Tag Archives: River Farm

Update on River Farm, Home of the American Horticultural Society

homeHere 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.

Goodbye 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.

Proud Owner of Baby, Bare-Root Tree Seedlings: Cornelian Cherry and Redbud


Cornelian Cherry (left) and Redbud (right) in mid-May

Those of you who visited the Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival this past April might have received free, bare-root, tree seedlings. I received a cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) from Bartlett Tree Experts and an eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) from the Tree Commission of the Town of Leesburg. When I got home that day, I placed them in containers, watered, and placed them in the shade.  They were already stressed, a little dried out, and being rootless, they had no mechanism to take up water. I watered about every other day and then of course it rained so much there was no need but gradually the trees develop roots and leaves emerged. At first, I placed the pots in the shade to minimize transpiration and when I saw leaves, I put them in morning shade and afternoon sun. Now that they are leafed out and obviously functioning and surviving, I will put them in full sun. I started with containers instead of straight into the ground because to have control over water/moisture and because I did not know where to plant them at the time.

In the fall, when the temperatures have cooled but the soil is still warm, I will transplant the cornelian cherry in the front yard that is mostly sun. It will grow to about 15 to 20 feet high and wide and has the potential to spread a little by suckers so I will plant it off to the side of the property near the fence. Cornelian cherry blooms yellow flowers in March before the leaves emerge and is known for its bright red fruit, similar to cherries. These are edible but probably best in a jam which I am looking forward to making if the birds don’t beat me to it. Grown as a small tree or hedge, this member of the dogwood family does not seem to be as disease prone as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), tolerates clay soil, and can be grown in full sun to partial shade.


Redbud blooming in April at the American Horticultural Society’s River Farm

The redbud also blooms in the spring before the leaves emerge but the flowers are very small and purple/pink. Redbud grows much bigger, up to 30 feet high and wide. The “fruit” is a long brown pod, similar to a pea pod but larger and flat. Unfortunately, I don’t have the space for this tree so I may give it to a friend.

Kudos to Bartlett Tree Experts and the Town of Leesburg Tree Commission, not only did they give away free trees but they also provided information on planting trees. Bartlett’s tag said to “choose a spot with good soil where your tree will be in the sun and have plenty of room to grow on all sides. Dig a hole as deep as the root system and wide enough to accommodate future root growth (about two feet wide). Place the seedling in the hole so that the top of the root system is even with soil level and back fill with soil from the hole. Water after planting and every other week during the warmer months.”

The Town of Leesburg Tree Commission provided a handout with instructions for the bare root and for planting a large tree. A bare-root tree seedling has to soak in water for “3 to 6 hours” then “dig a hole, wider than seems necessary, so the roots can grow outward without crowding. Remove any grass within a 3-foot circular area. To aid root growth, turn soil in an area up to 3 feet in diameter. Plant the tree at the same depth it stood in the nursery, with plenty of room for the roots. Partially fill the hole, firming the soil around the lower roots. Do not add soil amendments such as peat or bark. Do not use fertilizer, potting soil, or chemicals on your new trees.” Then shovel in remaining soil, water, and mulch, and keep the soil and mulch moist but not soggy.

So the next time someone gives you a free, bare-root seedling, pot it up and water and coddle it until it can stand on its own feet. Then research the plant to learn its cultural requirements, determine the best place in your garden, and use the sage planting advice above. Good luck!