Category Archives: Gardens

Day Trip: Visit a Public Garden This Summer

Summer is the time for traveling, exploring, and spending time with family. Thinking of where to go? Consider public gardens and arboreta. Many of these are historic places as well, great for teaching your kids. On my website, pegplant.com, I list gardening books written specifically for the Washington DC metro area. Several of these books, copied and pasted below, are resources listing botanical, public, or historic gardens in east coast states. Check out these books from your local library and plan a day trip with the family. Enjoy your summer!

  • Maryland’s Public Gardens and Parks by Barbara Glickman, Schiffer Publishers, 2015
  • Capital Splendor: Parks and Gardens of Washington DC by Valerie Brown, Barbara Glickman Countryman Press, 2012
  • A Guide to Smithsonian Gardens by Carole Otteson, Smithsonian Books, 2011
  • Historic Virginia Gardens: Preservation Work of the Garden Club of Virginia by Margaret Page Bemiss, University of Virginia Press, 2009
  • Virginia’s Historic Homes and Gardens by Pat Blackley and Chuck Blackley, Voyageur Press, 2009
  • Garden Walks in the Southeast: Beautiful Gardens from Washington to the Gulf Coast by Marina Harrison, Lucy Rosenfeld, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006
  • Garden Walks in the Mid-Atlantic States: Beautiful Gardens from New York to Washington DC by Marina Harrison, Lucy Rosenfeld, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005
  • The American Horticultural Society Guide to American Public Gardens and Arboreta:  Gardens Across America, Volume 1, East of the Mississippi by Thomas S. Spencer and John J. Russell, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2005
  • A City of Gardens: Glorious Public Gardens In and Around the Nation’s Capital by Barbara Seeber, Capital Books, 2004
  • Barnes & Noble Complete Illustrated Guidebook to Washington, D.C.’s Public Parks and Gardens, published by Silver Lining Books, 2003
  • Complete Illustrated Guide to Washington DC’s Public Parks and Gardens by Richard Berenson, Silver Lining, 2003

Relax in DC’s Renovated and Sustainable Bartholdi Park

The U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) has completed the renovation of Bartholdi Park. The new garden is a showcase of sustainable gardening. Created in 1932, Bartholdi Park has served as a demonstration garden for more than 80 years. In 2016, a complete renovation started that also provided the opportunity to increase accessibility, showcase the Sustainable SITES Initiative principles in action, and demonstrate USBG’s commitment to sustainability.

Some of the changes will be noticeable to visitors. For example, most of the plants are native to the mid-Atlantic region. There is an expanded collection of edible plants in permanent and seasonal plantings in a new kitchen garden. Some of the large trees and shrubs were retained while others were placed in other locations in DC. There is more signage and more places to sit and relax. The tables and chairs were made from white oaks that had fallen naturally during a storm. There is a bike rack, additional lamps/lighting, and a water fountain. There will be outside activities such as yoga and nature-in-motion walks. Not so obvious to visitors are structural changes such as using permeable paving and rain gardens to capture rainfall, diverting runoff from D.C.’s combined sewer system. The original soil was saved and then added back with additional compost. Flagstones from previous pathways were salvaged to create new paths.

Bartholdi Park has achieved the SITES gold certification for its sustainability strategies. It is the first project in Washington, DC, to be certified under SITES Version 2. Sites is a comprehensive system for designing, developing, and maintaining sustainable land. The Park serves as a model for communities interested in sustainable gardening landscapes that are accessible and enjoyable by the public.

The story of the renovated Park is shared through new signage in the Park. A new Field Journal, an interactive booklet for young visitors, can be picked up free at the U.S. Botanic Garden’s information desk. Tours of the Park and other activities can be found at www.usbg.gov/programs.

The U.S. Botanic Garden is open to the public, free of charge, every day of the year from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The conservatory is at 100 Maryland Avenue SW on the southwest side of the U.S. Capitol. The Bartholdi Park is across the street. All of these photos are courtesy of USBG.

Native, Deer-resistant, Summer-flowering: What More Can You Want in a Shrub?

A single blossom on a young Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite” in my Virginia garden

I have been admiring Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) in other people’s gardens for a few years, taking photos whenever I can. This is such a beautiful plant I don’t know why other people don’t grow it more often. A native, deciduous shrub, Carolina allspice grows to 5 to 8 feet tall, is deer resistant, and has no major pests/diseases. The leaves are green and large for a small bush and the brown red flowers bloom all summer long.  Pollinated by beetles, the 2-inch flowers look like a cross between a star magnolia (outer strap-shaped petals) and a lotus (curved inner petals with a central, raised button). In the fall, the leaves turn golden yellow.

Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ at High Glen Gardens looks like a cross between a star magnolia and a lotus blossom

Fortunately Spring Meadow Nursery read my mind and sent me the cultivar Aphrodite two years ago as part of their Proven Winners ColorChoice collection. Aphrodite’s flowers are redder than the species and are supposed to smell like apples. In my Virginia garden, my 3-foot tall youngster is thriving under the edge of a red maple’s canopy, so it receives partial sun. This past week, Aphrodite bloomed for the first time.

I cut the flower and put it in a vase. There was no scent but I have read that young plants do not always have a fragrance. Apparently this attribute comes with maturity. I did crush a leaf though and the camphor scent was nice, almost lemony. It reminded me of a friend who would put eucalyptus branches in her car so the heat would release a pleasant scent. The bark too was aromatic when I scratched it.  Mark Catesby said the bark was as “odoriferous as cinnamon” although I think the scent is more like a cross between lemon and camphor. When my plant matures and I get more flowers I will use them for flower arrangements. In addition to the flowers, I could use the leaves and branches for potpourris. But I think I will pass on the car trick, it may create a strong odor, more like a disinfectant.

Regardless of its scent, Carolina allspice is a great shrub for the Washington DC metro area. Aphrodite certainly holds great promise in my garden.

Mature shrubs of Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite” at High Glen Gardens, Frederick, MD

Tudor Place: America’s History in One Home

south side of Tudor Place facing Potomac River

Spring is a great time to visit Tudor Place, so many native plants are blooming as well as old fashioned shrubs, azaleas, and roses. With every visit, I see something new or something restored. This month, staff completed restoration of the gazebo and arbors with new wood, plantings, and lighting and recreated a pigeon fly.

Tudor Place Historic House and Garden is a National Historic Landmark, open to the public. The land sits high on a hill in Georgetown Heights. The property was originally purchased by tobacco merchant Francis Loundes in 1795. He was able to build two separate structures. In 1802, Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter, and husband Thomas Peter rented the property.  In 1805, they purchased the 8 1/2 acres with money Martha inherited from George Washington. Martha and Peter commissioned Dr. William Thornton (first architect of the U.S. Capitol building) to design a home that would connect the two structures.  In 1816, Tudor Place was completed. The design took full advantage of the hill so the family could look down the south lawn towards the Potomac River. Although trees now block the view of the river, there is a grand sense of height and expansive land on this prime Georgetown real estate.

north side, main entrance to house

The original entrance to the property was on the north side (what is now R Street). Carriages and horses would have come up on crushed oyster shells flanked by formal gardens to arrive at a still existing oval of boxwoods installed by Martha and Thomas Peter. Although the current gated entrance is on the east, off of 31st Street, the formal gardens remain in the same place. There is a formal boxwood knot garden, several small secluded seating areas, fountains, statues, a bowling green, and a sundial. On the east there is an expanse of lawn that was once used as a tennis court and on the west there are native trees, perennials, and shrubs.

restored pigeon fly with smokehouse building

While at Tudor Place, Martha inherited many of her grandmother’s artifacts plus she purchased items at a public sale of Mount Vernon’s contents. The Peter family had three daughters and the youngest, Britannia, inherited the property in 1854. Britannia had one daughter and her husband died very early in the marriage so she basically lived at Tudor Place with her daughter most of her life. During the Civil War, she was able to keep the building from being damaged although the boxwood did get razed for Christmas wreaths.  She was forced to sell some land reducing Tudor Place to 5 ½ acres.

When Britannia died in 1911, her grandson, Armistead Peter Jr., purchased his siblings’ shares of the property. Armistead and his wife Anna modernized the home. Armistead was an avid gardener who kept extensive diaries of the plants in the gardens. In 1927, he converted the smokehouse, which dated back to 1794, to a pigeon fly by inserting a window on one side of the smokehouse so pigeons could fly out into an open cage. At the time, culinary pigeons, called squab, were raised to eat.

new wood for arbor and arbor gate

In the 1930s, he and his son, Armistead Peter III, built the arbor. Armistead Peter III designed an arbor gate to connect the arbor to the pigeon fly. When Armistead Peter Jr. died in 1960, his son inherited the property as the fourth and last owner. Armistead Peter III married Caroline, and had one daughter. During World War II, he was stationed in the South Pacific and afterwards visited Japan with Caroline. These travels inspired him to create a Japanese style tea house to entertain guests. In the 1960s, he built the tea house (also called a gazebo) and later he re-purposed the smokehouse/pigeon fly to serve as a kennel for their dogs.

restored gazebo or Japanese tea house

In the 1960s, Armistead Peter III established a foundation to preserve the property knowing there would be no surviving descendants. When he died in 1983, the property was turned over to the Tudor Place Foundation. The Foundation could have literally picked any time period in American history to show the residence to the public but decided to keep the artifacts, furniture, and rooms as they were when Armistead died. Because so much had been collected over the six generations, visitors can see Martha Washington’s punch bowl, George Washington’s camp stool from the Revolutionary War, and Caroline’s  Lanvin and Hermes gowns and Dobbs hatboxes.

close up of pigeon fly, smokehouse on right, window on side of smokehouse to let pigeons out into caged area on left

Tudor Place serves as a pictorial history of our country. Additionally, Tudor Place provides a sense of change as staff illustrate how spaces were re-purposed by each generation and how some practices (such as smoking meat) were discontinued. When I visited in April, the smokehouse was restored as an outdoor pigeon fly, which is a unique phase in America’s history (most people no longer raise squab in the Washington DC area). Before the arbors and gazebo were restored, staff contacted a company to conduct an archaeological exploration of the area. The exploration revealed artifacts confirming that the place was used as a domestic service yard many years before the gazebo was built. Fortunately, Lady Banks Rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’), descendant of an original planting, was blooming while I was visiting as if she was waiting for the Peter families to come and enjoy their cocktails.

Lady Banks rose draped over the restored arbor

Tudor Place Historic House and Garden is at 1644 31st Street, NW, Washington DC 20007. There are guided tours, a full calendar of events, and innovative educational programs for school-aged children, supported by docents and volunteers. For more information call (202) 965-0400 or visit http://www.tudorplace.org