our 19th century ancestors thoughtful enough to put away a few sago cycads in the greenhouse for us?

The original Tudor Place sago palm arrived in North America in 1775 on the famous Boston Tea Party ship. There were three sagos on board, and the largest one went to Mount Vernon. Another went to Pratt’s Nursery in Philadelphia, which is where Martha and Thomas Peter purchased it in 1813.

The Tudor Place blog says that the original sago palm is located near the door to the Visitors Center, although I only saw the specimens labeled as its descendants.

The Mount Vernon sago died in 1934. In 1941, a cutting was taken from the Tudor Place plant and given to Mount Vernon, where it grows today.

If you want to start your own little sago palm heirlooms in pots, please be aware that all parts of the plant are extremely toxic to children and pets. Guard it accordingly.

. . . all that predates history survives it.
the sago palm or the bird of paradise flower,
trees that are flowers that are birds.

. . . this high garden
protects the city that protects it.

Alvaro Garcia, “Public Garden” from Para lo que no existe, 1999