Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program Features Three Private Gardens in Washington DC, October 16

gc_web_logoOn Sunday, October 16th, visit three private gardens in Washington, DC, open to the public through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to each garden is $7; children 12 and under are free. Open Days are rain or shine, and no reservations are required. Visit  or call 888-842-2442 for more information. Gardens featured include:

Sessums + Biles Garden, 5081 Lowell Street, NW (near American University)

The Sessums + Biles Garden is a horticultural treasure where sustainability and design embrace. The client, a passionate gardener bored with traditional “green on green” landscapes, commissioned a garden with careful consideration to all seasons and where plant form, texture, and color are of equal importance. The result is a dynamic, ever-changing tapestry of predominantly native trees, shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers. Sweeping paths, walls, terraces, and a water feature form the backbone of this unique garden. No herbicides or fertilizers are used, and pesticide use is strictly limited to the aging stand of hemlocks. The site is not irrigated, site water is reclaimed, and all garden material is composted on site. The garden is also a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and the client is physically involved in all aspects of the garden’s maintenance.

Sessum + Biles garden, photo courtesy of H. Paul Davis

Sessum + Biles garden, photo by H. Paul Davis


The Barbara Downs Garden, 3321 P Street, NW

Located in Georgetown, this town garden exudes the spirit of Japan, a favorite travel spot of its owner. A dry streambed of randomly placed stones descends from the elevated rear of the garden and meanders to the house, terminating in a circular arrangement of stones that mimic a pool. The centerpiece of the garden, a sculptured millstone-shaped pink granite fountain surrounded by lavender plantain lily (Hosta x ‘Honeybells’) bubbles with life. Framed by crepe myrtle ‘Natchez’ (Lagerstroemia indica ‘Natchez’), the terrace of Stoneyhurst flagstone provides a reflective escape in this hidden urban garden.

The Nancy Gray Pyne Garden (street address will be given at other locations)

A journey through this secret garden in the heart of Georgetown takes the visitor up a series of formal terraced gardens and past a number of outbuildings that include a library, two greenhouses, and a freestanding theater. It culminates in a decorative walled vegetable garden designed and planted by Washington Post garden writer, Adrian Higgins. The garden had been assembled over the course of a century or more, but it was given its character in the 1930s as one of the major Washington projects of a pioneering landscape architect named Rose Greely. The main terrace is a walled garden perched above the house. Its most animated feature, a geometric fountain, is aligned with both the rear entrance of the house and, at right angles to it, a rectangular lawn framed by a path and boxwood plantings. The upper garden functions as its own formal garden of shrubs and small trees, as well as an entrance for the theater, known as the playhouse, and the larger greenhouse (and potting shed). The upper garden is also a place of paths. One leads to a parking lot at the end of an alley. Another passes a long boxwood walk that leads past a fenced swimming pool, which was once an ornamental garden and, later, a tennis court. The vegetable garden is bounded by more brick walls and by the back of the garage and a cedar fence. The space, sixty feet by thirty feet, also contains the second greenhouse built by Nancy Gray’s husband, Gordon Gray, who was a passionate orchid grower.

Nancy Gray Pyne garden, photo courtesy of The Garden Conservancy

Nancy Gray Pyne garden, photo courtesy of The Garden Conservancy

In addition, at the garden of Nancy Gray Pyne, bring your questions throughout the day for Andrea Filippone and Eric T. Fleisher of the New York-based firm, F2 Environmental Design. Andrea Filippone is a boxwood expert who has advised Mrs. Pyne on boxwood selections in her garden, and Eric T. Fleisher is the organic guru in the firm, who believes that the basis of all successful gardening is an understanding and nurturing of the soil biosphere.

The Garden Conservancy created the Open Days program in 1995 as a means of introducing the public to gardening, providing easy access to outstanding examples of design and horticultural practice, and proving that exceptional American gardens are still being created. Its mission to share American gardens with the public is achieved each season, through the work of hundreds of private garden hosts and volunteers nationwide. Digging Deeper, a new series of Open Days programming, is designed to offer a deeper look into the gardening world through immersive experiences with artists, designers, gardeners, authors and other creative professionals. The Open Days program is America’s only national private garden-visiting program. For information and a complete schedule of Open Days visit the Garden Conservancy online at

Leave a Reply