The American Horticultural Society (AHS) dropped a bomb on Friday, right before the Labor Day weekend. In an e-mail that was sent to AHS members (of which I am one), they stated that they are experiencing financial challenges and are considering merging with the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) in Pennsylvania. To accomplish this, they plan to sell River Farm. River Farm is a historic 25-acre property along the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia. Once the merger is complete, APGA will make the final determination about the continuation of various AHS programs.
Many moons ago, I worked for the AHS on River Farm as an editorial assistant. It was a lovely place to work, not only because of the gardens but also because of the historic home. We had staff meetings in the parlor and lunch in a real kitchen. When I first started, the magazine’s office was the master bedroom but we later moved upstairs in the carriage house. I had my own office, which was great for growing plants indoors. This was before the Internet so in addition to writing and copyediting for the magazine and (then) newsletter, I also answered members’ gardening questions via phone and mail. At the time, River Farm was vibrant with parties, guests, and events. Weddings were not possible when I was there but eventually the property became available for weddings for additional revenue. Local garden clubs, including the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America, of which I am chair, had meetings in the ballroom. Eventually I left but visited often and have taken many photos of the gardens. When my children were little, I brought them to the gardens to play. As a local horticulturist, I attended networking events under the wedding tents. I attended the spring plant sales and the Christmas receptions where the staff went to great lengths to make beautiful Christmas trees. In fact, I was just there a few months ago, taking photos of their beautiful sunflowers. I had noticed that the wildflower meadow was not in good shape but I assumed it was because of the pandemic; the house was still closed.
I will be sorry to see River Farm sold, it was a lovely garden to visit and a great place to take the family. I am hoping The American Gardener magazine will continue, as well as the reciprocal admissions program (RAP). RAP allows AHS members free admission to participating public and botanical gardens across the country. I for one was looking forward to visiting as many public gardens as I could with my AHS membership card in hand after this pandemic. I hope the APGA keeps this benefit as well as the magazine.
The message in the e-mail is also a statement on the AHS website. On Sunday, Beth Lawton, publisher of the Alexandria Living Magazine wrote an article about this including the reaction of the neighborhood residents. I am sure many people are talking about this, it is such a game changer. According to her article, the property will be up for sale soon at an estimated $15 to 30 million. Maybe our new neighbor, Jeff Bezos, would be interested in buying River Farm. After all, it is a straight shot from the new Amazon headquarters in Crystal City.