Here is an update to the fate of the American Horticultural Society (AHS). As you know I mentioned in my September 7 article that the AHS board was thinking of selling River Farm and merging with the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) in PA. This week, the board chair, Terry Hayes, sent an e-mail to AHS members (of which I am one). Apparently, there has been such an uproar with the local community, gardening clubs, and members that the board has decided to venture down a different path. They have decided to remain as is, an independent national non-profit organization with its own board, staff, and headquarters. They will not merge with APGA but may have a collaborative relationship with them and other like-minded horticulture/gardening organizations.
According to Terry, the AHS board will “develop a model that would allow the varied programming and resources that our members across the United States know and enjoy to continue while adding new programming to keep AHS relevant and help it make a connection between people and plants. As part of this new model, we are focused on building collaborative relationships with APGA and other like-minded organizations who have a shared interest in building and expanding horticultural programming and other initiatives across the country.”
However, to generate revenue to continue its existence, AHS will still have to sell the River Farm property. This is a loss to the community because the historic property is a beautiful place to visit. The size, scenic beauty, and historic home makes River Farm an ideal location for plant sales, garden club meetings, events, and even weddings. Currently they are having in person workshops and virtual events (see their website). Visit the grounds while you can to get a refreshing mental health boost. We will miss you River Farm.
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.
This Friday is National Public Gardens Day, an annual tradition of celebrating public gardens on the Friday preceding Mother’s Day weekend. Communities nationwide are invited to explore the diverse beauty of their local green spaces and to take advantage of the conservation, education and environmental preservation resources that public gardens provide.
The American Public Garden Association (APGA) manages a database of APGA-member gardens participating in National Public Gardens Day. The APGA is the leading professional organization for the field of public horticulture serving public gardens. People can view the database to see which public gardens are having celebrations in their area but be advised that this is a self-reporting tool, it is up to the members to inform APGA of their plans to provide discounts, promotions, demonstrations, and other great celebratory incentives to visitors. There also are non APGA member gardens that celebrate National Public Garden Day as well so it is best to call your local public garden or arboretum to see if they have planned any special activities.
In the Greater Washington DC area, the following APGA member gardens have special activities for Friday, as posted in the database:
Historic London Town and Gardens
James Madison’s Montpelier
Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens
Green Spring Gardens is an APGA member but you will find their activities on their own website at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring
U.S. Botanic Garden
Tudor Place Historic House and Garden