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

Where happiness dwells. . .

The courtyard.  The original linden trees were imported from Europe when the house was built.

I love to see rows of  pollarded trees in French squares and courtyards. The quality of light and shade they produce, the formal rhythm of their trunks, and the sculptural qualities of their branches and old “knuckles” have a timeless beauty for me.

Pollarded trees aren’t common in the United States, so I was surprised and delighted when I walked into the lovely, serene courtyard of Meridian House on Friday morning.

Meridian House in Northwest D.C. (just a stone’s throw from Meridian Hill Park on 16th Street) is home to the Meridian International Center.  Since 1960, the Center’s mission has been to advance American public and cultural diplomacy efforts.  It manages international visitor exchanges, holds cultural exhibitions, and hosts conferences and seminars.

I was able to see it — and the garden — last week, when I attended a seminar on Rwanda.

The house, built in 1920 as the home of diplomat Irwin Boyle Laughlin, was designed by architect John Russell Pope, who also designed the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery, and the National Archives.  The style of the house, both inside and out, is neoclassical and French.

The front of the house. The inscription over the door reads “Quo habitas felicitas nil intreat mali” —  “Where happiness dwells, evil will not enter.”

The rectangular courtyard just outside the house’s reception rooms is paved in pea gravel and canopied by 40 pollarded linden trees, which were imported from Europe when the house was built (more links on pollarding are here and here and here).

The side garden has a large lawn and planting beds bordered in pink and white impatiens.  The design of both areas is largely original to the house.

The courtyard in early morning.  Click on the photos to enlarge them. 
Young trees the size of poles have been planted to replace the old.
The umbrella-like canopy of the pollarded linden trees.
The old “knuckles” of the trees.
On the south side of the house, the inscription reads, “Purior hic aer: late hinc conspectus in urbem” — “Purer here the air whence we overlook the city.”
Moving from the courtyard to the side garden.
Looking to the right.
An old oak in the center of the lawn.  Its roots are protruding into the grass.
Looking up into the oak.
Looking to the south.
The statues throughout the garden are original to the house.
Several limbed-up fig trees in the southwest corner.
The staff have planted some vegetables around the greenhouse on the south side.
A walkway along the west perimeter of the garden.  
Leaving the house at 1630 Crescent Place.

Not surprisingly, Meridian House is one of the outstanding wedding venues of Washington, D.C.

To see more photos of the courtyard and garden, click on “Continue reading” below and click on the thumbnails in the gallery to enlarge them.

Continue reading “Where happiness dwells. . .”