Category Archives: Gardens

Volunteering at Washington DC’s Public Gardens

The Washington DC area has many opportunities for people with a passion for plants and gardening to volunteer. This article focuses on three opportunities where the entities are not non-profits, they are actually part of the federal government. Thus, they share several unique characteristics.

This article provides a broad overview and compares and contrasts three places. However, it is best to reach out to the organization that interests you for more detailed information. Opportunities to volunteer are like the tide, they ebb and flow depending on the season and annual events. To learn about additional organizations that may need volunteers, view this list of public gardens and contact them directly.

U.S. Botanic Garden

The U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) was established by Congress in 1820 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the country. The USBG is comprised of the Conservatory, the National Garden, and the Bartholdi Park. It is administered through the Architect of the Capitol. It is a prime tourist attraction, open every day of the year, and within walking distance of metro stations.

“Volunteers are vital to the support of the Botanic Garden,” said Elizabeth Barton,Education Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator, who oversees about 250 volunteers. People interested in volunteering at the USBG should first complete the application form on the USBG website, which gives Elizabeth a sense of timing, availability, and interests. After she receives the application, she calls the applicant to set up a meeting with her and possibly another staff person. Applicants can apply between January and early October.

U.S. Botanic Gardens’ production greenhouses

The USBG has a public programming team and a horticultural team. Volunteers who work with the horticultural team work with the plants either inside the conservatory, outside with the gardens and grounds crew, or at the USBG production facility in Maryland (large production greenhouses). Volunteers who work with the public programming team assist with the public programs, such as lectures and children’s programs, answer questions at the visitor’s desk, manage the Discovery Carts, or serve as docents.

All volunteers attend a general volunteer orientation. Starting in 2019, all volunteers will attend an accessibility awareness training where one learns to interact with people who have special needs and disabilities. There may be further training depending on the assignment. “None of the volunteer duties require prior horticultural knowledge,” explained Elizabeth. “We work with you where you are. The horticultural team loves working with people who have horticultural experience but they also love working with people who have no horticultural experience but have enthusiasm. As long as you have the enthusiasm, we can teach you about the tasks.”

Docents obtain additional training on how to give a tour and basic botany and plant morphology. Docents focus on a particular area of the Botanic Garden to learn about those particular plants. For example, a docent who leads tours of the National Garden outside would get additional training on the National Garden before leading a tour.

Elizabeth emphasized that there is also the opportunity to explore a special interest. A volunteer can present an idea to USBG staff who will discuss it to see if the idea fits with current programming. She explained how a volunteer had an interest in conifers and thus developed a conifer Discovery Cart. (Discovery Carts are informal, pop-up educational opportunities on specific topics such as conifers, chocolate, or poinsettias.)

Volunteers need to commit to 100 hours per year, which could be a 4-hour shift every other week or 2-hour shift every week or a condensed number of weeks. It varies because some people live nearby and can easily commute to work a few hours at a time while others live further away and prefer infrequent trips and a longer day.

A well-known volunteer giving a lecture at USBG

Because USBG is part of the federal government, volunteers need to go through the background security check and fingerprinting process that is required of all feds. If you are a current or retired government employee, you would have been through this process before.

Volunteers not only benefit from helping others, they learn more about horticulture and gardening. “Volunteers learn a lot no matter what they are doing here,” said Elizabeth. “They also are able to give back to the community, that is, the USBG is a great resource to the community.”

USBG staff host two volunteer appreciation events every year for the volunteers, a holiday and a spring social event. If volunteers have volunteered for a set minimum number of hours, they are able to attend a one day educational and appreciation event hosted by the Horticultural Consortium of the Greater Washington area (HCGWA). The HCGWA is a group of local organizations that depend upon a cadre of volunteers. Each year, one of the organizations hosts and develops the agenda and invites the volunteers from the other organizations.

Smithsonian Gardens

The Smithsonian Institution was established by an act of Congress in 1846 and is a unique public-private partnership that receives federal funds. In 1972, the Smithsonian Gardens was established to manage the Smithsonian museum grounds and is comprised of the Grounds Management Operations, the Greenhouse Nursery Operations, and the Horticulture Collections Management and Education. The outside gardens are open every day of the week and there are several nearby metro stops.

Alison Kootstra, Volunteer Program Coordinator, explained that even though they have a small volunteering program, less than 100 volunteers, they have a very high retention rate. As with the USBG, applicants need to first complete the volunteer application form on the website. Alison reviews the application and contacts the applicant to set up an in person interview. Interviews are conducted at the Smithsonian Gardens office on Maryland Avenue (next to L’Enfant Plaza metro station) or at the Suitland, Maryland, production greenhouses, depending on the location of the volunteer opportunity.

There are three different types of opportunities: grounds maintenance, greenhouse, and docents for exhibitions. Alison most frequently recruits for the grounds maintenance position where volunteers work alongside staff horticulturists in the Smithsonian gardens. Tucked among the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall are 13 thematic gardens.

Volunteer at Smithsonian Gardens event
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens

Volunteers are asked to commit to working from April to October, one day per week. Because staff work Monday through Friday, volunteers also work during the work week and not on the weekend. Recruitment occurs every year and three to eight people are chosen to work in specific gardens. “Experience is not required,” explained Alison. “It is more important that the person has enthusiasm, the willing to learn, and the ability to follow instructions.”

The Suitland greenhouses are not open to the public so the environment may be quieter than the public gardens, which are frequented by tourists. Tasks include planting, transplanting, and taking care of orchids and tropical plants. This opportunity is less frequent because volunteers tend to stay for a long time. Again, since volunteers are working with staff who work weekdays, the opportunity is also on weekdays.  

There are opportunities for docents for exhibitions but this is less frequent, depending on the need or exhibit. Because the Smithsonian Gardens is responsible for an orchid exhibit that begins in February 2019, Alison just recruited 20 new volunteers to serve as docents. This exhibit is open every day so the opportunity to volunteer would be on the weekday or weekend and would require quite a lot of interaction with the public.

Alison ticked off the benefits of volunteering with the Smithsonian Gardens, which mirror Smithsonian employee benefits. Volunteers receive 20 percent off at Smithsonian gift shops and many of the public food eateries, access to behind the scenes tours or enrichment activities within the Smithsonian, discounts on some ticketed Smithsonian programs, and reciprocal arrangements with other museums across the country.  In addition, Alison plans an enrichment activity every other month such as a tour of another public garden or a trip to see a local museum exhibit. Like the USBG, if volunteers have volunteered for a set minimum number of hours, they are able to attend the HCGWA event.

Volunteer in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Garden
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens

Smithsonian volunteers must also undergo the background security check and fingerprinting.They must attend an orientation and an annual security training. There may be additional training as needed for specific positions, for example, grounds staff may have more safety trainings than docents.

U.S. National Arboretum

The U.S. National Arboretum (USNA) was established in 1927 by an act of Congress. According to their mission statement on their website, the USNA enhances the economic, environmental, and aesthetic value of ornamental and landscape plants through long-term multi-disciplinary research, conservation of genetic resources, and interpretative gardens and exhibits. The USNA is administered by the U.S.Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Services. Located in Northeast DC with entrances on New York Avenue and R Street, the Arboretum is made up of 446 acres and many plant collections. There is no nearby metro stop but plenty of free parking.  

 “We get inquiries from people interested in volunteering from our website or they walk in to the Arboretum and ask if there are volunteering opportunities,” said Carole Bordelon, Supervisory Horticulturist and Acting Volunteer and Intern Coordinator. Carole asks interested applicants to complete an online form. She looks at the applicant’s interests while asking staff how many volunteers they can support, and then tries to match the two.

Volunteers cleaning seed at USNA
Photo courtesy of USNA

“We have several different types of volunteers but the majority are working outside in the gardens and assisting staff with weeding, pruning, mulching, and planting,” said Carole. “Although the Arboretum is open to the public on the weekends, the staff work during the week so the volunteer positions are only available during the work week. In addition, depending on the collection, the staff horticulturist may want a volunteer to work on a specific day.”Currently, they have about 75 volunteers that come in on a regular basis and work in the various collections. They also have a need for volunteers to work indoors on the herbarium, archives, exhibits, image database, and public programs.

“There are some volunteers who have been here a long time so there is no need for volunteers in that particular garden area but in some areas they need volunteers for the spring/summer months and not the winter. There are some volunteers who work in one collection outside and then on bad weather days, work inside on the herbarium.”

They do require 4-6 hours per week, usually 4 hours. “We set up a schedule and most of volunteers who work outside are asked to come on a specific week day,” said Carole. 

Volunteers planting in the USNA’s Fern Valley Meadow
Photo courtesy of USNA

Volunteers learn about the plants in the collection and proper techniques, but they also enjoy the ability to meet new people. The Arboretum is a tourist attraction; volunteers may interact with visitors from all over the world. In addition, the USNA staff put on an annual volunteer recognition event where they invite a guest speaker and distribute service awards. Staff arrange outreach field trips to other public gardens and volunteers are encouraged to go to the Smithsonian In-Service Days in the winter months. Similar to the other two, USNA volunteers may attend the HCGWA event. USNA volunteers must complete the background check and fingerprinting.

Friends of the National Arboretum

Although the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) is a non-profit organization, it is important to mention because FONA works in tandem with the USNA and FONA volunteers work on the Arboretum property. People interested in volunteering may find themselves at the Arboretum for one-time events or long-term projects managed through FONA.

To volunteer, applicants need to complete the online form at the FONA website. “Many of our opportunities are seasonal,” explained Melinda Peters, Volunteer Programs Manager. “For example, recruiting for volunteers for the annual Garden Fair and Plant Sale in April will start up later. Our busy time will start at the end of February and into March and that is when I will start contacting applicants.”

To help distinguish between the two, the Arboretum manages volunteers who work in the plant collections or in the Arboretum’s Administrative Building while FONA manages volunteers for annual events such as the Garden Fair and Plant Sale, summer concerts, and Full Moon Hikes and for long-term projects such as the Washington Youth Garden and the Springhouse Run restoration project.

Volunteer pruning in the Asian collection
Photo courtesy of USNA

For the past 2 years, volunteers have restored Springhouse Run which is actually two streams that run through the Arboretum and into the Anacostia River, the Springhouse Run and the Hickey Run. The stream has been restored to a more natural flow and volunteers have planted many native plants. The Washington Youth Garden helps DC’s youth learn to garden and volunteer opportunities exist from April to early November, Tuesday and Saturday mornings. The Full Moon Hikes are guided walks around the Arboretum in the evening, under a full moon,which requires volunteers to serve as tour guides. The Garden Fair and Plant Sale is an April weekend where many different types of plants are for sale to the public, either from the Arboretum’s holdings, local garden clubs, or nurseries. This is a purely volunteer-run event at the Arboretum managed through FONA.

Unlike the three federal entities mentioned above, FONA does not require a background security check and fingerprinting except for the Washington Youth Garden volunteers who have to complete a more extensive onboarding process. However, volunteers for one-time events may have to sign a liability form.

There is more flexibility in terms of hours if one volunteers through FONA. Volunteers can work on weekdays, weekends, and in the evenings, depending on the event.  Also, corporations that want to or universities that require service hours can work through FONA to complete one-time service activities such as mulching on the Arboretum grounds.

Volunteer cleaning up in USNA’s Azalea collection
Photo courtesy of USNA

As with all volunteering opportunities, the benefits are socializing, learning, and giving back to the community. “For single events, we provide snacks, tools,and training,” said Melinda. “It is safe to say that food is always involved somehow.” FONA volunteers are invited to an annual volunteer appreciation event and as with the other three entities, volunteers may attend the HCGWA if they meet the required hours. Melinda also explained that the Full Moon Hike leaders receive a stipend because they have to undergo a more rigorous training program and commit to a certain list of guidelines.

To summarize, there are many different opportunities to volunteer with these prestigious organizations, you just have to figure out which is the best match for you in terms of your time, interests, and ability. Some will require digging in the dirt while others will require public speaking. But with all, horticultural experience is not a requirement so do not hesitate if you do not have plant experience. Just show up with enthusiasm and a willing to learn and you will become connected to DC’s horticultural network!

Peg’s Picks: My Favorite Gardening Podcasts

Because I am always interested in learning about plants and gardening, I listen to gardening podcasts when I walk in the neighborhood in the evening, weed in the garden, or drive to work.  Although there are many gardening podcasts available on iTunes or Stitcher, these four are my favorites for several reasons. They offer an unusual perspective; they are extremely detailed, providing an in-depth examination of a particular plant or gardening practice; they are seasonally appropriate, focusing on what is currently happen in the environment; and the voices are easy on the ear, especially if you are fighting traffic. It is always a plus if there is a corresponding website with a transcript, summary, or photos of the topic with links to additional resources. There are other podcasts I used to listen to but they are not available anymore and I am sure after I post this there will be new ones that may interest me. The world of gardening podcasts seems to ebb and flow like the tide; it always best to search for them on iTunes or Stitcher. I recommend these four, in alphabetical order, to people interested in learning more about gardening and the environment.

A Way to Garden

Every Monday morning, Margaret Roach broadcasts her public radio show from Robin Hood Radio in CT. She has an insatiable curiosity and researches her guests well in advance of the show. The topics are seasonally appropriate, ranging from gardening chores and plants; the environment; all types of creatures, including birds; and preparing and cooking the harvest. Usually there is a giveaway such as gardening book. Listening to A Way to Garden is like drinking cappuccino during the morning commute, quick and satisfying. Each podcast is 30 minutes long and runs at a fast clip. If I want to delve deeper and learn more, I am comforted in knowing that she has posted a transcript complete with hyperlinks on her website. Margaret Roach is a well-known garden writer and lecturer, has written several books, and used to be the garden editor for Martha Stewart. Although she gardens in New York, her website, awaytogarden.com, is a wealth of gardening information for anyone who gardens in the United States.

Cultivating Place: A Conversation on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden

Jennifer Jewell produces this podcast every Thursday on North State Public Radio. I like to listen to Jennifer’s soothing, relaxing voice as she couch analyzes the people she interviews on her podcast. The range is vast, not simply gardening, but nature in all its forms, including businesses, art, and books. On her website she says she loves gardens, nature, gardeners, and nature lovers. Jennifer gardens with her daughters in California. She has a way of seeing her guest’s role in the natural world, weaving threads to illustrate the path that lead to that person’s purpose in life. Like a languid raft ride down the Mississippi River, each show is one-hour long and Jennifer patiently takes her time pointing out the person’s key impressions in life, points of impact, and choices made. I not only learn more about the person, who may have just published a book I want to read, but I also learn more about myself as a gardener. Jennifer has an excellent website, cultivatingplace.com. She summarizes the podcasts and provides images to complete the audio experience as well as lists an archive of podcasts.

Plantrama: Science, Art and Dinner — It’s All In Your Own Backyard

This podcast is produced by two women who are well-known in the gardening world. C.L. Fornari has published seven gardening books and numerous articles, given lectures across the county, and has talked about gardening on several radio stations. She gardens in Cape Cod, MA. Ellen also has written seven gardening books, is well-known for foraging and creating plant-based cocktails, has taught gardening and given lectures, and lives in New Mexico.

Every Thursday, for 30 minutes, they discuss seasonal topics including what’s for dinner, insider information, eat/drink/grow, product/plant review, and answering questions from listeners. They banter, they do not always agree, but I like hearing the two perspectives. It illustrates that gardening is personal. Although there may be a science-based principle behind a gardening practice, choices are personal and people choose to do what is right for oneself and one’s garden. The podcast is geared for people interested in gardening and eating from the garden although they also talk about houseplants and the full range of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees. The website, plantrama.com, has large images to illustrate the podcast topics. There is no transcript but the website marks the seconds for each new topic during the podcast so you can jump to the different sections. This podcast is a nice snapshot of what is going on in the garden and what you can be planting, harvesting, or cooking during that particular week.

The Native Plant Podcast

The Native Plant Podcast is like sitting in your grandmother’s rocking chair on the wooden stoop of her Appalachian cabin, sipping ice tea and listening to an old-fashioned radio program. Intently (because they use the “real” plant names). John Magee owns Magee Design, a landscape design firm in Middleburg, VA, that specializes in native plants, sustainable landscaping, and eco-friendly designs. Mike Berkley owns GroWild, a Tennessee wholesale native plant nursery. Together they started this podcast, borne of a friendship from attending the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference. Preston Montague, a North Carolina landscape designer also appears on the show. Sometimes the show is the two of them or three of them talking plants and sometimes they interview a person. Although their main interest is native plants, they are not purists to the point of excluding other flora. Each show opens by what they are seeing in the landscape at the time, what is blooming, what is buzzing (it helps to know the botanical names to the plants they mention). I like the way they explain what I too am seeing in the landscape at the same time. They are down to earth and they don’t rush; each show is about one hour. I feel that I am listening to a much slower, deliberate pace (compared to living here in fast paced Washington DC area) and my heart slows down and relaxes. They constantly kid each other and joke and eventually they get around to introducing the guest. Each show ends by opening a bottle of micro brewed beer with an unusual name. The website, nativeplantpodcast.com, has photos but there is no transcript and they do not air year round. However, there are archives on the website.

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